How to be a Hostess With the Mostess When Your Guests are Gluten-free
The holidays are coming. And whether you’re celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving, or hosting a holiday season soiree, one or more of your guests may have food allergies or dietary restrictions to navigate. Even if you’re a seasoned pro working around one of these, the prospect of planning a menu around a gluten-free guest or serious food allergy is enough to give any host pause. But fear not—we have some tips to help you host family and friends safely and sanely this season.
- Talk to your guests early
The single most kind thing you can do when hosting friends or family with allergies or dietary restrictions is ask them to tell you explicitly what they can and cannot eat ahead of time. Hearing through the family game of telephone that your sister-in-law has gone gluten-free might make it sound like that’s just some fad she’s following, but ask her directly, and you might discover that she’s been newly diagnosed with celiac disease, or a severe wheat allergy. And many people with food allergies are allergic to more than one food. You might know about your nephew’s peanut allergy, but not that he’s also recently found out the hard way that he’s allergic to sesame, too.Asking your guests directly what they need to avoid shows them you care enough to respect their needs, and gives you peace of mind to plan a menu that won’t involve anyone needing an EpiPen, or feeling ill days after their visit.
- Include your guests in the menu planning—or making
Contrary to popular belief, being the hostess with the mostess doesn’t mean you have to do it all single-handedly. Many people who live with food allergies and dietary restrictions are happy to bring a dish they know they can eat to share with family and friends. Why? It isn’t just about making sure there’s at least one thing on the menu they can eat and enjoy with confidence—it’s also a way to show the people they care about that their different way of eating can be both delicious and approachable.Whether their dietary restrictions are a conscious choice (vegetarian, vegan), or a matter of fundamental wellness, life and death (allergies, celiac disease, intolerances), sharing a dish they’ve prepared with those who don’t eat that way is a powerful way to normalize different ways of eating, bust myths, and break stigma. (If your great aunt thinks all gluten-free vegans eat is salad and carrot sticks, serving a showstopping dish that everyone will love is the best way to prove her wrong!).So don’t be afraid to make part of your dinner potluck—it’s an easy way to make sure everyone wins!
- Focus on whole, plant-based foods
Building a menu that includes plenty of veggies is always a good idea. Not only is it a healthier way to eat for everyone (dietary restrictions or not), it’s also an easy way to incorporate local, in-season foods, and give thanks to your friendly, neighbourhood farmer. Roasted carrots, parsnips, and squash, or lightly steamed peas or beans shine when prepared simply with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh herbs. Make fresh fruit part of your dessert offering, and you’ll have something for everyone.Salads are also a refreshing addition to a seasonal feast. However, bottled dressings and marinades are a common source of hidden gluten and other allergens. Because so many dressings are shake-in-a-jar easy to make, it’s better to make than buy when you can. But if commercial dressings hold specific appeal, be sure to read the label closely, mindful of ingredients your guests need to avoid.
- Watch out for hidden gluten (and other allergens, too)
If you’re not gluten-free yourself, you’ll likely be surprised at the number of prepared foods and ingredients that are sneaky sources of gluten. While conventional baked goods are obvious (and brands like us at Little Northern Bakehouse give you options to work with that aren’t just good for gluten-free, they’re good, period), here are some you might not know (and what to use instead):
|(Usually) contains gluten
|· Soy sauce
|· Tamari (look for gluten-free on the label)
|· Malt vinegar
|· Any other vinegar (apple cider, etc.)
|· Bottled dressings and marinades (often thickened with flour or wheat starch)
|· Homemade dressings, or dressings specifically labelled gluten-free
|· Worcestershire sauce
|· Worcestershire sauce labelled gluten-free (and vegan if you’ve got plant-based guests)
|· Packaged sauces and gravies
|· Homemade sauces and gravies (thicken with cornstarch or tapioca starch)
If your guests are both gluten-free and plant-based, and you’re looking at plant-based meat alternatives to make some of your traditional recipes friendly for your guest (e.g., sausage for your family stuffing), make sure to read the label. There’s a long history of using vital wheat gluten (also called seitan) to create meat substitutes, and many of the popular plant-based meat substitutes you’ll find in your grocery store are based on it. For your gluten-free guests, you’ll need to skip the Field Roast completely (it’s delicious, but totally gluten-based), read the Tofurkey packages closely (only some of their products are gluten-free), or reach for the Beyond Sausage to be sure the plant-based meat alternatives you’re considering are safe for them to eat.
If your guests are gluten-free, plant-based, and also have nut allergies, read labels of non-dairy cheeses and non-dairy milks carefully. Many non-dairy cheeses and milks are nut-based, using almonds or cashews as their creamy-textured base. While there are plenty of suitable options for non-dairy milks (rice, quinoa, hemp), non-dairy cheese is trickier. Daiya’s non-dairy cheeses are gluten-free, peanut-free, and nut-free, but do contain coconut. If your menu calls for a plant-based cheese, and you have a guest with a range of allergies, ask them what they’d recommend. Chances are good that they’ve already done their research, and can tell you what they trust—or what they’d use instead.
- Make your kitchen gluten-safe
At home, if you’re not a gluten-free family, you’ll also have to be careful to avoid hidden gluten and cross-contact in your kitchen when preparing food for your gluten-free guests. Crumbs from your toaster, flour residue on your sponge, residue on wooden cutting boards, or not-quite-clean countertops can all be sources of hidden gluten. But you don’t need to call a professional to sterilize your house with an industrial-strength steamer to make your kitchen—and what comes out of it—safe for your gluten-free guests. Don’t panic. A few simple precautions are all you need:
- Wash your hands Hot soapy water and thorough hand washing is the single most important thing you can do for food safety of any kind, but it’s especially important when you’ve got gluten-free guests. (Hand sanitizers are not a substitute for soap and water).
- Get a new sponge Your old sponge can spread gluten to otherwise clean surfaces, so use a fresh sponge to clean up before, during, and after any food prep you do for your gluten-free guests.
- Use only non-porous cutting boards Unlike porous wooden ones, glass or plastic cutting boards can be sterilized in the dishwasher (when pre-rinsed and washed separately from other dishware with gluten-containing food residue), and made safe for your gluten-free guests. When you’re feeding gluten-free guests, stash your beloved wooden bread board away, and use only ones you’ve run through the dishwasher on their own. (Don’t have a dishwasher? Wash non-porous cutting boards in very hot soapy water, free from anything that might have gluten residue, and dry with a fresh, clean dishcloth).
- Wash counters with kitchen cleaner (or bleach) Away from the sink, soapy water on a sponge isn’t quite hot enough to make sure that counter is free of stubborn gluten residue. Use a kitchen cleaner or bleach solution (wipes, or a spray with a clean cloth or new sponge) to clean your counter before you prepare gluten-free foods.
- Keep gluten-containing ingredients separate from gluten-free ones While it’s probably better to plan a menu that’s gluten-free, if you’re making dishes that aren’t gluten-free for the same meal, you’ll need to take extra care to keep them separate. Don’t make them side-by-side on the same counter. Instead, clean your kitchen using the tips above, prepare your gluten-free items, cover completely, and separate finished dishes so there’s no chance of cross-contact. Use separate serving utensils, and if you’re serving dinner family-style at the table, make sure the gluten-free utensils are marked—or keep gluten-free dishes in a separate, dedicated area.
Having gluten-free guests or guests with food allergies and other dietary restrictions doesn’t have to be scary or stressful. These tips can help you be a true hostess with the mostess by making them feel welcome, respected, and included in your home, no matter what occasion you’re celebrating.
What are your favourite tips for gluten-free, allergy-friendly entertaining?