“How will I ever have dinner at a friend’s house?”
“Will I sound picky or rude if I ask to be accommodated?”
“How will I ever be able to have a normal party experience?”
These were the questions I asked as soon as I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I
felt a sense of dread, envisioning myself standing in front of a dinner party buffet
with an empty plate and not having anything to eat. In addition to my social
concerns, I was wary about eating foods prepared in non-gluten-free kitchens.
Since I jumped right into college only a short time after my celiac disease diagnosis,
I decided to gradually “test the waters” with attending parties.
My college, Emory University, offers a wonderful alumni-based program for
students called Dinner with 12 Strangers. Through the program, students of all ages can attend a free dinner party hosted in the homes of various alumni. After only a couple of weeks at Emory, I signed up for a dinner. I was anxious not only to meet
new people, but to become comfortable eating gluten-free in a group setting. The experience was incredibly positive, as my hosts researched gluten-free food preparation, and they made me a delicious pasta dinner and muffins for dessert.
Thanks to that dinner (and many others since last year) I no longer see parties as burdensome. I see every party as an opportunity to have a wonderful time. By
taking a few simple steps to prepare for parties, I feel like I can comfortably attend
everything from a dorm party to my father’s company crab feast. Thank goodness crabs are gluten free! I can party like the true Marylander that I am.
Here are a few simple tips that I always keep in mind before and during parties:
Prepare in advance
Not all parties are ideal environments for gluten-free eaters. I recommend contacting your host in advance to talk about food-related matters.
If the party is at a restaurant, call in advance or visit their website to search for their gluten-free offerings. Don’t be afraid to ask for the manager to learn more about their preparation methods in the kitchen. If a restaurant is willing to offer gluten-free options, they are likely willing to be accountable for their guests’ health, safety and satisfaction!
If it’s a party with alcohol and you’re so inclined, see if you can bring your own. There is an ever-growing market of gluten-free beers. While I seldom have a drink, I enjoy Green’s Dubble Dark Ale when I do.
If you aren’t sure about what food will be available, it’s always safe to pack food that will be guaranteed gluten free. Depending on the size of my purse, I’ll bring a piece of fresh fruit and a bag of homemade trail mix, which consists of gluten free pretzels, dried fruit, dark chocolate chips. And if it seems quite doubtful that you’ll be able to eat anything at a party, grab yourself a gluten-free meal before you go.
Bring your own dish
When in doubt, bring something you know you (and others – if you choose to share!) will enjoy. In this case, I usually err on the side of homemade nachos… because who can resist this tray of homemade, cheese-covered goodness?
Make your health a priority
If you’re as sensitive to gluten as I am, it isn’t worth taking any chances. Never feel pressure to eat something at a party that you know will make you ill. Additionally, don’t be shy to ask about ingredients, preparation methods and potential cross-contamination. Feeling well is your first priority, so always keep your gluten-free needs in mind. That being said, it’s still so easy to enjoy a party as a gluten-free eater. With a little advanced preparation and a game plan in mind, you can navigate any gathering as a full and happy guest.
Natalie Duggan is a Junior at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, pursuing a dual degree in Global Health and Journalism. Since her celiac disease diagnosis in 2011, she has enjoyed recipe development and helping others navigate the gluten-free lifestyle. Check out her photography portfolio on Flickr and her gluten-free pins on Pinterest.