Whether you are a newbie Coeliac or an old hand at gluten free living Christmas can be daunting. There’s a whirl of parties and business meals to wade through. Pre-Coeliac you probably looked forward to this time of year with carefree drinking, eating and being merry. Yet post-Coeliac diagnosis life at celebration time can be daunting, especially if you are a newbie Coeliac and this is your first Christmas gluten free. It can feel you’ve lost control on what you eat and how it’s prepared.
How can you eat out at social gatherings and ensure you won’t be sick from that lunch meal you’ve paid so much for? Will you just be loaded up with fruit and vegetables? Will it be embarrassing to ask the waiter to double check the sauces are gluten free? Do they understand about cross contamination?
You mentally scan the menu looking for the possible gluten and cross contamination risk instead of what you’d like to eat like everyone else. House parties can be a minefield as well. Should you bring your own food around to your mate’s house or chance that they’ve understood what gluten free means?
You’re faced with a buffet..do you just opt for the obvious salad and veggie finger foods or just nibble on some rice cakes you’ve smuggled in with you just in case?
So…how can you keep your cool and enjoy a contamination meal with work colleagues or round at friends and family, who may not be as Coeliac savvy as you?
Well here’s some tried and tested Gluten Free Guerrilla team tips. They’re all based on our personal experience so we’d love you to join in and add your hints and tips as well. We hope they make celebration time a little simpler so that you can forget you have Coeliac Disease and just enjoy socialising with family and friends without feeling like the odd one out.
Meals Out: ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail’
Dull but true..we’ve found that having Coeliac Disease makes planners out of the most spontaneous of us! Like creating a great project the best way of ensuring you have fun and safe eating out experience is to plan, plan, plan. So here’s our personal top tips….
- Make friends with the event organiser
- let them know your requirements - email them your food restrictions (which should mean less is lost in translation as they can forward onto the restaurant)- you may want to offer to liaise with the restaurant directly - this may seem like more hassle in the short term, yet if you talk/ email the restaurant manager you have more chance of being able to explain what you need and establishing a good rapport with them
Do your research
a sauce, coating, be mass produced, cooked in contaminated oil or water, and use this to discuss with the venue manager. Then you can be sure your specific queries have been answered well in advance
-get the set menu off the website/ company/ office organiser. Read it and note anything that may have:
Catch them at the right time
- offer to pop by at a quiet time and see the Catering / Mgr and discuss the menu. Often useful as you’ll have their full attention and they’ll understand your needs- ask if you can bring your own GF bread or bread sticks so you won’t feel left out at the starter time
-try and avoid the big meal for fri/ sat nights at busy Christmas time. Hard we know - yet these times will be harder to check details on the day etc vs quieter mid week meals/ lunches.
-the party planner or restaurant mgr in a humble way so they are clear that Coeliac disease is more than just not eating bread- rather than say I’m allergic to wheat, rye, barley, oats, spelt etc focus on what they need to know e.g. I can’t eat anything that contains wheat, flour, or any grains etc. Try and talk in cooking language rather than ‘Coeliac speak’.
Once they understand that explain that there is also an issue ref cross contamination as CD is an immune problem which means that a and that a breadcrumb can make you ill or using the same utensils or oil or water for cooking your dishes could make your very ill and sick in the restaurant. *often restaurants will be nervous in case Coeliacs are sick or complain if they are contaminated.
They may say they can’t 100% guarantee your meal is gluten free. In which case you will gauge from the discussion with the venue as to whether they
a) understand your needs b) are covering themselves legally.
Often places will say this as it’s company policy and you can eat out safely.
Yet if you feel they don’t understand or they’re not able to avoid cross contamination in the kitchen area eg if they make products with lots of flour flying around then you maybe wise to avoid eating at such a venue. Only you can decide and take that decision.
- Sell the positives
- if they can check the stock is gluten free, oil used for your food, pans, grill etc are clean there should be no problems- eating gluten free is actually eating healthy well made (less processed) food, so most good restaurants ‘get this’ and can adapt their menus or point out the best choices for you- explain that you’re very loyal to places that do cater for Coeliacs and often you’ll bring your family and friends so they will get repeat business
*from a catering perspective catering for Coeliacs can seem like a hassle at a busy Christmas period
- you are an ambassador for all Coeliacs when you speak with a venue. So be understanding, be assertive and recommend them to other Coeliacs if they do a great job.
- Ask to see the Mgr
- on the day ask to see the Mgr or ring ahead to check everything is order- it’s not being fussy as your health is at risk
- don’t expect all the waiting staff to understand what gluten free means or have been trained in it. Staff turnover is high in retail and catering and with many Xmas temps it can be hard to standardize training.
- it can seem embarrassing to double check things esp if you are out for a business meal
- so ring ahead or ask to see the mgr when you arrive so you can discreetly check everything is ok
- if they mess up on the day and you end up with a crutons/ bread roll etc on your plate (mistakes do happen!), then discreetly see the mgr and explain the issues and ask for a gluten free version again. Suffering politely or quietly fuming doesn’t get any of us far. It’s better to be safe than sorry and bring it to their attention.
- Thank and thank again
- each time you eat out you are an ambassador for Coeliacs
- remember to praise the catering team and tip well for great service
- follow up with a nice short thank you note to the venue and head office (it’s only human that we tend to remember bad experieces more than good ones). Let’s change that and praise the chains and indy venues that cater for Coeliacs and go the extra mile
- Tell a Coeliac friend
- had a great time?
- then spread the word
- if more venues see that there is a market for gluten free food then they will adapt their menus
- so why not pass it on and let another Coeliac on the site or in your personal circle of friends know how good the venue was?
Eating out at a friends/ family…coming soon….
In the meantime don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. See you on the other side!