Tag Archives: job

The Gluten Free Professional: the gluten free diet and your career

20 Apr

Can being gluten free affect you professionally? The answer may surprise you!  The importance of networking is lost on few careers. From working your way up from server to management to making partner at a law firm, networking with colleagues and others in the biz, can play a big part in your professional success.  Where does networking happen? Where do most social encounters happen…while eating!  Food is social to the point where its purpose is probably more about connecting with others than it is about nutrition.  Come on, birthday cake has very low nutritional value yet has great cultural value. The role of food is social and, when you take that into the workplace, it becomes professional.

Let’s go through a few of the potentially problematic gluten free scenarios you may face in your professional life:

Meetings

The most common place you may find yourself in an awkward GF situation is during regular meetings or conferences at work. Of course, it depends on where you work and how meetings are run, but I am picturing a conference room with a big oval table and chairs squished really close together so all of your coworkers can fit.  Instead of a vase of flowers as a centerpiece you will see a box of donuts, a plate of danishes, or a stack of half-sandwiches from a local deli.  What should you do in these situations?

If you have been with the same job for a while most of your coworkers probably know that you are gluten free (why the lack of GF options then, I don’t know. Baby-steps, people!).   You have a few options:

Option 1: Bring a snack

This is my favorite of the three options for several reasons. It is a happy medium between not drawing too much unwanted attention with a big outside lunch while also not feeling deprived or left out.  Keep snack bars or chips in your desk drawer and bring them to the meeting.  Simple solution to what sometimes feels like a huge problem.

Option 2: Abstain

Plenty of people in your office will probably not partake in the provided refreshments.  Maybe you had a late or large breakfast. Maybe you don’t like whatever is provided. Maybe you have dinner plans later and don’t want to spoil your appetite. Maybe you are on a diet. There are plenty of reasons that people don’t eat food that has been set out before them, not just because it has gluten in it. Don’t feel pressured to partake but also don’t feel pressured to explain yourself.  You don’t have to justify not eating the food!  It is not outside the realm of normal to abstain, so don’t stress about it.

Option 3: Bring lunch

There is nothing wrong with bringing lunch from the outside world into a meeting if everyone is going to be eating anyways. This is my least favorite of the three options, though, mainly because of convenience.  You may not have time to run out of the office and get food before the meeting. Another issue is that bringing a big outside lunch draws a lot of attention to you and your food.  It will smell different, look different and be packaged differently.  I get plenty of attention from being GF and, in a setting like this, I do not want that attention.

The benefits of bringing in your own lunch are that you won’t be hungry and you get to eat with your coworkers! If you do choose this option, do so with pride (OWN IT!).  You don’t have to feel victimized because you can’t eat the deli sandwiches provided. Your lunch is probably fresher and more delicious anyways! Instead of focusing on what you cannot have, focus on the fact that your lunch is something that you chose and enjoy it.

Networking

This situation may be a little trickier than a conference room full of donuts.  If your job requires networking with clients, prospective employees, getting to know your executive team or your boss then you will likely find yourself in the position of dining out!  There are some steps you can take to reduce the GF stress you may feel building in you as you think about giving the gluten speech in front of your boss or prospective client!

Strategy 1: Control the Environment

Try suggesting a restaurant that you know is safe or a restaurant that you frequent (maybe the wait-staff knows you and your GF needs already).  I like to suggest a few diverse options in the hopes that the person in question will choose from my provided list!  If this fails, then move to Strategy 2.

Strategy 2: Benign Deception

Whenever I really don’t want to be a spectacle while ordering I engage in benign deception.  I know this may seem over-the-top but sometimes (often, actually) I just don’t feel like putting myself on display while ordering!  I will excuse myself from the table and say that I am going to wash up or use the restroom. In actuality, I am tracking down the hostess or server to discus GF options BEFORE she/he comes to take our order.  If I can’t find the server assigned to my table I ask the hostess for help.  I explain that I am gluten free and really don’t want to have to ask questions and put on a show in front of the person I am eating with. In my experience, the hostess usually gets it. Make sure you are transparent and honest though otherwise it comes off as really odd that you are going so far out of your way to put in an order!

Here are some potential questions you can ask:

  1. Can you ask the chef which items are gluten free on the menu?
  2. What modifications do I need to make to make ____________________ gluten free?
  3. Do you know which items are gluten free off the top of your head or can you grab someone who does?

Once I figure out what I can order I go back to my table.  When the server comes I can put in an order as smoothly as my non-GF lunch date!

Strategy 3: Order Simply

If you don’t want to implement Strategy 1 or 2 here is another alternative: order simply.  Once you have been gluten free for a while you start to get good at deciphering menus and figuring out what is likely to be gluten free. This is risky!! Not telling your server that you are gluten free can get you into trouble sometimes so use this strategy with care. I might order a salad and specify no croutons, bread or dressing (even if croutons aren’t listed in the description on the menu, say it anyways!). The last thing you want to do is send a dish back in front of a prospective client because you forgot to mention an important detail about what you wanted eg no croutons!

