Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gluten-Free at Parties: Tips for Eating Well Socially

I had the opportunity this past weekend to be the lone gluten-free guest at two different parties.  Not only were they back-to-back events that left zero time for an in-between meal, but both parties were total carb-fests.  See that table full of bread, crackers and pastries?  That was party #1. Did I go hungry that day?  Did I watch enviously as my friends ate croissants and cupcakes and fettucine alfredo?  Nope. Sure didn't.  I wasn't stuck grazing baby carrots from the veggie platter, either.

So, how did I cope with this day choc-full-o festivities and glutenous foods?  I went prepared.

It can be really tough to face social events that are centered around food when there isn't another gluten-free soul on the guest list.  Eating is a very personal experience, and it can be awkward to be the only person at the table with nothing but a few pieces of lettuce on your plate.  There are the inevitable questions and comments about your "diet", which is assumed by a lot of people to be the same thing as "weight-loss plan".  Being singled out for unusual food choices is difficult and can be uncomfortable. 

These are my suggestions for assuring that your caloric and social needs are met when dining gluten-free at parties:

  1. Talk to the hosts.  Let them know that you're thrilled to be invited, but that you have food allergies (people are less likely to question you if you say the word "allergy") and may not be able to enjoy the food provided.  Find out what's being served.  There may be some things that you can eat, and this will help you plan accordingly.
  2. Bring a dish.  Especially if there won't be any gluten-free foods available.  Try to make something that goes with the meal being served, and bring enough to share.  Other people will be able to try something tasty and completely gluten-free.
  3. Bring your own substitution.  At the dinner party where the fettucine alfredo was served, I brought my own gluten-free noodles, already cooked.  The hostess set aside a little alfredo sauce for me, and I got to enjoy one of my all-time favorite meals with the rest of my fellow diners.  This is another situation where communicating with the hosts is essential.  Find out if it's feasible for you to BYO something to switch out with the offered gluten-filled fare.
  4. Don't be afraid to explain your situation to inquiring guests.  Many people are clueless about what it means to be gluten-free.  At one of the events I attended this weekend, a friend offered me a snack that was questionable as far as gluten content.  When I said I wasn't positive that I could safely eat it, he assured me that it was vegan.  People just don't know.  It's up to us to educate them.
  5. Eat before you go.  If you know that the menu doesn't include anything for you, just eat ahead of time.  This won't really prevent you and your "diet" from becoming the topic of conversation, but at least you won't starve.
  6. If all else fails, pack a couple of snacks.  If you're unable to eat anything, at least you can quiet the rumbling in your stomach with a food bar, a piece of fruit, or some trail mix.
I ended up having an excellent Saturday, attending a baby shower and dinner party.  I brought cookies, fruit and a gluten-free French loaf to the shower where I found fresh veggies, hummus and berries to round out my feast.  The dinner party featured creamy polenta with marinara (a naturally gluten-free dish) as well as pasta (I brought cooked, gluten-free pasta with me), making for an incredible gluten-free meal.

What are your strategies for eating gluten-free at social events?

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