Gluten-Free: What Does It Mean?
It’s hard to think of a family gathering more fraught with anxiety for the gluten-free guest than the bountiful plates of Thanksgiving filled with rolls, gravy, stuffing and casseroles they’ll regret –and then there’s pie. Banish the fear. It is your chance to make gluten-free guests feel comfortable with familiar favorites when you host a meal that eliminates wheat. And with all you’ll have to offer, guests won’t miss a thing.
More people of all ages are starting to identify food allergies, especially gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease or sprue, as the cause of health problems. Others may have noticed minor stomach troubles when digesting wheat, and are avoiding gluten as a way to lose weight and gain energy. Fortunately, many Thanksgiving classics are also gluten-free, from roasted turkey to cornbread (a natural for a great wheat-free stuffing), sweet potatoes, squash, cranberries and green beans.
Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye. Do a little research, and talk to your guests about their gluten-free likes and dislikes. (Not every guest is on board with gluten-free bread substitutes!). Armed with a little information, you will be well on your way. And don’t worry! Learning to eat well while remaining gluten-free is a process. It’s not without a few bumps in the road, but good health is worth it in the end.
What’s safe to eat:
- Beans, seeds and nuts in their natural, unprocessed form
- Fresh eggs
- Fresh meats, fish and poultry (without breading, batter, or a store-bought marinade that is not labeled gluten-free)
- Fruits and vegetables
- Most dairy products—make sure that they are not processed or mixed with gluten-containing grains, additives or preservatives.
Safe grains and starches:
- Corn and cornmeal
- Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)
- Hominy (corn)
Instead of thinking of gluten intolerance as a limitation, try thinking of holiday meals as an opportunity to educate yourself and your guests. Make your gluten-free guests feel welcome. Allow them to explain the ins and outs of celiac disease and encourage everyone to take food allergies seriously, and as an opportunity to taste how good gluten-free foods can be on their own—particularly when they’re not just trying to imitate a flour-lover’s feast!
If you’re considering a buffet affair, know that those with gluten sensitivities will be concerned about which foods contain gluten. Strive to include as many gluten-free dishes as you can, but if some do contain gluten, make sure you:
- Keep prep tools and cutting boards separate if some will be used on gluten foods.
- Make place cards for each dish that make clear which foods are gluten-free. A simple label that indicates ‘GF’ or a symbol, such as a sheaf of wheat with a line through it will clarify which items at your table are wheat-free.
- Certain grains, such as oats, can be contaminated with wheat during growing and processing stages of production. For this reason, many gluten-free folks avoid oats unless they are specifically labeled gluten-free.
- Watch out for the following unless they are labeled and gluten-free:
- Salad dressings
- Sauces, including soy sauce
- Seasoned snack foods
- Spice mixes
- Vegetable in sauce