Summer is the time for backyard barbecues and outdoor dinner parties. For those who are gluten-free dining out naturally induces some unease as we must worry if there will be anything for us to eat at the gathering.
In addition, cross-contamination can occur when serving spoons and utensils are shared between the gluten-free foods we bring and gluten-containing foods on the same buffet table. This poses a potential risk that we'll get a case of the Gluten Flu even when we bring gluten-safe food to the gathering.
Here's some tips on eating gluten-free at summer get togethers.
Bring foods that can't easily be contaminated
Finger foods and foods that don't need to be portioned with a utensil are perfect to help protect against cross-contamination. Here's some examples of gluten-free "finger foods" that don't get contaminated easily on the buffet table:
- Sliced watermelon
- Veggie Platter (celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, carrot sticks) with a squeeze container of gluten-free Ranch Dressing
- Corn cobs in their husks for the grill
- Cheese plate with a bowl of gluten-free crackers (avoid soft cheeses that require a cheese knife)
- A bowl of gluten-free potato chips (such as Lay's Classic unflavored Potato Chips)
- Fruit plate (grape clusters, whole strawberries, chunks of bananas in their skin)
Ask for your food to be grilled first on a clean grill
Most hosts have no problem cleaning the grill for you with the grill brush and preparing your food first so it isn't contaminated by gluten-containing marinades or crumbs from wheat buns.
Just give them a heads up so they have plenty of time to prepare your food before the hungry throng gathers around the grill. You might also ask your host if your grilled food can be kept warm in the oven until everyone sits down to eat.
BYOB - Bring Your Own Bread
It's asking a lot for a host to stock gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns for you. So bring your own and offer to share with any other guests who are avoiding gluten in their diet.
Udi's makes both gluten-free hamburger and hot dog buns that are perfect for bringing to the party. You can find them in the freezer section of well-stocked grocers.
Ask for your meat without rubs, seasoning, or marinades
The easiest way to ruin a perfectly grilled "gluten-free" steak or piece of chicken is for someone to coat it with a seasoning, rub, or marinade that contains wheat.
To be safe either bring your own seasoning or ask for your grilled meats to be prepared without seasoning. Once again, if you give your host adequate notice they can set aside a portion of meat that is not marinated or seasoned.
Many brands of hot dogs are gluten-free or do not intentionally contain gluten so if the steak has been marinated with something that contains wheat and the burgers have been seasoned with an unknown seasoning then just ask for a hot dog, it's your safest bet.
Condiments are generally safe
Most common brands of ketchup, mustard, and pickle relish contains so little gluten that they are generally considered to be gluten-safe unless you are extremely sensitive to gluten. Likewise those slices of pickles, onions, and tomatoes can generally be considered safe.
There are two condiments you need to be careful about: mayonnaise and processed cheese slices. Some brands of mayonnaise and some processed cheese slices (American Cheese) contain gluten. To be safe, decline the mayonnaise and order that cheeseburger only if the cheese is a hard cheese (Cheddar, Swiss, Pepper-Jack) as hard cheeses rarely contain gluten.
If you are bringing a dish to share, set aside your portion
That gluten-free potato salad you bring to the party will likely share a serving spoon with the gluten-containing macaroni salad sitting next to it on the buffet table.
To ensure that you have a gluten-safe portion to eat bring a plastic storage container and scoop out your portion before you put your contribution on the buffet table. Ask your host to set aside your portion in the refrigerator until its time to eat. I like to label the container with my name on it so hungry guests who peek in the refrigerator don't help themselves to my dinner.
When all else fails, keep your sense of humor
We can't expect hosts and other guests to know all the rules about eating gluten-free. If you socialize a lot you will eventually get some gluten in your dinner or be faced with nothing on the menu that's gluten-safe to eat.
For those situations I keep a gluten-free snack in my purse or pocket and sneak into the bathroom to eat it in privacy. Then I happily fill my plate with the least gluten-contaminated food available, push it around on my plate while chatting with other guests, and discreetly dispose of the uneaten food when no one is looking.
Parties are for socializing so be a good guest and maintain your sense of humor. It's the best way to ensure you'll be invited back!