Despite the snow covered trees, glittering lights, smoke from the chimneys and the overall sense of Holiday spirit that store fronts and houses display, for people living gluten-free there is usually a little bit of gluten-free gloom that hangs over the Holiday season. Don’t get me wrong, we are far from gluten-free grinches, but we cannot deny the nagging sense of anxiety that takes over when considering all of the ways that gluten can complicate even the simplest of Holiday celebrations. Your work may host a Holiday party, you may be staying with extended family members during the Holiday season, there may be a slew of dinner party invitations in your inboxes (or mailboxes if you are classic like that). Don’t let the Holidays overwhelm you! This Gluten-Free Holiday Survival Guide should help make the Holiday season gluten-free and stress-free.
Regardless of your destination, taking the time to plan for traveling gluten-free can save you a lot of time and hassle when you are en route. Whether you are road tripping your way to Grandma’s house or flying to Cabo for a sunny Holiday getaway, these tips will help keep hunger pangs at bay.
Download Find Me Gluten Free
Find Me Gluten Free is an app for smart phones that takes your current GPS location and generates a list of gluten-free dining options ear your location. The list includes reviews (many written by me!), menus, phone numbers and directions to restaurants that offer gluten-free options.
I know some of you may be thinking, “I know my hometown through and through, trust me there is nothing gluten-free,” but a lot can change in a year! Gluten-free products and menu-options are on the rise. In 2012, Time magazine listed “gluten-free” as one of the Top 10 Food Trends of the year and the projected growth of the gluten-free product market (currently at $4.2 billion, is $6.6 billion by 2017 (statistics from Packaged Facts).
You can use this app to find places to eat while on the road. When you have to stop for gas and a snack you may not know the area well which is where Find Me Gluten Free can be a huge help.
Speaking of stopping for a snack…when flying or driving it is important to pack snacks, especially for long flights. About a month after being diagnosed with Celiac I hopped on a plane for a trip to Italy. Being new to the gluten-free lifestyle, I didn’t realize that the plane would have close to zero gluten-free options on board. Needless to say, by the time I landed in Rome, I was starving!
In my recent experiences traveling, there are usually gluten-free options on the flight menus but they are not always in stock or they are not very filling and/or not very nutritious. You don’t want to rely on a bag of potato chips to hold you over for 8+ hours while traveling.
What are some great snacks to pack? Here are some of my favorites:
▪ Pirate’s Booty — yummy and sold in small, individual servings (great for throwing into a bag or purse).
▪ Glutino Pretzels – if the plane has hummus you can use your own pretzels! You can also grab the chocolate covered or yogurt covered pretzels offered by Glutino.
If you are flying this Holiday season make a call to the airline and ask about their gluten-free options. Sometimes websites are not up to date or the information is not true for all of the flights the airline offers. Calling and talking to the airline company about your options while in the air is the most reliable way to get information about gluten-free options. You can read about my nightmare airline experience here.
Get Everyone Onboard (pun intended)
If you are traveling with family or friends, make sure they are onboard about the gluten-free thing. It is easier to just bring it up at the start of the trip rather than wait until everyone is hungry and searching for a place to grab a bite. If your travel-mates know beforehand that stopping at Pizza Hut is not really an option for you, you won’t have to veto their glutinous choices! Be open and honest about what kind of pit stops will work for you.
2. Attending Dinner Parties
There are many strategies you can use when attending a dinner party and which one you choose has a lot to do with the context of the party. Is it hosted by a close friend? A new friend? A friend of a friend? A neighbor? My go-to approach for attending a dinner party is a 3 step process.
- Call/email/text/Facebook message the host and ask what they are serving
- Disclose that you are gluten-free and what thats means
- Offer (by offer, I clearly mean insist politely) to bring a side-dish or a dessert.
Approach the chat with the dinner party host as conversational. Your goal isn’t to make the host change their menu or make everything gluten-free. The goal of the conversation is to figure out if there are any gluten-free dishes so you can plan accordingly.
When you bring a side dish, make sure it is something quasi-filling because it may be all you end up being able to eat. I suggest a quinoa dish (here is my favorite recipe). When it comes to dessert, I suggest baking mini-gluten-free cupcakes (my Tiramisu cupcake recipe is always a hit at parties, check it out!).
Lastly, I suggest eating a little bit of food before heading over to the party. Gluten-free pro-tip? Never go anywhere truly hungry!
3. In-Laws/Extended Family
Does the word “In-Law” run shivers down your spine? Sometimes the idea of being a burden to the in-laws during the Holidays, especially for a new couple, is quite unnerving. What if you ruin their family traditions? What if you are that girl, the one who refuses to eat anything made by the family? Take a breath. Being gluten-free, for people with Celiac or gluten-intolerance, is not fleeting. This will be your reality at Holidays for years to come so it is best not to beat around the bush. Don’t down play how important being gluten-free is to you, just be open and honest about it. In most cases, people will be accommodating even if it does take them a while to truly understand what it means to be gluten-free.
I have heard so many of my readers tell me that extended family members “just don’t get it” or are “unsupportive” or think that being gluten-free is a cry for attention or a fad diet. I don’t have any magic words of advice to fix that. It happens to all of us. You need to be patient and understanding even if the people you encounter are not. Remember, for most people the idea of being gluten-free is quite literally out-of-this-world-weird. So many cultural and religious traditions center around wheat (as an Italian and growing up in a Catholic household I can personally attest to this). It will take some time for people to accept the gluten-free lifestyle but if you are persistent, patient and willing to answer the questions people will inevitably have, they will come around.
Here is where you may have to get a bit creative. Some family traditions may not be gluten-free friendly which means you will likely need to make some changes to your tradition or make a new tradition altogether. Check out my post about tweaking holiday traditions. If you or your family aren’t quite ready to make changes to family traditions for the gluten-free diet (maybe you are newly gluten-free and aren’t sure it is for you, maybe your family is still adjusting etc.) then take the time you need! Christmas will come around again next year, you can always make changes for future years. I had been diagnosed with Celiac Disease for four years before my Italian family made a complete transition to a gluten-free Christmas. We spent a few years trying to just add a gluten-free option but eventually decided to make the entire dinner gluten-free since so many of my family members are now gluten-free. You can read about the Bonaduce transition from classic Italian Ravioli to gluten-free “roliolis” (a hybrid lasagna ravioli dish) here.
There is no doubt that being gluten-free around the holidays can be a challenge but the most important piece of advice I can offer is to be graceful about being gluten-free. Take the Holidays in stride, be persistent and protect your health. Being an easy-going guest is not worth getting physically ill. By being open to talking about gluten-free options and your needs you can absolutely be gluten-free gracefully.
Have a great Holiday season!