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Tips for Navigating the Holiday Party Season Gluten Free

04/12/2014 17:40 GMT | Updated 02/02/2015 10:59 GMT

The holiday season and the parties in the run up to Christmas can be a total minefield for coeliacs and those with gluten intolerance. Whether it is a cocktail party or an office Christmas lunch, there are lots potential hurdles. But if you plan ahead, you can still have as much fun as everybody else.

The "There's no gluten free food... but there is wine" Trap

The frustration of there not being any food that you can eat at a holiday party is real. You don't want to feel left out, and face it, you feel a bit fed up and sorry for yourself. So you comfort yourself by having a drink as you can't have food. And because you can't drink beer, it is usually wine, which has a much higher alcohol content. Empty stomach + wine = a quickly drunk coeliac.

Being Polite vs. Being Safe

I have been a coeliac for 17 years. Yet just this past weekend I was glutened at a neighbour's holiday party because of social pressures to be "polite". I had eaten beforehand intentionally. The hostess encouraged me to try some of her canapés and I politely explained that I had "lots of allergies" so not to worry. She asked what I was "allergic" to and I explained what gluten was in. She insisted I could have some lentil balls she had cooked. I ran through the ingredients with her, checking if stock had been used in the cooking, if any spices had been used. She asked if rice was okay and I said yes. Having checked everything, I thought they would be safe and ate a couple. Minutes later she was telling the recipe to another guest and mentioned "...and that's when you add the bulgar wheat". Darn it.

Bottom line: it's your allergy or condition, not theirs. They don't understand it like you do. It's best to decline with a firm hand, and add a polite get out such as, "But I'm not allergic to wine!", thus making your host feel they can still be useful and accommodate you.

The Christmas Set Menu.... with nothing on it you can eat.

Unlike at the rest of the year, at Christmas the choice of restaurant or venue that your office or Christmas party has booked is not yours. You are not usually in the position where you can dictate a restaurant of your choice.

This is often compounded by the fact that there are set menus, so you don't have the option of ordering off of a larger menu. You are also paying the same as everybody else, so this can be frustrating if all you can have is a plain slice of turkey and a couple of vegetables, with no gravy or stuffing.

Try to get the booking information to call the restaurant in advance. Ask to speak to the chef and to see if there is a way of providing a safe meal for you. Hopefully they will be able to alter the set menu for you. You never know, you might end up with the superior meal; you could end up eating a steak while everyone else has dry turkey!

Top Tips

1. A Drinks and Canapés Party: Eat beforehand if you can

You know this, I know this. It's great if you have time, but often you don't so....

2. Pack an emergency carb heavy snack in your bag

Even if there is some food that is gluten free at a party, it's not likely to have any carbohydrates or starch in to absorb alcohol. I love the Nairn's gluten free oatcakes that come in wrapped in convenient and bag-friendly packs of five. They are filling and easy to eat inconspicuously if you are at a bar. It may not be a tasty canapé, but at least you won't get sloshed on one glass of wine!

3. A house party? Bring your own canapés

This could seem rude, but it represents the safest solution. A dear old friend of mine offered to make gf sausages rolls for me for her holiday party. However, she didn't realise sausage meat contained gluten. Aside from that misplaced kindness, can you trust the cross contamination procedures of someone who doesn't truly understand?

Call ahead and explain that you don't want to hassle them and that you would feel safer and more comfortable bringing your own canapés, if they didn't mind. Places like Marks and Spencer offer gluten free platters to buy, or you can make your own. Upon arrival ask your host for a plate like everybody else's, so that you don't feel you stand out.

4. Office Party at a restaurant?

Call ahead and discuss with the chef what you can and can't have. If you know who organises the restaurant or catering it can be worth talking to them about your situation prior to the booking selection.