Friday, November 6, 2009

Are you having a Celiac over for dinner?

Photo By: Nik Frey

Are you welcoming a Celiac into your home either for a short term dinner party or longer term house guest (or regular guest)? Are you terrified of cooking for them? I’ve been asked by my friends and family on several occasions to help them help me when it comes to feeding me. I’ve always tried to find some helpful resources, but there aren’t that many around. All the resources are geared towards people who have Celiac and have to make major changes in their lives, not those who are merely entertaining the Celiac. What follows, hopefully, will be a helpful guide to those who want to cook for their gluten free friends.

The reason we try to be so careful with our food, is because when the smallest spec of gluten enters our bodies, our bodies register the gluten proteins as enemies and our immune systems step in. While attempting to attack the gluten our immune system also attacks our intestines, which results in all sorts of various symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, stomach ache, etc. That is the short term results, the ones that last for a few hours up to a few days or weeks. The long term effects come from continually being exposed to gluten and continually having your intestines attacked. Long term effects begin with signs of malnutrition due to our non-functioning intestines no longer being able to absorb the nutrients in our food. They also lead to higher chances of developing Colon Cancer and other such lovely things.

Have I scared you? Good. Since Celiacs don’t react as severely as someone with an allergic anaphylactic reaction it’s hard for some people to take us seriously and insist that it’s okay to cheat or think that we won’t notice that spec of bread crumb that fell on our plate. In fact, some Celiacs are guilty of this, but they are usually the ones who aren’t as sensitive as others or don’t get symptoms at all. Me, I’m the super sensitive type who reacts to the smallest bit of gluten.

Now that you know the level of care that needs to be taken, let me tell you how easy it can be! It might take a little extra care, cleaning and reading, but feeding a Celiac can be done.


  • Clean, clean, clean. Using soap and water is usually sufficient, but if you feel like using something stronger, like bleach, feel free. Clean all working surfaces (counters, tables, cutting boards, stove tops, around your sink). Clean any utensil, pot, or dish that you are planning on using. Although the dishes may be clean in your drawers and shelves, these can easily (especially utensil containers) have crumbs in the bottom or corners, so it’s safest just to assume everything you use is dirty and wash it (if you plan on using) right before you use it.
  • Go back to basics. The easier the recipe and the more home-made it is, the easier it will be to make gluten free. Celiacs can eat fresh meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs, and cheese (not pre-shredded), rice, corn, soy and potato products. The fresher the better, the less processed the better.
  • Read labels. If you are using anything that has a label, read it. Even if you think there is no way there is gluten in it, there probably is. My Mom swore to me that there was no way there could be wheat in Twizzlers until I showed her the label and it was listed third on the list (I think). Things such as hash browns sometimes have wheat added in the flavourings (such as McCain country style hash browns). So read read read. What you are looking for is anything that says the following: wheat, rye, barley, commercial oats & triticale, as well as, H.V.P. - Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, H.P.P. - Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Malt flavouring, Malt, Modified wheat starch or other unidentified food starch. If you are unsure of an ingredient, you can double check it at the website which has an Unsafe Gluten Free List. If you’re ingredient isn’t on the list, you’re okay.


Try to remember about cross contamination. Cross contamination is the biggest culprit for upset stomachs. Most people try their hardest to do something special for their Celiac friend like make them cookies with gluten free flours, but then forget that the butter was from the butter dish that had crumbs in it, and that they often put their flour coated measuring cups into their sugar bags when cooking normally without cleaning them. So if you are going to bake for your Celiac friend, try to remember these few tips.
  • Use only new or uncontaminated flours, spices, butter, and other such ingredients. Does your child like to drink milk straight out of the container after a nice yummy sandwich? Maybe try a new carton of milk.
  • We aren’t supposed to shop in bulk bins, due to the possible contamination from other customers using the wrong scoops. That and the bins are sometimes coated in flour to keep the food inside from sticking. So if possible, buy packaged ingredients (but watch out for that pesky “manufactured in a facility that also produces wheat” note, which is no good).
  • Use gluten free baking soda and baking powder.
Longer Term:

If you have a long term visitor, whether it’s a roommate, boarder, or regular family guest, there are a few things that you may want to do or have on hand as an added bonus. Most Celiacs, once they’ve been around the block a while, will come to your home prepared. They will try to bring everything that they need or isn’t easily accessible in your local stores, but they are sometimes limited by cooler space or carry on luggage. So, although you don’t need to do any of the following, if you do, your friend will appreciate it greatly.

  • Keep miniature versions of common condiments in your fridge only for the use of the Celiac person. Mayonnaise, butter, ketchup, mustard, peanut butter and jam are just a few examples of things that are commonly contaminated from the sandwich knife. Squeeze top versions of these also work, as long as you don’t clean them using your fingers after making a sandwich or burger. Another condiment that can be useful is wheat free tamari instead of soy sauce.
  • Keep gluten free burger buns or bread in your freezer. The GF bread won’t go bad in your freezer. If you do keep bread though, please note that most GF bread doesn’t hold together unless it’s toasted. So we may need to toast it and won’t be able to use your regular toaster unless we have toaster bags. We can always use an oven or toaster oven with tinfoil instead.
  • Keep fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs and rice crackers (plain) on hand for quick easy snacks and breakfasts.
  • If you have access to a dedicated gluten free bakery or a health food store that brings in products from a gluten free bakery, you can always get GF cookies, donuts or cakes (often in the frozen sections if not in the fresh) which you can offer while the rest of the dinner party has their regular dessert. Fruit sorbets work well as an alternative as well, as many Celiacs are also lactose intolerant.
Remember, the best source of information to keep your friend well fed and comfortable is your friend. Do not hesitate to ask them questions. They will be glad to help, as it's always better to be safe than sorry.

In case I forgot anything, or you would like more information, here are some other helpful links in regards to cooking for a Celiac:

So you wanna cook for the Celiac? by Strawberries are Gluten Free

Gluten Free Hospitality
by Thinking Outside the Breadbox

Preparing a meal for a Celiac by the Celiac Association of Canada

A Celiac is coming Home by Leslie Orser


  1. Great article! I run a group called Living Gluten-Free Community in Vancouver and I plan to speak about this very thing at some point in the future. It's nice to meet a fellow Celiac blogger who's not too far away from home! I look forward to your posts :)

  2. Thanks Crystal! I'm glad that you found my article interesting and that you found my blog. It's always great to meet people living gluten free, especially when they are fairly close :)

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