The Gluten Free Ireland Emergency Guide to Christmas

Christmas is coming and more than the Turkeys are in a panic!!!

Gluten Free Christmas cakeDo you dread the Christmas holiday with all the problems it can create around food?

Maybe we can help to take some of the stress out of the situation with a few ideas on how to cope in three different settings.

The first setting is –  At Home

In your own home you are trying to cater for the Coeliacs / Gluten Free in your family alongside the “normal” family members who either live there or are visiting.  This is probably the easiest setting to cope with as you will already be familiar with the food your GF people can eat and no major adjustments will be necessary.

If your Turkey, Goose, Chicken or whatever comes straight from a farm supplier there should not be a problem with Gluten contamination. If purchasing from a supermarket etc then check the label to ensure it is marked as Gluten Free and the same applies to your Ham (not Crumbed!)

The fact that you use Gluten Free Stuffing and Gravy does not need to be mentioned to visitors as they are now so similar to the non GF version nobody is likely to spot a difference!

Gluten Free Christmas pudding is perfectly acceptable for dessert or simply resort to fruit along with ice cream many of which are Gluten Free.

If there is still room after the main courses let your non-GF folk have a cup of tea and a normal biscuit or piece of shortbread while your GF members indulge themselves with the GF version.

If you plan to share sweets around then you’ll be delighted to know that Nestle – Quality Street Assortment / the Big Green Triangle / After Eight Dark Chocolate Mints / After Eight Mint Straws / Matchmakers are all GF. Cadbury Roses and Heroes are GF and much of the Thornton’s chocolate range is GF but check the box label when buying.


The second setting is – Outings to friends, relatives, parties, Church events etc

This setting is a potential nightmare and needs to be “managed” to avoid problems!

Friends & Relatives

For a start, let’s look at visiting friends and relatives. In the past, having to phone your host/hostess to remind them that you are Gluten Free was enough to make many people decide to decline an invitation and stay at home.

Not so nowadays as more and more people have become aware of the Coeliac/GF condition and are willing to cope. However, your host may need some help so you can always offer advice on suitable GF stuffing, offer to arrive a bit early in order to help organise the food and avoid cross contamination or offer to bring your own GF stuffing /gravy if the Turkey is not already stuffed.

The cross contamination risk is obviously higher here than when cooking at home but, by keeping your wits about you, it can be managed and the risk reduced.

If you are the only Coeliac you could offer to bring your own dessert or Christmas cake and, if you bring a GF box of chocolates for sharing, you will be able to join in when they are shared around. (See the “At Home” setting for some ideas on GF chocolates.)

Again, to accompany cups of tea, you could supply your own shortbread or biscuits as appropriate.

By doing so you are taking the pressure off both you and your host so it’s a win-win all round!

One final point on this – be wary of food prepared as “Gluten Free” by friends or family who are not Coeliac! They may or may not have got it right but it’s you who’s going to be sick – not them!!!

Church Service

If you are attending a Church service in your own church and there is to be a supper afterward the catering staff may already be aware of your condition and provide suitable food, avoiding cross contamination as they go! If visiting a strange church it would be wise to bring your own “one person picnic” to avoid any problems or starvation setting in!

‘Tis the season … for Christmas parties.

Unfortunately for those of us who follow the GF diet the vast majority of parties seem to revolve around the food and that makes coping with them tricky but there are several approaches you can take to deal with the problem.

For example, you can attempt to ensure safe food from the event, bring your own, plan to skip the food entirely or even to skip the event entirely.

Will people be offended if you don’t participate? Does the event cost money? Do you really want to go?

Once you’ve answered those questions for yourself, here are some ideas on how to cope.

• Bring your own food. If you really want or need to attend the party, but you most likely can’t trust the food this is your best option. Bring food you’ll really enjoy — that way, you won’t feel left out as everyone else eats. Also, don’t give in to pressure from others to try the food that’s being served because you’ll very likely get sick and that’s no fun at a party!

• Work with the caterer. If a company is catering the event and the organizer can provide you with contact information, you can consider contacting the caterers directly to see if it’s possible for them to provide you with safe food. In this case talk directly with the people cooking the food, discuss cross contamination issues in detail, and question every ingredient.

Whatever you do, don’t try to work through the party organizer — it’s not fair to expect him or her to relay all your concerns accurately and to ask the right questions. If you can’t talk directly to the caterers, don’t eat the food. Also, go with your gut feeling — if you feel  the caterers don’t understand Gluten Free food  don’t take the chance.

 • Eat beforehand, and avoid eating at the party. This is an easy solution, although it frequently provokes annoying questions — and often some unwanted pressure, as well — from other party-goers (“Surely just a little bit of this won’t hurt you!”).

