Ask Essie: Accommodating a Celiac When Feeding a Group?

Elaine wants to know a way to accommodate preparing food for a group where one member needs a gluten free meal, particularly a kid’s group.

Well, Elaine, that is an excellent question and as more people are diagnosed at earlier ages with gluten intolerance or celiac disease it is a good discussion to bring up.  I have a few ideas.

Kids especially don’t want to stand out in a crowd so the kindest way to accommodate the dietary restriction is to feed them all the same way.  Fortunately eating gluten free has never been easier than now with a few twists of the ingredients.

We keep a totally gluten free kitchen, and I do prepare meals for mixed groups from time to time.  So that means I stick to some basic recipes for that kind of event that are always gluten free.  No one ever can tell the difference and sometimes my celiac friends ask me if I am sure the meal is gluten free.  Gluten free cooking has become almost invisible in some cases.

If it is a crowd, I might make a big pot of soup, or a chili, or bake up some chicken wings.  If it is fitting to make pasta, there are many  choices out there that no one would ever figure out was gluten free. This is a large mac & cheese finishing up in the oven.  Want some?

More grocery stores are carrying items that are gluten free. Betty Crocker has cake, cookies and a brownie mix that are gluten free.  They also have a gluten free version of Bisquick.  Some stores have space in the baking section for other GF mixes like cornbreads or pancakes.  Vans makes wheat free waffles.  The pasta section should have a few brands that are gluten free.

There are websites devoted to helping interpret ingredients but by and large if an item has wheat, barley or rye in it then it is not gluten free.  If it has modified food starch from wheat, or barley malt  it is not gluten free.  Corn, all rices, nut flours, potato starches and flours, and a host of other grains are gluten free.  There are certified gluten free oat sources available, too.

But don’t assume that all corn chips are gluten free, for example.  Many are labeled GF now, but some are made in facilities that also process wheat and are cross contaminated.  Being GF is all about reading labels.

Here’s a short list of things to make that fit the bill:

  • Mac and cheese using cornstarch for a thickener and gluten free pasta – like the photo above
  • Baked chicken wings with mild sauce and dip (just check the labels to avoid wheat)
  • Chili – just avoid thickening with flour
  • Chicken & rice
  • Sides: there are tons of choices in some markets for quick mixes that are gluten free for easy breads, cornbreads, and desserts.  Those are handy to use and give instructions on preparing it gluten free
  • Veggies with dip (again, just read the labels to avoid wheat)

I always try to err on the side of no cross contamination so I avoid having any wheat, barley or rye products around when serving food to a mixed group.  Some people are more sensitive than others to cross contamination so better to watch out for it up front and avoid any issues by not having risky items around.

Hope this answers your question and gives you some ideas.  Please be sure to ask if you need more information.  And from a person who eats GF, thank you so much for caring that much to ask!

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