We know, hosting a holiday party can be stressful. The critical in-laws, the last-minute dropouts. If you have a guest who requires gluten-free options, you may find yourself making double the dishes. This year, save time by opting for a menu of gluten-free food and recipes only.
“It makes it easier for the host if all the food is gluten free,” said Nancy Mazarin MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian and medical nutritionist with a private practice in Great Neck. “They don’t have to worry about cross-contamination, which is a huge issue in terms of serving and cooking and they don’t have to label anything gluten free.”
Still, it may seem like a daunting task for someone who has never had to worry about gluten, especially when you consider that not every ingredient is listed on those labels you’re squinting to decipher (and causing wrinkles in the process). Mazarin shared some quick-and-easy tips to simplify your gluten-free food search and make your party a low-stress success.
Learn What Gluten Is
Gluten is a general name for proteins that are common in wheat, rye and barley. It helps them maintain their shape and holds them together. For people with celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that affects about 1 in 133 people, ingesting gluten causes inflammation in the small intestines. Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may have similar symptoms, but it is not an autoimmune disorder, does not have a genetic component and will not damage the small intestine. Still, it can produce serious discomfort like bloating and fatigue you probably don’t want your guest to feel.
What’s Always Fine
When Mazarin has a patient who needs to initiate a gluten-free diet, she likes to focus first on what they can eat. Let’s keep the glass-is-half-full outlook by starting with what foods are safe to go crazy throwing into your cart. “Any animal kingdom food is fine as long as it’s in its natural form.” This means you can buy un-processed proteins and dairy products like fish, turkey, duck, eggs, cheese, milk, veal and pork. If you’re buying deli foods, you’ll want to check online, call the manufacturer or consult a gluten-free book (Mazarin recommends Shelley Case’s Gluten-Free Diet or the CSA Gluten Free Product Listing to her patients). All fruits and veggies get the stamp of approval, too.
Solve the Starch Issue
“The starches are what’s limited.” Foods like pasta can be tough to serve at a gluten-free party. Reach for safe starchy foods like rice, corn, potato, sweet potatoes and lentils instead.
Don’t Bother With Ingredients Lists
Maybe you really want to serve pasta and cookies or maybe you have to have a cheese-and-crackers combo but are discouraged to learn many crackers are off limits. Even soy and salad dressings are risky. It’s possible to find gluten-free options for all of those, but do yourself a favor and don’t try to decipher an ingredients list. “The list can go on and on of what has gluten in it…don’t assume it’s gluten-free because of the ingredients list because it may not list it.”
Instead, try one or both of Mazarin’s simple solutions: “There are only two ways to be sure, one is a gluten-free label. I don’t think anyone is lying on them like they do on the other labels, or call the manufacture.”
Places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods tend to stock up on gluten-free products.
Mazarin recommends cookers and bakers sub wheat flour for cornstarch, potato starch or flour, white rice flour, tapioca starch or bean flour.
The big one to watch out for is vodka. Mazarin suggests Chopin, a potato vodka, Ciroq or Tito’s, a corn vodka. Bacardi fans, rejoice. “Rums should be fine,” Mazarin said. Wines are too.
“Beer is a big issue. There are a lot of different beers on the market, so make sure it’s gluten-free. The two most common are Omission or Bard’s.”
Mazarin’s Mouth-Watering Menu Ideas
Appetizers: “Cut up vegetables and [make] a homemade dip with real ingredients like a lemon basil. You can use any herb or milk product. Popcorn, nuts, shrimp and gluten-free rice crackers and cheese.”
Entrées: “Kabobs over rice, cut up roasted chicken with sweet potato fries, sweet and sour meatballs over rice.”
Dessert: “Ice cream, fresh fruit and gluten-free cookies.”