You can also hurt people’s feelings when you’ve had to decline their food … especially in cases when they’ve made something “gluten-free” especially for you.  Be as tactful as you can, but remember that you need to take care of yourself first.

There’s one situation in which you probably won’t want to attend the party and bring your own food. That’s when you’re required to pay for food you won’t be eating. In that case, you’ll need to make up your own mind as to whether you should attend or not.

• Skip the party altogether. If it’s a party you’re expected to attend, as opposed to one you want to attend, this is a viable option, as long as attendance isn’t absolutely mandatory.

If you don’t want to socialize — or if the sight of all that food you can’t eat will make you sad — simply don’t go. Stay home, rent a movie and eat something that’s both really good and completely gluten-free. J

 

The third and final setting is Eating Out at a Restaurant, Pub or Hotel

It’s easier than ever to eat out on the gluten free diet. Many national and regional restaurant chains offer gluten free menus and seem to have taken the time to truly understand the needs of people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. Even many fast food restaurants now offer gluten-free options.

But it’s still possible to run into trouble at a restaurant, especially if you’re fairly sensitive to gluten. In most cases, the problem isn’t gluten ingredients in the food itself — it’s cross contamination.

Here are some rules to follow to ensure a safe restaurant meal. By implementing these, you should be able to eat out safely.

It’s helped that awareness of gluten-free issues has risen generally among the restaurant community as many more people ask for gluten-free options.

Rule #1: Choose Your Restaurant Wisely.

Restaurants with gluten-free menus are a good place to start, since in many cases (but not all), staff members at those restaurants receive training on how to keep food gluten-free and to avoid cross contamination. We suggest the best place to start is by looking on our website for a suitable restaurant near you – www.glutenfreeireland.com

Rule #2: Where possible, talk directly to the Chef or Manager.

Having your server relay questions back and forth to the chef or the manager doesn’t work. Details get overlooked and ingredients get garbled, especially as your requests get more complicated (and avoiding cross contamination is pretty complicated!). Your server may say he knows how to ensure a gluten-free meal but he or she won’t be in the kitchen actually preparing your food – the kitchen staff takes care of that.

Rule #3: Stress Cross-Contamination Issues with Your Chef and Server. Most of the problems in restaurants have involved cross contamination, not actual gluten food served to us. Workers in busy restaurant kitchens need to share cooking surfaces, utensils and pans and it can be difficult to carve out a place to make a gluten free meal in that chaos. Some restaurants that excel in gluten-free items actually keep separate kitchens for gluten and non-gluten food but most do not.

To stay safe, make sure you ask the kitchen staff for the following:

  • Wash their hands and change their gloves before preparing your food
  • Mix any salad in a clean bowl (many restaurants reuse bowls, and they may contain crouton fragments or unsafe salad dressings)
  • Avoid using a grill surface that’s shared with gluten-containing items (including hamburger buns, sauces and breaded items)
  • Use fresh water to cook gluten-free pasta or steam vegetables (some restaurants reuse pasta water for this purpose)
  • Place gluten-free pizzas or rolls on a pan instead of directly on an oven surface, and cover them with foil to avoid crumbs

Also, ask your server to keep your food away from the bread basket and other obvious gluten threats.  It’s possible to have cross contamination introduced between the kitchen and your table!

Rule #4: Question Everything. Many restaurants follow the practice of having someone who’s not your server bring your food to the table. In some cases, that person will say reassuringly, “Here’s your gluten-free meal.” But when the person doesn’t say that, always ask “Is that gluten-free?” to be sure. If something appears on your plate that you didn’t order (such as a garnish or a sauce), don’t touch it or try to push it aside; instead, find out what it is and whether it’s safe. If there’s any doubt, ask for another plate to be prepared.

In addition, if you’re very sensitive you’ll certainly need to ask more questions. For example, the restaurant may offer a dessert that doesn’t include gluten ingredients, but it may be made right alongside the gluten-filled pastries on the menu.

Rule #5: When In Doubt, Don’t Eat. In most cases, Coeliacs are able to eat out safely and enjoyably. But skip a meal entirely if you are not certain the restaurant staff know about gluten. No-one enjoys going hungry, but it’s preferable to being sick the next day. If the chef doesn’t seem to get it — or worse, doesn’t seem interested in trying — you’re better off not taking a chance.

 

Finally, can we point you towards our Christmas page on the website – www.glutenfreeireland.com/gluten-free-christmas/ where you will find lots of thoughts and ideas for dealing with the most magical time of the year – Christmas!

 


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