I talk about anxiety a lot. The anxiety that we as a family feel every time we eat out. You see Peggy (my 6 year old little Coeliac) and Chris (my husband with Crohns Disease) have very unique dietary requirements. Peggy being gluten free and Chris having to eat a low-fibre (and alcohol free) diet can be tricky to contend with alone – but put the two together and it can sometimes feel impossible to find food to satisfy us all. The food and drink that surrounds the social occasions we’re invited to can cause apprehension rather than joy.
So if we feel anxious about eating out most of the time anyway- you can imagine how Christmas feels! A celebration bringing families together over the dinner table. A time when we make life-long memories whilst over indulging on show stopping recipes, booze and cake! But we’ve learnt to adapt and found solutions that mean we don’t miss out and everyone is included. To know that everything on the dinner table is safe for them to eat means they can relax and enjoy in the ‘occasion’ of Christmas Dinner just like everyone else. Following an invitation to a party or meal out we used to apologise a lot! Apologise for our dietary requirements, for being ‘awkward’, for the extra effort (and worry) our host would have to go through to ensure we were catered for. But thanks to campaigns like Asdas ‘Christmas Inclusion’ project, attitudes towards catering for special diets are changing. People are becoming more knowledgeable and confident in the ways of food preparation for individuals with dietary needs and aware of the ever expanding ‘free from’ offerings available to buy from their local stores. Projects like this really are life changing as far as we are concerned and so when Asda invited us to take part we jumped at the chance!
So here are our top tips if you have a free-from’er around your table this Christmas………..
I know what you’re thinking; “how predictable!” but never more has this ‘tip’ been relevant than when cooking for a person with specialist dietary requirements. When rushing or being distracted (by another Bucks Fizz) mistakes are more likely to happen. Cross-contamination can be avoided by preparing as much as possible before hand. We’ll be pre-making and freezing Yorkshire puddings, peeling veg the night before and dishing up a cold desert which I can make Xmas eve. Alternatively, consider making the entire meal ‘free-from’ and remove any issue of cross-contamination entirely. We’ll be dishing up Gluten-Free Gravy to avoid issues with cross-contamination (we love this one from Asda made in the roasting tin with the juices from the Turkey, no one spots its gluten-free!) and making sure theres no booze in any of the deserts so Chris can enjoy everything on the table (here’s a booze and gluten-free Christmas Cake we’ve been enjoying so far this festive season!)
Communication is key
Give your guests a call and spend some time discussing what they can and can’t eat. Most people with dietary needs will have no problem with bringing their own food, but for you to care enough that you would spend time talking through and planning an inclusive meal your guests can’t fail to enjoy will mean the world to them!
If hosting Christmas dinner for guests with IBS or Crohns Disease, placing food in terrines in the middle of the table rather than directly out on to their plates means your guests are in control of what goes into their stomachs. That way they won’t feel embarrassed about leaving food you’ve lovingly stacked up on to their plates which they just can’t have. It’s also another way to avoid cross-contamination between the GF and ‘regular’ foods!
Food to watch out for
If you are catering for a Coeliac for the first time over Xmas, it’s important that you watch out for ingredients containing Wheat, Barley or Rye as these are no-go’s for Coeliacs. Some struggle with oats too. Foods to watch out for (which have caught us out in the past) are; gravy, Yorkshire Puddings, stuffing, roast potatoes (if cooked with flour/semolina), table sauces such as Brown Sauce, malt vinegar and many deserts and biscuits. Our recent favourite find in Asda are these gluten free profiteroles – some brands contain alcohol and have caught Chris out in the past but these are booze free and taste great!
Free-from ranges are great this year!
If the gluten-free world is alien to you then be prepared to be blown away by the free-from aisles! Gone are the days of ‘bread in a can’ (really!) and there are some great products out there which are ‘free-from’ and help to cater for diverse dietary needs on the big day without having to cook from scratch. Don’t miss the ‘chilled’ and ‘frozen’ free-from sections too and double check ingredients lists as many ‘regular’ products are in fact gluten-free. Our favourite ‘secretly’ gluten-free product are these yummy Pigs-In-Blankets!