Please Don’t Pass the Bread: A Dinner Host’s Guide to Gluten-Free Food

Photo by mecredis

The amount of information about celiac and eating gluten-free is almost as overwhelming as the first gluten-free trip to the grocery store. We’re traveling for Thanksgiving, and our families have asked about the food.

Those of you who have followed a gluten-free diet already know what I am going to share. You gave me so many good suggestions the other day. This post is really for family and friends who want to have guests for dinner and need a quick gluten-free guide.

I am intentionally leaving out details so this will be the short, simple version.

First of all, what is gluten?

Gluten is what makes bread so great and gives it that nice chewy texture. It’s a protein found in wheat and other grains.

What is celiac?

When you have celiac disease, your body reacts negatively to gluten, and the result is that your small intestine can’t absorb the nutrients from food. The only way to avoid being malnourished is to eat a strict gluten-free diet. Celiac has a wide range of symptoms, but they don’t show up for everyone.

Foods to avoid

The short list: wheat, barley, rye, (and possibly oats)
The long list: unsafe ingredients

The significance of the long list is that if you are kind enough to cook for us, I will want to know the recipe.  If one of the foods is pre-packaged, then I will ask to read the ingredients list, even if you’ve already looked to make sure it doesn’t contain wheat.

Please don’t take my caution personally.  It’s just that I’m not sure if you will recognize that barley malt or caramel coloring, for example, contain gluten.  I need to check the list of ingredients myself, because it’s not worth the risk.

Good news! Foods that are ok:

rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, potatoes, millet, and more
(not to mention fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy)

Cooking without wheat

Gluten-free bread just won’t taste the same, no matter how you bake it. Good recipes are available to try, but they take practice. The best strategy for someone inexperienced is to choose familiar, appealing foods that are already gluten-free, such as roasted chicken and vegetables, or grilled fish with rice. Use salt and pepper instead of seasoning mixes, just to be safe.

What I’m most nervous about is cross-contamination: that somehow a bread crumb or a tiny bit of flour will accidently mix in with the food. Please be careful about your spoons, cutting boards, and other cooking equipment, to make sure they don’t get mixed up in the cooking process. A small amount matters a great deal to stay healthy.


These are not the medical websites. These are the gluten-free food blogs that make me cry into my keyboard almost every time, because I’m so relieved to have found them.

And every now and then, when I start to worry or wonder if this is going to be ok, I read this blog and am cheered by her young, positive, and now healthy outlook:

Honestly, being gluten-free is like being in a special club. People you don’t even know will share their knowledge, so that you can avoid what they went through. It wasn’t Lane’s pediatrician who identified her intolerance to gluten, it was an online friend who recognized the reason for Lane’s low weight and picky eating. (Once we switched to a gluten-free diet, Lane’s growth rate doubled.)

One final word: 97% of people who have celiac don’t even know it. Last week, my husband Doug realized that he is intolerant to gluten too. If you’re having health troubles but don’t know why, try removing gluten or other foods from your diet for a while, and see if it helps.

For those of you who are well-versed in special diets, is there anything you want to share or add? Anything we need to know? And if you have any questions about it, feel free to ask.

Related post: The Poison Protein – identifying an intolerance to casein (Prior to going gluten-free, we had already switched to a milk-free and casein-free diet for Doug, so you’re welcome to ask about that too.)

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Thanks for this… great to have links to some websites. I am not a coeliac sufferer, but do find that I feel better without gluten containing foods in the diet. And I have a number of gluten intolerant friends, so its great to have some better resources so they can enjoy coming over!
    :) Have a great Thanksgiving!

    angelvalerie´s last blog post..Transitions

  2. Thanks for the great post, I have family members who can’t eat gluten and you shared some resources I didn’t know about yet.

  3. Can you share with me some of Lane’s symptoms that tipped off your friend and helped with determining she had Celiac? My daughter (age 3) is also an extremely picky eater and has low weight – when you meantioned that about Lane, it got me wondering…Thanks…Love this site – it’s the first thing I read when i get to my desk in the morning!

  4. You amaze me…I don’t know how you do it!
    I’m a big quinoa fan…great as an alternative to oatmeal in the mornings. YUM.
    Thanks for raising my awareness today!

    evenshine´s last blog post..Unfavoritest kids’ books

  5. Lane’s story is a bit different from most. She didn’t have any of the physical symptoms to identify a food intolerance. She wasn’t irritable, and she never seemed to feel bad.

    At each doctor visit, we watched her weight go down to a lower percentile. She was average weight as a newborn, but as a one year old she stayed in the less than 3% for weight. Our doctor looked at our happy, attentive baby and reasonably assumed she was just small.

    Other than her low weight, the only indication was an extreme pickyness to food. The adage about how kids would eat when they were hungry didn’t apply to her. She ate pureed vegetables as a baby, but then she started craving only breads and dairy (the two food groups she happens to be intolerant to). If we gave her a food she didn’t want, she would refuse to eat for long periods of time, and it worried us because of her weight.