Happy Hours

Happy Hours are pretty common places for coworkers to socialize after work but can sometimes be tricky if you are gluten free.  Most bar food is horrible for the gluten free diet because the menu items are usually fried in contaminated oil (wings, French fries, calamari etc).  Avoid food at happy hour unless you have talked to the wait-staff or cook beforehand.  Since you are not eating make sure you limit your alcohol intake! You don’t want to be that coworker. Beer is super common at Happy Hours, especially because there are great deals on pitchers.  Take pride in not drinking the beer otherwise you are going to feel bummed out and excluded. You don’t have to tell people it is because you are gluten free if you don’t want to. Some people don’t like beer anyways! You can always go for a glass of wine or a mixed drink. Consult GF resources to make sure your drink of choice is gluten free. I keep things simple and order a glass of wine.  Avoid any weird mixed drinks unless the bartender is willing to tell you the ingredients. Check out Triumph Dining’s list of gluten free alcoholic beverages. 

The thing to remember about happy hour is that people are happy to be there! Work is over and I promise you that no one cares what you are eating or drinking so long as you are having a good time!

Holiday party/Retirement Party/Celebrations

A work party is no different than any other holiday event or dinner party you may have gone to in the past. Don’t overthink it! Use the same strategies you use for other parties. You can check out my posts on how to survive Easter dinner parties  for some tips.

One bit of advice: just bring something! Again, you don’t have to make everything about gluten. You can control the narrative so that you do not feel like a victim of Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Bring a dish to be nice/polite/for fun or to show off your cooking or baking skills.  You can bake these awesome Tiramisu cupcakes or bring this savory quinoa dish that will be sure to impress!  If you bring a dish you earn brownie points with the host and it guarantees that you have something to munch on during the party.

Traveling

Some jobs require traveling and this can make finding GF food challenging.  You will be in unfamiliar territory and may be traveling with a team from work.  Download the Find Me Gluten Free application on your smartphone before you head out to your travel destination. This app takes your GPS location and gives you a list of restaurants with GF options near you. You can easily make suggestions on where to dine to your work team. Tell them there is a Chipotle about a mile down the road and they will probably be impressed how well you know your way around the area!

If traveling alone you have more flexibility and the app should be enough to help you find food options. If you are having issues because the people you are traveling with want to go out for pizza remember you can probably order a salad but more importantly, if you are traveling with these people, you should probably just explain the gluten thing! You may be surprised how understanding they can be.  If a conflict arises you will have to just talk it out. Hopefully all parties involved will be professional about where to dine considering it is a work trip anyways and not a vacation!

If traveling, make sure you pack snacks to have on the road.  Pack protein bars or you can always buy Kind bars at Starbucks! Here is a post on traveling gluten free by air!

Being gluten free in the professional world may be an extra challenge but, let’s be honest, being gluten free makes almost all food-related situations more challenging. Why would work be the exception? It isn’t fair but we can make the best of every situation by being prepared and having a positive attitude.  Remember that you can control the narrative. A lot of people experience negative feelings like being victimized, excluded or simply anxious over situations that may arise but we can take steps to change that frame of mind.  By being proactive we can turn negative situations into positive ones like bringing cupcakes to the next work function. Yes you have to put in some extra work but you get to eat cupcakes and your coworkers will enjoy them too!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and, come Monday, get ready to be gluten free professionally!

-CC

Back To School: the brown bag

26 Aug



Most of the school districts in the country have just finished with their first week of school.  As a first year teacher I am relearning what it means to need to bring your lunch to school everyday.  I know that teaching isn’t the only profession with an almost non-existant lunch break. So, what do we grownups do about lunch?  We need to revert back to a childhood strategy: the brown bag.

Being active in the field of public health has exposed me to many health conundrums that individuals must work to overcome despite the fact that the real answers to these problems can only be solved by city planning and public policy.  One such problem: food deserts. The food scenes in these deserts are dominated by fast food restaurants and mini-marts.  You can drive for miles without seeing a healthy food option.  These food deserts impact the health of lower-income, both urban and rural, communities across the country.  For a Celiac, the prevalence of food deserts are exponentially greater because options that are typically considered “healthy” are  often unavailable to us. A gluten-free-food-desert is an area with very limited GF options.  Maybe it is near where you live. Maybe it is where near you work. Either way these GF deserts make planning a necessity for any successful Celiac.

My current job happens to be in a food desert.  When my school had a faculty meeting we had to pass up six proximal pizza places because none of them had a salad option.  We ended up picking Lido’s pizza which was much further away than the other six pizza options near my school.

The lunch break for a teacher can more accurately be called a lunch moment.  We have about twenty minutes to take care of anything personal (eating, restroom, making phone calls, organizing, grabbing something we left in the car, etc.), then it is back into the trenches.

This is where the brown paper bag comes into play.  I don’t have time to run out to a local fast food place to grab lunch.  To boot, none of the places near me have viable GF options.  My school is surrounded by a buffalo wings place, Chick-fil-A, a couple of pizza places and a supermarket whose buffet is made up of chicken strips, mac n’ cheese and fresh baked bread.  The only viable solution to daily hunger-induced grumpiness (grumpy teachers aren’t good for the children) I could come up with is packing my lunch.

my lunch bag

So what should we put into these brown bags?  I like to pack a combination of nutritious and filling foods.  For example, blueberries are great for you but if you are hungry they really aren’t going to do the trick. That being said, opting for filling or calorie laden foods at the expense of nutrition will eventually wear your health down, breaking down your immune defenses and daily stamina.  If your job requires interacting with lots of people then you really need to make sure your immune defenses are at their best.

