For many families, Easter is a special time to come together and attend religious services, hide eggs for the kids, craft Easter baskets—and, like most other holidays, to enjoy a delicious meal and treats. Large family meals typically are a challenge in and of themselves for those hosting them, but that difficulty is compounded when guests have celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity and must eat gluten-free foods.
In all likelihood, at least one client will approach you feeling overwhelmed about preparing gluten-free menu items for their Easter guests. Luckily for your clients (and their guests), there’s no need for them to panic; as an RD, you can reassure them that making simple modifications to meals they already have planned can make it easier than they think.
Undoubtedly, gluten-free cooking and baking can feel stressful or downright impossible for clients who’ve never done it before. Gluten-free isn’t just about bread, breadcrumbs, and flour; clients must know about cooking methods, trace ingredients, and cross-contamination—not topics they can learn overnight. RDs can share the tips below with clients to boost their confidence in preparing gluten-free foods for guests and increase their guests’ faith that the food being served is indeed safe:
• Advise clients to call their guest ahead of time to discuss the menu and ingredients, letting the guest know they want to understand their diet better so they can keep the gluten-free foods separate from the rest. Guests will feel more confident in being part of the menu planning process and can advise hosts on what tweaks they can make to the existing menu and point them toward safe food preparation guidelines. Guests also may offer to bring a dish, a helpful gesture for both themselves and the host.
• Suggest clients place labels next to foods that are gluten-free or show their guest which items are gluten-free when they arrive.
• Clients should take extra care if a catering service is preparing the meal. Some restaurants and catering services haven’t been trained in the safe preparation of gluten-free foods and may cross-contaminate the foods with gluten, making the guest ill. A good strategy is for clients to call the catering house and let them know they have a guest who must eat foods that are gluten-free and who will be calling to ask a few questions. If the guest expresses concern about the information the caterer or restaurant provided (or didn’t provide), it’s probably best to not order a gluten-free meal from that company.
While the guest will be able to provide more specific information for your client regarding his or her preferences for gluten-free foods, the following are some good basic guidelines:
• Clients can offer gluten-free crackers with a gluten-free dip or cheese as an hors d’oeuvre. They should make sure not to put gluten-containing crackers next to the dip or cheese, as other guests may contaminate the gluten-free choices..
• Recommend clients double check labels on salad dressings, sauces, bastings, marinades, seasoning blends or packets for meats and entrées, and soup bases such as broths or bouillon cubes to determine whether they’re gluten-free.
• Suggest clients substitute gluten-free flour blends or breadcrumbs for coating and thickening dishes. Croutons for salads can be served on the side.
• If they have the means, clients can pick up a nice gluten-free dessert from the freezer case at their supermarket or from a gluten-free bakery.
Holidays are about having fun, but food is also a big part of it as well. Providing foods that everyone can enjoy will make both clients and their guests enjoy the day so much more.
— Marlisa Brown, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, is an award-winning dietitian, chef, and public speaker. She’s president of Total Wellness, a private nutrition consulting company specializing in diabetes, CVD, gastrointestinal disorders, gluten-free diets, culinary programs, corporate wellness, and medical nutrition therapies, in Bayshore, New York, and is author of Gluten-Free, Hassle Free and Easy Gluten-Free. Marlisa blogs at http://marlisaspeaks.com/marlisas-blog and www.GlutenFreeEZ.com.