    A family member mentioned wheat-intolerance once before, but I checked the symptoms and thought that couldn’t be it. Then someone else mentioned it, and I decided to put Lane on a gluten-free diet as an experiment.

    Once we removed the gluten, she began to eat a few more foods, especially protein-rich food. She started putting on weight in just a couple of weeks. The only physical difference I could see was a change in her stools, they were darker and showed better digestion. We continued the gluten-free diet, since it seemed to be helping, and we also took her off of milk and dairy foods.

    We had a few medical tests done, but they were inconclusive.

    It wasn’t until a few months later that Lane had an accidental gluten exposure, and her physical symptoms became extreme and visible. Her body reacts to gluten now with vomiting and chronic diarrhea, and it takes several days to go back to normal.

    Doug didn’t have any of those symptoms either. It’s amazing how our bodies can work around issues, and not show the symptoms. What happened with Doug is that I suggested he try to go a week without gluten, since food intolerances are often genetic. He felt better, and then when he reintroduced gluten into his diet again, he experienced some of the classic symptoms.

    Feel free to email me personally if you want to talk about it more.

  6. I have what I consider the total opposite problem. I need large quantities of fiber to keep my IBS in check. Living a life without my whole grains is such a scary idea for me! But we have friends who have celiac’s, so this was pretty helpful for me.

    Jessica´s last blog post..Yikes!

  7. Thank you *so much* for posting this! My daughter and I both have celiac, and many times I’ve sacrificed my health for the sake of not appearing rude and questioning food. Instead of giving my hospitable friends and family a long email of random websites, I’ll just send a link to this page.
    Many gluten-free thanks!
    (And if you’re an American reading this post, odds are 1 in 133 that you have celiac, too. If you are of northern European descent, the odds are even higher. Get tested!)

    Rachel´s last blog post..A simple project for a simple crafter

  8. Great Post! Other people taking it personally that I wish to send food to birthday parties or playdates for my son is one of my biggest challenges.

    In addition to the websites you mention I also enjoy A Year of Crockpotting and Gluten Free Gobsmacked

  9. Jill Whitney says:


    You are highlighting so much valuable information here. We don’t have a gluten intolerance in our family (it’s peanuts/nuts, fish and eggs for my middle daughter). However, I had no idea there were so many things (like oats and spelt!) that a person with Celiac couldn’t eat–I thought it was just wheat. I know that I have heard from so many people who have “gotten of the wheat” how much better they feel.

    I think for our family with the nuts and fish, basically what it boils down to is, we trust NOTHING if it wasn’t made in my house (yes, even my own parents) It only takes one mistake to make someone REALLY sick, and the life at risk is worth far more than becoming complacent–which is easy to do when you have a long period between reactions. Understanding cross-contamination is critical and educating family members that might be serving food to an allergic person, or as it often is in my family, if a family member or friend wants to take her somewhere, and eating might be involved.

    My daughter is 4 and we spend a lot of time talking about foods that could make her sick, and she is becoming very aware of the risks at school–she takes her own food whenever she goes to preschool. When we go to the grocery store we stop and look at the peanut brittle or can of mixed nuts or granola bars and talk about what the food looks like and sort of mentally walk through understanding that particular food is not ok for her, ever. My goal is for her to become her own best advocate in her life with a severe food allergy.

  10. I just stumbled upon your site through Almost Frugal. I switched my family to a gluten-free diet about two months ago, after my mom did. Both of my daughters exhibited symptoms of celiac disease, as well as myself. We have all felt so much better since going gluten-free! Whenever I find someone mentioning the transition (and realization) of celiac I am amazed at the similarities.

    Thanks for the great post!

    I also love Gluten-Free Girl and Karina’s Kitchen!

    Kelli´s last blog post..Giveaway!

  11. This is a great post, and has helped me out with the question I asked you on another blog comment. I am going to investigate gluten intolerance for my son more thanks to this post.

    P.S. I stumbled this post for you since I thought it was so helpful!

    Taylor at Household Management 101´s last blog post..Feb 14, Personal Finance Blogs I Recommend

  12. vermontmommy says:

    I can eat gluten but saw this recipe for bean brownies and had to share. I will try this later in the week. Could they really be good as they say?

  13. I just found this post (been a reader for a while) and wanted to say thank you. This reference will serve me well this weekend when I tackle some gluten free baking for some friends for the first time.

  14. Going gluten free is indeed a big transformation. Bread has lived with us for as long as we can remember, and suddenly taking it out can be quiet overwhelming. It is a good thing that we have blogs like these and the ones you listed to help people through the transition. Actually there are a lot of great recipes that we never really paid attention to before we reliazed what celiac disease is. There are plenty of substitutes out there that we could use in our wheat free diet