So you’ve made the switch. You’re gluten-free and life is good, or at least getting better. That’s great! Congratulations! But now you’re looking at your first dinner over at someone else’s house. Aunt Sally wants you to come over, or the boss is throwing a barbecue. Is there going to be anything for you to eat? What if the host/hostess is embarrassed?

Take a deep breath, let it out. Ok. You’re not the first one to be here.

Let’s break this down:

Communicate Beforehand 

Unless the event jumps out and surprises you the day of, communicate early. Call the host/hostess. One of the best ways to open the issue is to offer to solve it. For example, if it’s Aunt Sally, you probably have a good idea of what she’s going to serve.

You might approach it by saying, “I really enjoy that turkey stuffing, Auntie. My doctor says I have to stay off the bread now, though, could you put some of it aside for me, without the crumbs? I don’t want to miss out on your cooking!”

That’s probably going to go over pretty well. Everyone likes to be complimented on their culinary art. But what if you don’t know the situation so well?

Being proactive is still a good idea. Say you’re going to dinner at someone’s house from a local group you’ve just joined. Call them up beforehand, or maybe even talk to them when the invitation is extended. Offer to bring food. I usually go for something like:

“Thanks! I’m really looking forward to it. Can I help bring something? It’s just that I have an allergy to bread and other gluten products, so I like to help make it easy for everyone.”

Or alternatively, if you’re not doing it for strict sensitivity/allergy issues you might say:

Really trying to take control of my health on this and staying away from bread and food with gluten is working for me. Does that work for you? There’s been some really great recipes I’ve made recently. Mind if I share some?”

They might say no, which is fine, but almost everyone is going to ask what you can or can’t eat at that point.

Educate 

Some host/hostesses have heard horror stories about allergic reactions. They might react with concern, possibly overly so. Education is the best antidote. Personally, my gluten sensitivity includes intense migraines and flu like symptoms, combined with low level panic and acne afterwards. That’s not what I tell people. What I say is shorthand and to the point with a positive spin: “Yes, I have to avoid it (gluten), but I’m just so happy I know what to stay away from now. The headaches were really taking it out of me.”

Putting a positive spin on how happy you are now puts the conversation in a different court. They know they’re not going to accidentally kill you and you can give them a grin about how happy you are to be pain free, or reaction free, whatever your situation.

The other part of education is communicating what you can and can’t eat, if the host/hostess opens the door for that, which almost everyone will. Keep it simple. Gluten is a word that doesn’t show up on the shopping list, so attach it to categories that others will recognize it. I usually go with something like, “Yep, no bread for me, or oatmeal, anything with grain or flour in it really, except rice. I’ve really come to like rice.”

Whatever you do, keep it simple.

No Drama 

Avoid the drama, especially if you want to be invited back.

If you don’t make a big deal about it, other people usually let it drop. Nowadays gluten sensitivity is becoming a much more familiar topic. You can say things like, “Oh, no gravy please,” without needing to explain yourself. Ask for extra salad or skip the cake and take an extra large scoop of vanilla ice-cream. On my wedding day, my husband just shoved cream frosting in my mouth and no one was the wiser!

Should you end up in a situation where you haven’t been able to communicate before hand, handle it quietly. Go in knowing what foods do or do not have gluten and let the one’s that do pass you by. Focus on what you can eat. If you’re very allergic and not just sensitive, you may have to speak up, in which case, work very hard on communicating beforehand.

Eat Around

If you’re only sensitive, like many people and can handle unrolling your burrito and eating the inside with a spoon, it’s a good option and you’re still participating, no special prep necessary. I eat parts of dishes all the time. As long as it hasn’t been baked or boiled with gluten and is only lying side by side on a plate, you’re likely safe. Opening things up like a wrap, burrito or sandwich inside a bowl makes it neater and less obvious. I went to a dinner two nights ago where these delicious roles from Costco were being served. It was all meat, cheese and vegetables inside, which is perfect for us eating gluten free and wanting to stay nourished. I ate out the centers politely, with utensils, and no one even commented.

Even if you’ve been told it’s gluten-free but your nose or your tongue tells you otherwise, set it aside and move on. It’s not worth the risk. Believe me! I had someone give me some cooked and fermented rice in China. Intense headache. I saved the label and used a dictionary. Turns out there was gluten in the rice. How, I’m not sure. Should have listened to my gut. Only time I ever met gluten rice.

Finally….

You don’t want to be the problem guest, so when someone goes out of their way to make sure you’re included, say thank you. But again, don’t dwell on it. Less stress for you, less stress for them.

Some people walk around like being gluten-free is a disease. I prefer to think of it as a lifestyle, one which can live peacefully with other lifestyles.

So remember: Start Early, Educate, No Drama and Eat Around. You’re off to a delicious start to your social evening.