Friday, August 3, 2012

How Not to be a Gluten-Free Party-Pooper

I love summer!  The long days, the weekend trips to the coast, eating Popsicles on the front porch, Project Runway....what's not to love?!  Another thing that comes with summer is barbecues, weddings, and parties with friends.  And while that can be one of the best parts of summer, it can be anxiety-producing for people with celiac disease and gluten-intolerance.  You have to think about which foods contain gluten, how to ask if they contain gluten, and, even if they don't contain gluten, did the food come in contact with any gluten?  And you need to think about this while not drawing attention to yourself and being a gracious guest.  This is not exactly the recipe for a relaxing summer soiree.  I remember my first party after going gluten-free.  It felt as if there were a big spotlight on me and everyone was watching me wondering why I was not eating.  I thought I would never go to another party again!  But, as easy as it would be to stay at home and have a pity party, you can still go out and have a good time while being gluten-free.  After reading the Celiac Central blog and learning from my own experiences, I came up with some tips on how to be gluten-free and socialize:

1.  Alert the Host to Your Dietary Restrictions: When you get invited to a party, there is usually some protocol to RSVP.  And even if it is a casual invitation, at some point you will talk to the host to see if there is anything that you can bring.  This is the perfect time to tell whomever is hosting of your food restrictions.  You should clearly offer to bring your own food and even offer to bring it early if the host wants to have servings ready.  If the host wants to make you a gluten-free plate, thank them for the offer.  But you need to be clear about what exactly you can and can't eat.  Depending on your intolerance level, you need to explain cross-contamination and that your food can't touch any gluten or any surface that has touch gluten.  You may feel like you are being demanding but it is important to talk about as your health is at stake.  And you don't want the host to go to the trouble of making you a special meal that you can't eat.  After you tell the host your restrictions, you should offer again to bring your own dish.  Most of the time, they will accept that offer. :)

2.  Eat Beforehand: If you are going to a wedding or a party that is being catered, it is a safe bet that the food will not be gluten-free. And, unless you are specifically asked by the host, you don't need to call and inform them of your gluten restrictions.  In these cases, it is a better idea to just eat before hand and, if the event will go late, bring a snack that you can slyly eat like almond or a protein bar.  That way, you can stay late dancing and drinking without worrying about "hanger" pains.

3. Bring a "Party Basket":  If it is appropriate, I like to bring a basket of gluten-free "party snacks" to share.  I have gone to a few barbecues this summer and brought gluten-free buns for hamburgers, gluten-free chips and dip, gluten-free beer, and even gluten-free graham crackers for S'mores.  It can make you feel more included in the party to bring things for everyone than to just bring your own separate dish.  And, with so many people going gluten-free, there will probably be others there who appreciate your gesture.

4.  Remember Manners:  I am sure this will happen to every gluten-intolerant person at some point where you have someone who made a dish they call gluten-free, but you are suspect.  If someone offers you something that they said is gluten-free, don't interrogate them.  Their heart was in the right place and they just want to make you feel included.  Graciously accept a little of what they made, but dispose of it or hand it to a trusted friend or significant other when they are not looking.  It may seem a little deceitful, but it really is better for all in the end.

5.  Finally....Thank the Host For the Accommodations: After the party is over, make sure that you call, send a note, or email thanking the host for accommodating your dietary restrictions.  People hosting a party really want to make sure everyone had a good time and left feeling good.  Sending a thanks their way lets them know you still can have fun despite being gluten-intolerant.

Any gluten-free etiquette suggestions?  Post them in the comments section!

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