How to feed a love one with Celiac (repost)

I wrote this a few years ago, shortly after being diagnosed with celiac. With the Christmas coming, I figured it was a good time to repost it.

Your friends or family invite you over for a holiday meal. They want to feed you. They mean well. However, as someone with celiac disease, this can be very difficult to navigate. I don’t want to offend my friends, but I also do not want to get sick.  So I asked the celiac Facebook group for some tips to help friends and loved ones cook meals that are safe for those with celiac disease. If you have any other tips and tricks, please leave a comment.

First I want to highlight that celiac is not an allergy. Exposure to as little as 1/8 or 1/64 of a teaspoon of flour can make us sick. We don’t all get sick immediately. Sometimes it will take a day or two before the onset of symptoms. Then we need to mentally go back over the last few days and figure out what food made us sick, so that we don’t accidentally expose ourselves again.

Here are some tips and tricks for preparing meals that are safe for those with celiac.

General tips

Gluten is in anything that contains wheat, rye, or barley. Other grains that contain gluten include triticale and spelt. Malt also contains gluten. You must read the labels of everything you include in what you cook, looking out for any ingredient derived from wheat, rye, or barley.

The following items must be certified gluten free. If they are not, the risk of them containing hidden gluten it too high, such that they are likely to make someone with celiac sick:

  • Oats (e.g. oatmeal)
  • Soya sauce
  • Malt (it is a barley derivative, e.g. malt vinegar)
  • Soup bases (e.g. bullion cubes, canned broth, etc)
  • Salad dressings (easiest thing to do is get plain olive oil and balsamic or red-wine vinegar)
  • Spice / seasoning blends (pure herbs and spices are OK, but blends often have gluten containing fillers that are not necessarily labelled)
  • Pasta sauces (pre-made mixes often contain gluten as thickening agent)
  • Deli meats (anything cut to order in the deli can be cross contaminated)
  • Anything fried in the same oil as gluten containing ingredients (e.g. french fries that are fried in the same oil as onion rings)
  • Any food purchased in bulk. Unfortunately bulk bins risk cross contamination, regardless of what the food is. They are not controlled. All it takes is someone using the same gloves to refill the wheat flour and then refilling anything else.

Avoid cross contamination. If you are cooking in a kitchen that is also handling gluten containing ingredients, you need to be diligent to avoid cross contamination. An 1/8 or 1/64 of a teaspoon is only a crumb or two. Some tips to avoid cross contamination:

  • Don’t use wooden spoons or wooden cutting boards. They can contain gluten in the cracks and cannot be adequately cleaned.
  • Use clean knives, serving spoons, and utensils when handling gluten free foods.
  • Line your pans with aluminum foil or parchment paper. This helps to prevent cross-contamination if the pans are not absolutely cleaned.
  • Put out a separate butter dish for your gluten-free guest that is not shared.
  • Put aside an un-sauced piece of protein for your GF guest. You can buy GF gravy mixes at the grocery store, which can be made up in a clean pan for your GF guest.

Keep it simple. The simpler the meals is (that is the less ingredients), the more likely it is to be safe. Put sauces on the side rather than directly in the meal.

Snack ideas

  • Plain popcorn
  • Potato chips that are certified GF (unfortunately most potato chips contain gluten)
  • Kind bars (they make a variety of different types of bars that are all GF)
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Certified GF nutbars

Breakfast ideas

Be aware that many people will celiac need a high protein diet to help their stomachs heal. This is especially the case after gluten exposure. Fresh fruit and cereal alone often do not provide enough protein.

  • Hard-boiled eggs (if your guests are staying with you, put a few hard boiled eggs in the fridge for them. They make great high protein snacks)
  • Certified gluten free oatmeal packets
  • Certified gluten free breakfast cereal (avoid Cheerios as they are not adequately tested at this time)
  • Cheese & GF crackers (note that seed-based and sweet-potato-based crackers are so much better tasting than the cardboard GF crackers that try to replicate table crackers).
  • GF nuts (note that nuts should certified GF)
  • Fresh fruit

Lunch ideas

I’m still challenged with lunch. Sandwiches are a challenge because any deli meats that are not prepackaged and labelled as gluten-free are not safe. Gluten-free bread alternatives are often pretty awful.

  • GF soup (must be certified GF or made with certified GF ingredients – note that stock made from a gluten stuffed chicken/turkey is not GF)
  • Bean salad over a bed of lettuce
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Fresh fruit

Dinner ideas

Most meals can be made gluten free. If this isn’t an option, then purchasing a few gluten-free frozen dinners is always an option (e.g. if you are making lasagna, then buy a frozen GF lasagna for your celiac guest).

  • GF pasta – make sure you follow the instructions on the packaging. GF pasta is good when cooked exactly as instructed. If overcooked it disintegrates.
  • Potatoes, rice, and quinoa are gluten-free
  • Plain meat and veggies are GF
  • Put aside an un-sauced piece of protein for your GF guest. You can buy GF gravy mixes at the grocery store, which can be made up in a clean pan for your GF guest.

Dessert ideas

Note that if you make GF desserts and then put them on a buffet style table with non-GF desserts, the likelihood of cross-contamination it huge. People do not understand that they cannot use the same serving utensil on both desserts. It is better to set aside an assortment of the GF desserts before placing them on a shared buffet table.

  • Look for packaged GF desserts in the grocery store.
  • Whole Foods makes GF Christmas cookies in a dedicated GF facility and packages them in plastic so they are not cross-contaminated. These make great GF desserts.
  • Macaroons
  • Flourless chocolate cake
  • Mixed fruit (although truth be told, we get mixed fruit at every event we attend so if you want to do something special, look for a GF bakery) – note that items made in a non-dedicated GF facility are not typically considered safe. Items that are made in a GF facility and sold in bulk are also not safe unless they are packaged in a manner that prevents cross-contamination.

That’s all I can think of for now. If you have any good tips, please leave a comment.

  • Becky

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