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Prepping Your Gluten-Free Pantry

Preparing Family & Friends: Talking in Advance about Gluten-Free Needs

Stress levels are high during the holiday season.  Between the shopping, cookie exchanges, school parties and other holiday functions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.  Add in special dietary needs and the stress level can soar even higher.  While people living with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (‘gluten sensitivity’) can’t control their need for a gluten-free diet, with a little preparation and patience, people can control their stress levels and enjoy a delightful gluten-free holiday season.

The entire “Prepping Your Gluten-Free Pantry” tips series from the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) and Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery has focused on making the holiday season easier by preparing before the rush happens.  Gearing up for the food and festivities with family and friends is no different.  The sooner we start talking to our loved ones about our gluten-free dietary needs, the better.  Here are some tips for getting the conversations started:

Start now.
You might be thinking “But it’s only October!” but that is exactly why now is the time to start speaking with relatives.  People hosting Thanksgiving and Hanukkah dinners will be planning their menu in the coming weeks.  By speaking with them before they plan the menu and do the grocery shopping, you’ll allow them plenty of time to incorporate your gluten-free needs into the menu.  This gives you the chance to explain how to make simple changes to recipes so they can be gluten-free and just as delicious.  For example, ask if the turkey can be stuffed with gluten-free stuffing.  If your host prefers to stick to traditional gluten-containing stuffing, let them know you’ll bring your own servings of turkey and stuffing so you can enjoy the meal as well. 

Keep in mind that making a simple substitution like using gluten-free chicken broth is enough to convert a dish to be gluten-free.  Ask your host to let you know the menu beforehand so you can make recommendations for easy ingredient switches.

Don’t be afraid to speak up.
People living with gluten-related disorders can sometimes feel uncomfortable explaining their needs, especially during the holiday season.  Some people have even said they feel as if they are a burden to their family and friends because of their gluten-free diet.  Before you begin having conversations with people about the holiday season, remind yourself that a gluten-free diet is absolutely essential for you to be your healthiest self.  A gluten-free diet is not an option for people living with gluten-related disorders (and it’s ok to politely explain that to your loved ones).

Oftentimes, family and friends want to make food that is safe for you to eat, but they just aren’t sure how.  They may be afraid of making a mistake that would cause you to become sick.  If that’s the case, offer to cook a few dishes with them.  That way, it’s both a teaching opportunity and a way for you to know firsthand which ingredients are going into the food.  Print out or email your host NFCA’s “Entertaining Gluten-Free Guests” guide to help them navigate the gluten-free cooking process.

Think about how to best explain your needs.
Consider the family member or friend that you’ll be talking to about your gluten-free needs.  Do they prefer to communicate by email, text message or phone?  Are they at home during the day or is it best to reach them at night?  Try to speak with them at a time that’s convenient for their schedule so you can ensure you have their full, undivided attention.    

If your loved one is not very familiar with the gluten-free diet, explain things to them a little bit at a time so they don’t feel overwhelmed.  It might be helpful to reassure them that gluten-free cooking is easier once you understand what’s off limits and that you’re ready and willing to help and answer any questions they have.  People with a gluten-related disorder who feel like they are inconveniencing their loved one can alleviate that concern by making it a team effort instead. 

Take the guess-work out.
You may make shopping for gluten-free ingredients easier for your family member by providing them with a list of gluten-free products you know and trust.  It’s a good idea to always double check ingredient labels, but this can take the stress out of shopping for a loved one who might not be 100% sure what to look for on a label.  To make it even easier, you can recommend they buy products that are certified gluten-free.  Alternatively, you can drop off gluten-free ingredients you have in your own pantry.

Express your gratitude.
It’s always nice to show someone how much you appreciate their efforts in cooking you a safe gluten-free holiday meal.  Surprise them with a bottle of wine or a gluten-free dessert. 

The key to staying gluten-free during the holiday season is to be prepared and communicate openly and honestly with your family and friends.  And don’t forget – always carry your backup stash of gluten-free goodies, just in case!

Want more holiday tips?  Keep an eye on CeliacCentral.org starting on November 1st for the Gluten-Free Holiday Tip of the Day.

Thank you to Rudi’s Gluten-Free Bakery for making this tip series possible!  Rudi's logo

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