If you’ve ever wondered how to cook gluten free safely for your gluten free or celiac friend or family member then keep reading!
If you’ve ever wondered how to cook a safe gluten free meal for your gluten free friend or family member then I hope that this post will help you. There are many reasons why people choose to eat gluten free, but in this post I’m primarily thinking about those of us who have Celiac Disease as the issue of cross contamination is vitally important and a basic understanding of this is key to preparing a safe meal. I’m not making a list here of foods containing gluten, that would require another post! You can do an internet search to find out some of the basics on foods to avoid, and I suggest you talk to your gluten free friend about it.
Over the last few years since I’ve been eating gluten free, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several kind friends who have been willing to cook gluten free meals for me and were concerned enough for me that they wanted to do it safely. I’m pretty sensitive to gluten and usually know within a couple of hours if I’ve eaten even a small amount. I’m glad to say that so far I’ve never been sick after eating with friends. I wish I could say the same about eating out!
Now I know that there are some of you out there with Celiac Disease who would never, ever eat food prepared by someone else – I hear you and that’s totally fine! But I also know there are also others who would love to be able to eat with friends and family from time to time and are happy to let them cook a meal if they feel that it’s truly safe, so this post is for them and their hosts.
My list here is not exhaustive and doesn’t cover everything you need to know if you are preparing a gluten free meal. I simply wanted to offer a couple of suggestions that have helped me talk to my friends about cooking for me. Ultimately, if you are a Celiac eating food someone else has prepared in a restaurant or at a friend’s home, then you need to take responsibility in ensuring that it’s safe for you to eat.
Let Them Bring Their Own Food
This might seem counter intuitive in a post about feeding your friends safely, but hear me out! Everyone is different and for some of us who are living with Celiac, it’s simply too stressful to contemplate eating food that someone else has prepared for fear that we will be made sick after eating it. If this is the case with your friend, then you simply need to let them bring their own meal and not see it as a snub toward you or that they don’t trust you. Perhaps you could offer to buy some ready made gluten free foods that they enjoy, such as cookies, ice cream or something similar to go along with the food that they are bringing. Ask your friend for suggestions of ready made gluten free foods that they like and are comfortable with.
Understand the basic facts about Gluten Cross Contamination
Cross contamination usually refers to transferring bacteria from raw uncooked meat to cooked foods that are ready to eat. Most of us know to wash our hands after handling raw chicken and that it needs to be kept separate from cooked or ready to eat foods. For the Celiac, the concern is cross contamination from gluten containing foods, so that a meal that ordinarily might be gluten free then becomes contaminated with gluten during the preparation, cooking, or serving of the meal. For a Celiac, less than one breadcrumb can be enough to trigger an immune response and make them sick. This is why we are so careful and obsessive about the details of food preparation!
An example of this would be making coleslaw with a jar of mayonnaise which has previously been used on bread for a sandwich and so it almost certainly has breadcrumbs in it, even if you can’t see them. Another example would be if you chopped the vegetables for that same coleslaw on a board, or with a knife, that had been used to cut bread and so small amounts of gluten could be present. Or, if you’re prepping it on a work surface near to a toaster, that could also allow gluten to sneak in. Cross contamination can also occur when the food is being served, so if someone uses a spoon, tongs or other utensils to serve a salad when they’ve just been used to pick up bread, or some other gluten containing food. Since any jars of condiments, jams, jellies, peanut butter, etc that have been opened and used on bread or had knives dipped in them are not safe for your Celiac friends, you would need to get a new jar for them to use.
Make your menu totally Gluten Free
If you really want to put your friends at ease and truly minimize the risks of cross contamination, then you can’t do better than having the entire menu gluten free. It’s really not that hard to do! Serve rice or potatoes instead of bread or other gluten carbs. Your gluten eating guests won’t suffer if they miss out on eating bread with one meal, and your gluten free guest will be a little less nervous. I would also advise you to avoid even gluten free pasta unless you can find a way to drain it that doesn’t use a colander or sieve that has been used to drain your own gluten pasta. It can still have gluten residue on there and that would be enough to make some Celiacs sick.
“I already know how to cook Gluten Free!”
Perhaps you’ve dabbled with the gluten free diet yourself or you’ve cooked a gluten free meal or two for someone in the past, but you should still take direction from your friend or relative on the details of the menu and get specific with them about the ingredients you plan to include, especially if your friend has Celiac Disease. I confess that it usually makes me nervous when a non – Celiac is over confident about cooking for me simply because they’ve made a gluten free meal once or twice for someone else who may not have needed to be so concerned about the details of cross contamination as I need to be. Always take the lead from your gluten free friend and discuss the details of the menu and preparation ahead of time. Celiacs don’t like surprises!
Ask if they have other food intolerances
It’s not uncommon for those with Celiac Disease to be intolerant of other food in addition to gluten. About half of all Celiacs are unable to digest cows milk so it’s worth checking with them on that. Some Celiacs also avoid eggs and soy.
Check all the ingredient labels, even the seasonings!
If a food ingredient label says “contains wheat”, “may contain traces of wheat”, “made on shared equipment with wheat”, then you need to avoid that item. That said, gluten can be hidden in so many things, even in herbs, spices, canned vegetables, and foods that are naturally gluten free if they are packaged and processed on equipment where gluten foods are prepared. Ingredient labels do not always tell you if gluten is present in food so do not make the mistake of assuming that something is safe just because no wheat ingredients are listed there. I’ve been made sick that way more than once! Ask your friends if they are familiar with the food item, check the manufacturers website (do not rely on internet forums), or if necessary, call the manufacturer. If there is any doubt at all, avoid that food item and choose one you and your friend know to be safe.
Keep the menu simple
The main objective here is to keep your friends safe and enjoy their company, not wow them with your culinary prowess! Simple is usually better but it doesn’t mean your meal needs to be lacking in taste. You could ask your guest for ideas for a simple menu that they like, or you could try one of my recipes. Here are a couple of easy suggestions :
- Salmon with Marmalade Glaze, serve with rice, salad and/or steamed vegetables.
- Grilled steak with Chimichurri Sauce, serve with salad or vegetables cooked on the grill.
- Pan Roasted Chicken with Vegetables, this is all cooked on one sheet pan.
Dessert can often be a little tricky so my easy default is to serve gluten and dairy free sorbet if I don’t want to cook anything. Kroger’s own brand has a nice selection, as does Haagen-Dazs. You can serve it with or without fruit salad. Popsicles also work well, especially if there are children present. If your guests can tolerate eggs and dairy, then gluten free ice cream is be another good choice.
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