Gluten-full Guests in a Gluten-Free House

I was tickled pink — fluorescent, bubble gum, little girl pink — to welcome a dear old friend into my gluten-free home for a few days last week. She was passing through town for work and between her schedule and mine we didn’t get to see too much of each other, but I still wanted to make sure she had a comfortable stay. For not the first time since I moved into my own apartment, I found myself facing an unusual etiquette question:

What should a gluten-free host do about gluten-full guests?

Some questions are easier than others. If I am preparing a meal, I prepare a gluten-free meal – and I’ve never had anyone even hint at a desire to add some gluten to their plate. Of course, I have only excellent house-guests, which helps.

But what about quick, on-the-go breakfasts, or snacks? If you know a guest loves the bagels from that one bagel shop, do you bring a few into your home? If your guests might like to have some toast with breakfast do you get what they’d eat normally, or do you go ahead and get a gluten-free loaf? Not to mention the fact that some guests travel with their own food (whether to share with you, or just for them. I hear about this more with people’s visiting family members than their visiting friends)…

And then of course, if you do allow gluten into your home for your guests, what about the utensils? Do they get designated plates? How long of a spiel do you want to go into about dipping into the butter with a bread knife?

I generally do want my guests to feel comfortable, and that means that sometimes there is gluten in my house. Now, I’m not a super-sensitive celiac (I think I would not allow anything potentially glutenous past my door if I were), but gluten is gluten is gluten. And even guests who know a lot about my gluten-free diet might not think about all the ways that they can accidentally contaminate my living space. Some things I’ve learned can make everyone’s visit more enjoyable:

  • Speak up earlier rather than later. As soon as you have a gluten-containing item in your home, do a mental rundown of all the ways it can come back to bite you and take precautions accordingly.
  • Have a gluten-free toaster? At the same time that you show your guests the gluten-full treats you have for them (or they open their cooler and it’s full of Wonder Bread), go over safe processes with them. Although normally we think of toaster bags (or parchment paper) as being able to keep our gluten-free sandwiches safe from evil toasters, in this case it’s the opposite. Request your guests use them when toasting their gluten-full items to keep your toaster pristine. If you have a toaster oven, keep the tinfoil right nearby and ask your guests to use it to line the tray.
  • Condiments? Either go ahead and get new, OK-to-contaminate item (“Uncle Bob, I got you this jar of spicy mustard just for your pretzels! But please stay away from my honey dijon.”) or make a set of serving spoons and cute little bowls available in plain site (“Uncle Bob, I got us two different kinds of mustard! But I need you to spoon the mustard into this bowl and dip your pretzels there, or the crumbs could make me sick.”)
  • For some items, it may be worth scooping up some single-serve packets from your local diner, rest stop, gas station, etc. Little margarines or jellies or peanut butters may just make everyone’s life less stressful.
  • Cutlery and kitchenware are a bit tougher. If you have anything porous or difficult to clean thoroughly – wooden cutting boards and cast iron pans come to mind – it might be best to just put them away and make sure that there are easy alternatives in reach. Alternately you can designate an area of your kitchen the “gluten area” and station a few things there (knife, cutting board, etc) and ask that sandwiches be prepared only in that one spot.
  • Countertops and spongers are tougher and you’ll have to factor in how long your guests are staying and what sort of gluten-full items you’re having in your home. If you’re washing a lot of crumbs and whatnot, do yourself a favor and use a different sponge for that load of dishes. If your countertops get messy, you may want to temporarily remove your own food preparation to an elevated cuttingboard  or other surface as a precaution, and save the deep cleaning for when your home is back to normal.

What about you? Do you have any house rules for gluten-full guests?

7 thoughts on “Gluten-full Guests in a Gluten-Free House”

  1. I’m so glad to have found your blog, and in particular this essay. It’s so relevant and it soothes me to know there are others out there with the same issues as me. I am one of those super sensitive ones with celiac disease. I still get ostracized and get jokes made at my expense, and eyes rolled at me on a regular basis when I have to request simple things like the bits you’ve stated above. So thank you again. You’re awesome.

  2. I love these ideas, especially the idea about using a different sponge with dish washing. I am always worried about using my sponge to clean a gluten containing pot or plate and then using it on my gluten free ones.

  3. Luckily my family is very accepting of when they visit they are gluten free in my home without any problems. If they feel the need to have to have something with gluten they have it away from the house. My son has celiac so we’re trying to be very diligent in our house but does anyone have suggestions on us going to visit family and how to be gluten free going to a gluten full house?

  4. I have a gluten free house. When I have guests for a meal, they always offer to bring something for the meal, especially during the holidays as in pumpkin pie, etc. I gracefully decline. They know I’m gluten free (since 1968). When I have out of town guests who will be with me for overnight, a week or more, they eat what I prepare and don’t even realize that every meal is gluten free. For breakfast, I have cereals, or eggs, or GF muffins, scones, bread, etc. from the Gluten Free Bakehouse (Whole Foods Market). I put the baked goods in the microwave for about 20 seconds– it changes the texture so it’s not so dry and crumbly– and ready to eat immediately. If it sits around a while out of the microwave, it’s less palatable. If we decide to eat out for breakfast or other meals, they always defer to places where I can eat.

  5. For Kat: When traveling (to family or elsewhere) especially when my celiac daughter was young, we packed a LOT of stuff to bring with us. Our families were really great about buying GF stuff in advance … but since they don’t eat it they don’t know which ones are good (and which ones are not so good). I’d bring a lot of her favorites, and a large variety so she wouldn’t be left out. I’d also do research in advance to find stores where I could re-stock and restaurants that had GF options. Sometimes our families would have places they would want to go, and if I thought we could find something acceptable to order, we’d try. If I didn’t think there would be a good option, I would be assertive about not going there. I also found that my family likes certain types of restaurants … but you can only make a kid eat eggs or a burger with no bun or a salad so many times. I (politely) make sure they are aware that at certain places she will have only ONE (maybe two) options.

    My daughter is not super-sensitive, so if a meal wasn’t completely gluten free, we’d always cook hers first in the clean pan. I know there are some that are so sensitive that there is no such thing as a “clean” pan in a gluten-full kitchen. I don’t know what those folks do to cook or feed a celiac in a “contaminated” space. Good luck to you!

  6. My house is 100% gluten-free, including our guests. My family includes 2 very, very sensitive celiacs and this is our safe place, our sanctuary from a wheat filled world. Most of my cooking is from scratch and I am proud of the food I serve, with no need to apologize for it being wheat and gluten-free.

    Can those who do eat wheat not do without for even a few days in order to keep you safe?

    Also, keep in mind that just because you don’t notice a reaction doesn’t mean your immune system isn’t reacting.

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