November 16, 2020   |   Gluten-Free Living   |   Little Northern Bakehouse

“Home for the holidays” has a different meaning in a pandemic world. Depending on you and your family’s circumstances, social distancing may mean our holiday celebrations will be anything but traditional. For some of us, gatherings will be hybrid. Instead of hosting harvest table dinners, welcoming out-of-town guests, or serving friends at seasonal soirees, we may be shortening our menus, putting out fewer place settings, and staying home with our households. Much of our merry mingling may be virtual again this year. And while the magic of the holiday season is sure to find us in spite of all this, it won’t be without missing our families, friends, and the joyful gatherings we usually look forward to.

But whether the distance between you is six feet or thousands of miles, whether you’re making gluten-free holiday dinner for your bubble or breaking gluten-free bread with loved ones virtually, with a little creativity, you can still celebrate over delicious meals.

We want to help you make holiday magic for gluten-free family and friends safely—even in a global pandemic. Check out our four ways to be the Hostess with the Mostest in socially distant times. No matter how you adapt to the holidays ahead, keep reading for gluten-free and allergy friendly tips and gluten-safe kitchen practices you can use to help make their gluten-free holiday season bright.

1. Organize a Socially Distant Gluten-free Holiday Potluck

Instead of hosting in your home, consider organizing a potluck-style holiday meal you can enjoy virtually with family and friends who live within driving distance. Like any potluck, agree (or assign!) who will make each course. Have every cook divide their dish into household-sized portions and exchange the food at a safe distance. Mains, sides, and desserts can be dropped off at each other’s doors—or outside yours—for pickup and delivery.

Socially Distant Gluten-free Holiday Potluck Tips:
  • Talk to potluck participants early to see if they have any allergies or dietary restrictions.
    Make sure everyone involved understands explicitly what people can and cannot eat ahead of time. Hearing through the grapevine that someone has gone gluten-free might make it sound like a fad, but perhaps this person has been newly diagnosed with celiac disease or a severe wheat allergy. You may be familiar with a family member’s peanut allergy, but does everyone making a dish for the potluck know that person just learned they’re allergic to sesame, too? Asking everyone directly what they need to avoid shows them you care enough to respect their needs and gives you peace of mind to plan a potluck that won’t involve anyone needing an EpiPen or feeling ill days after the meal.
  • Consider delivery timelines and locations for basic food safety.
    If dishes will take a while to distribute, or there could be delays between drop-off and mealtime, pack appropriately. If hot dishes risk cooling down to non-food safe temperatures, pack them with instructions for easy reheating and drop them off cold with ice and a cooler. Same for cool dishes at risk of warming up. Your group’s logistics will vary, so take a few moments to plan around specifics. No one wants a foodborne illness for the holidays!
  • See our Gluten-free Holiday Recipe and Grocery Exchange Tips and Gluten-Safe and Healthy Kitchen Tips below for more details on how every potluck participant can do their part to make their dishes safe for everyone.                                                                                     
2. Start a Gluten-free Holiday Recipe and Grocery Exchange

For some friends and family, the distance will be too far for a socially distant potluck. Try a recipe and grocery exchange instead! Start by drawing names. Then, have everyone choose their favourite holiday dish and send the recipe and groceries required to their drawn name, making sure it’s delivered a few days before the holiday. Friends and family can have fun making a beloved family dish in their own homes, then everyone can eat together over a virtual call.

Gluten-free Holiday Recipe and Grocery Exchange Tips:
  • Hidden gluten in groceries:
    If you’re shopping for those who are gluten-free, but 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. Conventional baked goods are obvious (and brands like Little Northern Bakehouse give you options that offer all the joy of the real thing, gluten-free). Here are some things you should know when you’re preparing your shopping list (or ordering groceries), and what substitutes can work instead:
(Usually) contains gluten Use instead
  • 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’re feeding plant-based family or friends)
  • Packaged sauces and gravies
  • Homemade sauces and gravies (thicken with cornstarch or tapioca starch)
  • Hidden gluten in plant-based alternatives:
    If the family or friends you’re shopping for are both gluten-free and plant-based, make sure to read labels. Using plant-based meat alternatives to make some of your traditional recipes vegan friendly (e.g., sausage for the stuffing) is easier than ever—but you have to be careful. There’s a long history of using vital wheat gluten (also called seitan) to create meat substitutes. Many of the popular plant-based meat alternatives you’ll find in your grocery store are made with it. For your gluten-free family or friends, you’ll need to skip the Field Roast completely (it’s delicious, but totally gluten-based), and read the Tofurkey packages closely (only some of their products are gluten-free). Reach for the Beyond Sausage (it’s gluten-free). Read every label to be sure the plant-based meat alternatives you’re considering are safe for your loved ones to eat.
  • Hidden nuts in non-dairy milks and cheeses:
    If someone is gluten-free, plant-based, and also has nut allergies, read labels of non-dairy cheeses and non-dairy milks with extra care. 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 recipe calls for a plant-based cheese, and you’re shopping for someone with a range of allergies, don’t guess. 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.
3. Order Holiday-Worthy Gluten-free Delivery or Take-Out

Another option for far-flung friends and family is to order them a holiday meal from a restaurant, caterer, or meal service in their neighbourhood. Not only is this a great way to learn more about a loved one who lives across the country through their favourite local spots, but it’s also a wonderful way to support small businesses during tough times. Many restaurants are unable to safely offer dine-in options due to public health orders, but still provide take-out and delivery services.

