Welcome to the next top tips post about living with coeliac disease or related condition.
Visiting friends and family is at first a challenge after a recent diagnosis of coeliac disease or after needing to entirely cut gluten out from your diet.
It took us years to feel confident visiting friends again, and we still get nervous when we go to stay at people’s house. It’s also daunting for the people hosting as well. Some people welcome the challenge and others understandably find it more difficult. This is quite normal, and the following should help both parties find it easier to be the host as well as the visitor.
Our home is 100% gluten free, and we chose that because we found it is easier. When we knew only one of our kids had coeliac disease I remember cooking a gluten free fish finger alongside a gluten fish finger and getting in a flurry because I couldn’t remember which spatula I used for which. After that, we decided to have gluten-free meals at large, and then when the 2nd child was diagnosed, that was it, every wooden board, every wooden spoon, everything that contains gluten or jam jars that were open and had a possibility of cross-contamination were out the house. We cleaned all the cupboards and made sure that nothing had gluten in or on and even now nothing enters the house if it is gluten. Like it’s a nasty disease – but it is dangerous for my kids, and at least there is one place they can be free of any fear when they are eating, cooking, playing or secretly sneaking through the cupboards for a tasty nibble to eat when I’m not looking.
So, when we go to friends, we usually end up taking a large cool box and another big bag of food. We are really prepared. It always takes me much longer to pack the food than the clothes and the food takes the most space in the car. But through my years of experience, I’ve learnt it’s better to be safe than sorry. Too many times we’ve been stuck without any options for food and had hungry kids.
Most importantly is to pack enough food for your own breakfast as this tends to be very gluten heavy in most families. Then we take loaves of bread and fillings including butter to make sandwiches in case we get stuck somewhere without being able to eat. We also take enough snacks to see us through. And then sometimes we’ll take our own pasta and a jar of sauce just in case the kids are unable to eat the dinner that is provided. I know this doesn’t sound as nutritious as what we usually eat, but this is about safety back up food for the kids. We always take loads of fresh fruit and if I have time I’ll make lots of nutritious energy balls.
My top ten tips for preparing to visit friends
- Inform your friends and family beforehand – send them an email describing what coeliac disease is, what the risks are, what food you can eat as well as what you can’t. Describe examples of cross-contamination. List your child’s favourite foods.
- Plan what you or your child will eat when you stay, this way you can help provide help, actual food or advise of any risks.
- Do a small online shop to be sent to your friend’s house before or when you arrive. It will provide the basics of what you or your child will need during their stay.
- Make sure you have enough snacks and food for your entire stay, just in case you cannot get to a shop that sells any gluten-free snacks or lunch.
- If you are eating out, ask to call the cafe/restaurant yourself to check they will cater. Many people will say yes, but when you get there you may find that they don’t adhere to any cross-contamination, or the gluten-free food may not be kids friendly.
- Always make a backup sandwich or food when out and about in case places cannot cater (unless you are eating out and assured it’s safe (point 5).
- Take as much or more than you think you’ll need. We often take a large cool box.
- If you have time you can offer to make a dessert or cake that everyone will eat – winners are the chocolate ganache tart or the elderflower cake. This will make everyone happy and your kids feel included. if you don’t have time to cook, you can always pick up a big cake from the free from section in your local supermarket.
- If a family member has your kids round regularly, give them access to the Coeliac UK gluten-free food checker app, or better still join them up as a member. The app makes shopping and checking your cupboards so less stressful and open as you can just scan the barcode to check if its safe.
- Ask to have a shelf or area of the fridge that you can safely keep gluten-free food – make sure they are labelled gluten-free on any tubs etc – so not to get mixed up.
The essentials list for food to take with you when visiting friends and family
Butter or a tub of margarine.
Jars of honey, jams or condiments that you use (squeezy ones are less likely to get cross-contaminated)
Own cereals or whatever you eat for breakfast (I usually make a batch of chia seed porridge)
Snacks (just in case you get stuck out somewhere with nothing safe to eat)
A good portion of raw choc brownies or energy balls – everyone likes these, they are a bit of a treat and you can pack them easily. A tub of similar healthy snacks such as chickpea and peanut butter cookies will also do the trick.
Rice cakes, cheese crackers or crispbreads
Your own chopping board
Then we usually bring our own crisps and snacks and an abundance of fruit.
We usually either keep our food separate in our own cool box or ask to have a separate shelf in the fridge or in a cupboard.
Don’t forget the ice packs for the cool box to keep it cool, if there is not enough room for all your food in your friend’s fridge (a common problem).
What is your experience?
I’d love to hear what your experiences are. Please comment below. Also if you’d like further advice about living with coeliac disease please contact me using the form in the Contact tab.