Here are some of the things I will have in my lunch this week.  Keep in mind that packing a lunch often requires either planning and prepping the night before or getting up a little bit earlier than you would like.
MONDAY

Using my favorite tupperware from Target, I pack the tupperware full of dark leafy greens, leftover meat (did you make chicken or steak this weekend? Save leftovers!) and grilled eggplant.  I do not like dressing.  It is messy, it makes the salad limp and the ingredients always make me nervous. Instead of dressing, I use other components like meat or grilled veggies to compliment the salad.  I think of it like a breadless sandwich.

Grilled Eggplant Recipe:

1. Slice eggplant vertically


2. Heat up a grill-pan or sauté pan

3. Cover both sides of the sliced eggplant with a light coating of olive oil

4. Season with salt and pepper. Feel free to spice up your seasoning by using onion powder, chili powder, paprika etc.

5. Let the eggplant cook on each side for about a minute and a half.  When the sides look dark (they will turn from off-white to an olive green) they are ready!

Once your salad is ready pack an apple, a bag of baby carrots and a yogurt.  Don’t forget utensils! If you don’t finish everything that is ok! You can nibble what is left on your commute home. Your goal should be bringing the perfect amount of food but if you have to miscalc on that you would way rather have too much than too little.
WEDNESDAY

Wednesday I am packing a good old fashioned sandwich. The best GF sandwich bread is Udi’s whole grain loaf (the one with the green label!). It stays together really well, it isn’t too dry/crumbly and it has a nostalgia-inducing classic sandwich bread taste. 

When you buy sandwich meat at the grocery store make sure it is GF! Giant market (this is an east coast thing) has GF meat at their deli (it is labeled and everything!).  I have been using honey-roasted turkey, sharp cheddar cheese, mayo, dijon mustard, cracked pepper and (of course) I sub out iceberg lettuce and opt for dark leafy greens. Don’t forget to pack up snacks likes carrots, berries, yogurt, rice chips or a banana.

FRIDAY

Let’s say it is the end of the week and your groceries are running low.  What do you do?  One of my favorite lunches is leftover chipotle burrito bowls.  Chipotle (or Qdoba) has all GF ingredients for their burrito bowls.  Chipotle is notorious for overstuffing their bowls. I can never finish them! So, to facilitate the leftover lunch making process, I divide the bowl in half before I start eating.  By dividing it in half early on, I guarantee that I will have enough leftovers to make my lunch the next day.

Don’t have any leftovers like this?  You can make a salad with dark leafy greens but instead of using leftover meat or eggplant, make your own dressing.  My personal favorite is an orange vinaigrette. You should make this the night before because there is no way you are going to be down to supreme oranges early in the morning!

Here is how it works:

1-2 oranges

1 tablespoon minced shallot (sweated with a splash of rice wine vinegar)

1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

chopped herbs of your choice (dill, tarragon, basil etc)

salt and pper to taste

splash of olive oil

Instructions:

Remove the peels from the oranges using a sharp knife, cutting all the way through the pith. Section the oranges into supremes by cutting between each membrane. Click here for a “how to” on cutting out supremes. Squeeze each membrane of its juices into a bowl (save this for dressing!). Corasely chop the orange sections and place in the bowl with the juices. Then add the sweated shallots, vinegar and herbs to the bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the splay of olive oil.

You can make this fancier and more complicated by adding diced cucumber to the dressing OR you can make this recipe simpler and quicker to assemble by taking out the shallots and/or herbs.

Unlike dressing you buy at the store, this dressing is made of 100% fresh ingredients, no preservatives AND it is nutritious. Fresh oranges and herbs are great for you!  Instead of adding empty calories to your salad you end up adding vitamin C, antioxidants and phytonutrients.

As for kids, a lot of my ideas are for a grown-up palate, although I do find that Celiac kids have pretty sophisticated taste for their ages!  When it comes to packing a kids lunch try and do things that will look like what all the other kids have.  Again, I recommend Udi’s bread because it really does look and feel like classic glutinous bread. Udi’s also has cookies that look and taste great.  I would try and stay away from GF products that…look like gluten free products. Being GF can be very isolating which is difficult for children to cope with. Making sure to buy products that are similar to what the other kids are having is a great tool for any Celiac of GF parent.  Kinnikinnick has delicious products for kids like their graham crackers.  These don’t look exactly like what the other kids will have but they really are delicious. They even have an animal cracker that will work well with school lunches!  In addition, for kids, you can always stick with the basics.  A PBJ with some baby carrots and string cheese.

Enjoy your lunches! If I get bored with these, as I am sure I will over the next few months, I will post my new creations!  This way we can keep our palates and our bodies happy and healthy throughout the year.

-CC

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