Holiday-Worthy Gluten-free Delivery or Take-Out Tips:
  • When choosing the restaurant and meal from afar, confirm any dietary restrictions with family first. Research the menu ahead of time to see if a potential restaurant offers allergy-friendly and gluten-free meal options. Don’t worry about making it a surprise if you can’t find a winner with a web search. Ask loved ones with dietary restrictions where they prefer to eat in town so you can be sure they’re getting a holiday-worthy meal they can safely enjoy.
  • Many restaurants only put part of their menu on their websites. If you can’t confirm if meals on a menu online are safe for your gluten-free friends or family, call the restaurant. A gift card to your loved ones’ favourite restaurant is also an option.
4. Host a Bubble-Only Gluten-free Holiday 

For some cities, provinces, or states, hosting a small bubble of six in your own home is still a safe option*. If this is the case where you live, follow public health recommendations for guidance on the size and makeup of your bubble to host. (Usually, that means sticking to immediate family, less-vulnerable parents, or best friends who live alone).

* As case counts and public health orders can change quickly, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan. Confirm current local public health recommendations before you host anyone from outside your household in your home.

Gluten-Safe and Healthy Kitchen Tips for Socially Distant Holidays and Bubble-Only Hosting :

Following the safe kitchen protocols below won’t just help protect your bubble from gluten and allergens, and respect their dietary restrictions. Many of these are also important measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • 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. And it’s especially important when you’ve got gluten-free members in your bubble, or you’re making a dish for a socially distant holiday potluck. Hands should be washed frequently with warm water and soap for at least thirty seconds.(For COVID-19 safety, follow public health recommendations for mask wearing during food preparation, too. If you’re hosting your bubble in your home, encourage everyone to wash their hands when they arrive, before they eat, and provide hand sanitizer as needed for use between hand washings).
  • 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.(For COVID-19 safety, follow public health recommendations and extend your sanitizing measures beyond the kitchen to high-touch surfaces like door handles, taps, and handrails, too. It’s a good idea even within your household).
  • Get a new sponge
    Your old sponge can spread gluten to otherwise clean surfaces. Use a fresh sponge to clean up before, during, and after any food prep you do for gluten-free members of your bubble, or for a socially distant holiday potluck.
  • Use only non-porous cutting boards
    Unlike porous wooden ones, glass or plastic cutting boards can be sterilized in the dishwasher. (They must be pre-rinsed and washed separately from other dishware with gluten-containing food residue to be gluten-safe). Pre-wash all cutting boards you’re using to prepare food for anyone who’s gluten-free in your bubble or potluck list. 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. Dry with a fresh, clean dishcloth).
  • Keep gluten-containing ingredients separate from gluten-free ones
    It’s probably better to plan a menu that’s gluten-free. But if you’re making dishes that aren’t gluten-free for the same meal, 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, and cover completely. Separate finished dishes so there’s no chance of cross-contact. Use separate serving utensils for each. And if more than one person in your bubble is helping serve dinner, make sure the gluten-free utensils are marked. Or keep gluten-free dishes in a separate, dedicated area.(Follow the same advice when preparing gluten-free dishes for a socially distant potluck!)
  • Serve individual plates instead of family-style or buffet
    Plate each meal individually versus offering a family-style or buffet set up. For those with dietary restrictions, this helps prevent cross contact between gluten-free and non-gluten-free options. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this also helps prevent members of your bubble from getting too close around a buffet. For both reasons, make sure everyone has their own utensils and there are no shared serving utensils throughout the evening.(For a socially distant potluck, pack portions for each participating household with the same approach. Label anything that isn’t gluten-free so nothing gets mixed up.)
  • Spread out the seating plan
    Even within a bubble, leave as much space as possible between table settings to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Space out chairs and an extra leaf to your table if you can. Or set up two or three smaller tables that seat only members of the same household. Public health recommendations advise it’s safer to be together outdoors. If your climate permits, host your bubble’s holiday meal outdoors this year.

Hosting doesn’t have to be scary or stressful. Although your holiday festivities may look different this year, you can still bring together loved ones over food. All it takes is a little creativity and care to create a feast that includes everyone.

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