This part of my life began when my very sick partner was diagnosed with Celiac. Even the slightest exposure to gluten can make him very ill for several days, so I have pursued gluten-free options with thorough aggression. In the U.S. a recent surge of gluten awareness means we have more choices than ever, but it still means hunting and analyzing and tracking down parent companies. After several years now of doing so, I want to share my tricks and tips with others who are still struggling.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gluten-Free Tip: Match Your Snacks

One of the hardest parts of having to avoid gluten is how so many cultures use food as a social bonding event.  The potluck at work, the family dinner, and the barbecue or pizza party amongst friends are not about gathering fuel for the body; they're about connecting with people and "breaking bread" together.  When you have to bring a baked potato to the pizza and beer party, it naturally makes most people feel self-conscious. 

Try to find out in advance what kind of food will be present at whatever gathering you attend.  If everyone eats bagels at the morning meeting, keep a bag of gluten-free bagels in the freezer at work and thaw one in the toaster.  If It's a pizza and beer party amongst friends, make a small gluten-free pizza for yourself (or better yet, a big one to share!) and maybe even track down one of the gluten-free beers on the market (Redbridge will be the easiest to find nationally, but there are many regional microbrews experimenting with gluten-free).  A movie night is a chance to bring your own microwave popcorn, or even your own air popper and butter to share with everyone.  If there's a potluck, bring a gluten-free offering and ask around to see what other people are bringing so that you can approximate it.  If your child's class has a birthday party, send them to school with a gluten-free piece of cake or a cupcake in tupperware, so that they're not the only ones left out.

Note that in the last case, coordinate with the teacher so that they don't call attention to the food differences or urge the child to try unsafe foods and drinks.  Also pack your child their own plastic fork, napkin and juice or milk mini-bottle, as both the kids and teacher will be handling the utensils and bottles for the class after covering their hands in cake crumbs.  See if the teacher will have all the students wash their hands after eating to prevent cross-contamination on the playground. 

Celiac and food allergies are not just a barrier to food, they can become a social barrier as well.  The recent wide availability in recipe books and websites, gluten-free bakeries and manufacturers who ship can help reduce the sense of otherness in a food-centered gathering. 

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