Food and friends go hand-in-hand. You meet friends for a bite to eat, grab drinks to celebrate, and throw dinner parties to catch up. For those requiring a gluten-free diet, party invites are often daunting: Excuses are made to avoid awkward food moments, safe snacks are stealthily stored in pockets to be nibbled on the sneak. But going out while gluten-free doesn’t have to be difficult. With a little planning ahead and some gluten-free confidence, socializing can be easy and safely gluten-free. Here's how:
1. Play host or hostess.
Take total control of the meal by inviting people to come to you—and give them a gluten-free feast. As the host or hostess, you're in charge of the menu, easing the fears of accidentally eating something you can’t. When friends ask what they can bring, request pre-packaged gluten-free foods, gluten-free beer, or wine. The pre-made food will help avoid any cross-contamination with gluten when being prepared or in transit.
2. Talk to your host.
When invited to a party, talk to your host about your dietary needs when you RSVP. Don’t be shy about your diet. Use this invitation as a chance to educate someone new about the gluten-free world and your medical needs. If the host feels uncomfortable preparing a safe gluten-free meal, ask if you can bring a gluten-free appetizer or main dish to share.
Once at the party, let the host know it's important to keep the gluten-free dish separate from others and with its own serving utensils to avoid cross contamination. Want to go one step further? Ask your host if you can assist with the menu planning and preparation of the party. They might welcome the help!
If you do find yourself at a party with food you haven’t prepared yourself, be sure to survey the scene before digging in. Ask your host to talk you through the food, including ingredients and preparation before everyone starts eating. (Better yet, see if you can get all this info before the party so you can go in prepared!) If there's a buffet, try to be the first person served to avoid cross contamination.
3. Do your research.
You can still dine out at restaurants while sticking to your gluten-free diet—it just requires a little homework. There are many websites that help locate restaurants that accommodate gluten-free diets (Gluten-Free Restaurant Database from GFRAP, Gluten-Free Registry, and Gluten-Free Travel Site, to name a few). Make some safe suggestions to your friends or family ahead of time. Once you decide on a restaurant, be sure to call ahead and confirm that the kitchen can cater to your needs.
Need some help on the go? Look for smartphone apps that help find gluten-free restaurant on the go, such as Allergy Eats and Dish Freely. Even if you're unable to call ahead to double check, talk to the staff about your needs as soon as you arrive. Again, use this time to educate not only your friends but the restaurant staff too! And don’t be shy—this is your gluten-free life!
Want to get boozy with your friends? You're in luck. The gluten-free cup runneth over! Wine, gluten-free beer, hard cider, and hard liquor are all safe for those on a gluten-free diet. (Note: When distilled, hard liquor no longer contains the gluten protein.) Even better, try a vodka that is naturally gluten-free made from potatoes, grapes, or even honey.
4. Find some gluten-free friends.
Although your gluten-eating friends are probably great and (hopefully) supportive of your gluten-free diet, there is something comforting about socializing with others who share your dietary needs. Find a local support group that gets together regularly in a social setting. Check out a local branch of a national organization such as the Gluten Intolerance Group with groups in more than 25 states. These are your people. Embrace them! No local group? Consider starting one by creating a Facebook page or Meetup! Happen to be in NYC? Check out our NYC Celiac Meetup for happy hours, gluten-free dinners, and even wine tastings throughout the year.
This article was written by guest contributor and gluten-free blogger Erin Smith. The views expressed herein are hers. See more of Erin's work on her blogs Gluten-Free Fun and Gluten-Free Globetrotter. In addition to writing her two blogs, Erin is the lead organizer of the NYC Celiac Disease Meetup group, a social community that regularly dines out (gluten-free, of course) in the New York City metropolitan area. Erin was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in the early 1980s, so she’s been eating gluten-free almost her entire life. Erin has a unique perspective of growing up in the gluten-free community. She is passionate about sharing her gluten-free experiences with others.
Originally published January 2012. Updated December 2014.