Summer is quickly approaching, and your schedule is probably packed with barbecues, picnics and other social gatherings. We asked NFCA volunteer Annsley Klehr, owner of Gluten Freedoms, a gluten-free consulting company, to share her tips for managing those awkward moments when you’re gluten-free at a gluten-filled party.
A month or two ago I received an email from a neighbor asking me for a recipe for a gluten-free flourless chocolate cake. I willingly obliged, noting in my email that I would be happy to advise her on certain brands and kitchen procedures to avoid cross-contamination. She thanked me and that was that.
Fast forward several weeks, my family and I are invited to this neighbor’s daughter’s birthday party. I have already briefed my daughter that she will not be able to eat the desserts there, so we brought a piece of chocolate for her. We walk in the door to the rich aroma of Mediterranean style appetizers such as hummus, baba ganoush, chips, veggies, etc. I happily allowed my daughter a few corn chips and veggies.
When it came time for dessert, I realized that my neighbor had asked me for the gluten-free flourless chocolate cake recipe so that she could make it for my daughter and myself. I knew her household wasn’t gluten-free, so I could not be sure how she prepared the cake, what ingredients she used or if there was a risk of cross-contamination. The host offered the cake (which was touching gluten-containing desserts) to me in front of all the guests, saying, “I made this especially for you. It’s gluten-free.” Then came the ice cream cones filled with chocolate mousse – both gluten-containing and gluten-free versions. My first reaction was an overwhelming appreciation for such thoughtfulness, and then anxiety.
How could I tell her how much I appreciated all of this food and then NOT eat it? There was nothing I could say to her but “Thank you.”
I felt so embarrassed by the whole situation I wanted to sink through the floor. I wasn’t even worried about my 3 year-old daughter because no one would be looking at her for social graces. I was sitting on the couch surrounded by guests, my daughter floating around the room and my husband at my feet. I was handed a piece of chocolate cake and the gluten-free cone and I found myself profusely thanking my host for all of her efforts as my heart raced. I knew I couldn’t eat any of it. The risk of cross-contamination and the thought of a gluten attack were too high. All of the sudden, a hand reached out in front of me, freeing my hand of my cone. I looked up and all I could see was a mass of curls; it was my husband. He readily bit into the cone without uttering a word. I new I’d married him for a reason. By eating the cake for me, my husband relieved me of a potentially uncomfortable situation! (The chocolate cake I could conceal in a napkin in my hand).
These situations will always happen, and people living gluten-free have to be prepared. Here are a few tips to help you navigate awkward social situations:
Call your host or hostess and let them know that you plan on attending, and that you will either come with your own supply of food or carefully vet all of their ingredients and thoroughly explain cooking procedures to avoid cross-contamination. If you have a child attending the party, ask the host for the menu in advance so that you can plan to bring gluten-free substitutes. If the party is being catered, call the catering company and speak with them directly.
Sometimes it may feel awkward to say anything or have a special plate. In that case, make sure that you grab something to eat before or after the party and always have a snack, like a nut bar or piece of fruit in your bag.
As awkward as it may feel, saying “Please” and “Thank you” for foods you can’t eat are still greatly appreciated. People have gone out of their way to make you feel comfortable, so in return, try to make them feel comfortable, too. Parties are not the time to educate your hosts, so if you are presented with something that you can’t eat, accept it and express your thanks, then find a time to subtly dispose it or hand off to a friend.
Have someone or something you can swiftly pass your food off to without anyone noticing. I often alert a friend going to the party with me of situations like these and ask if that friend might kindly take my portion so as not to offend anyone.
If you’re looking to avoid drawing attention to what you’re eating or not eating at a party, then always try to have a drink or plate in your hand. I find that having something on my plate helps to avoid questions and makes it easier to decline other foods.
Don’t let your anxiety prevent you from enjoying a party. Keep to these few tips and you’ll have a good time no matter what situations you encounter!
– Annsley Klehr