11 Tips for Cooking Gluten-Free Food for Your Guests

Check before you cook and use these tactics to entertain a gluten-free guest

gluten-free guest preparation
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Preparing gluten-free food for a guest with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is a serious responsibility because the guest's health is at stake. Learn the importance of checking with your guest about whether or not you should cook for them, and then see safer cooking and serving methods to use.

Check Before You Cook

Before you put a lot of effort into fixing gluten-free food for one of your guests, check with that guest to make sure they're comfortable eating food that's prepared by someone else. The gluten-free diet is incredibly complicated with a very steep learning curve. Many people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity get surprisingly sick when they eat a tiny bit of gluten. That could be an amount you can't see, but which might be stuck in the corner of your cookie sheet or in a scratch on your non-stick spaghetti pot.

To guard against hurt feelings, always ask your guest about the best way to proceed. Your gluten-free friend or family member may give you the green light to cook for her. Or, she may give you a specific brand name of the packaged food to purchase or a specific restaurant's carry-out meal to order. She might simply say she'll bring her own food.

Don't take it personally if she won't eat what you fix—it's nothing against your food. It's just something your loved one needs to do to stay healthy.

If You're Given the Green Light to Cook

When you're eating gluten-free, you must avoid the grains wheat, barley, rye, and most oats. This is tricky because these grains and ingredients made from them are included in many packaged products. But don't be afraid. If your guest gives you the go-ahead to cook for him or her, follow these instructions to make a safe meal.

A simple, safe menu would include: plain meat or fish (grilled on a clean grill, broiled, or cooked in a pan with some olive oil or butter), a fresh salad with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, cooked vegetables (steamed, roasted, or sautéed with olive oil), some safe starch (plain potatoes, corn, quinoa, rice, or kasha), and fresh fruit for dessert.

How to Cook for a Gluten-Free Guest

To cook for a gluten-free guest, follow these guidelines:

  1. Cook from scratch: To avoid hidden gluten, use whole, fresh ingredients. Avoid "convenience" ingredients such as gravy mixes, soup mixes, bottled sauces, salad dressings, condiments, and seasoning mixes, since these may contain gluten-based ingredients. Check a list of gluten-free foods for safer ingredients.
  2. Involve your gluten-free guest in your planning: Take the time to go over the menu together in advance. There may be something problematic that she can spot more easily than you can.
  3. Only use a packaged product if it's labeled gluten-free: If your favorite ingredient is not labeled gluten-free and you're wondering whether it's safe, call your guest and let her be the judge. Note that wheat-free does not mean gluten-free.
  4. If something's easy to make gluten-free, prepare it that way: For example, serve croutons on the side rather than putting them on the salad. Use a gluten-free soup to make your casserole. 
  5. Avoid gluten cross-contamination in your kitchen: Be careful not to prepare gluten-free foods on the same surface used to prepare foods with gluten unless that surface has been thoroughly cleaned. Make sure your utensils are cleaned after preparing gluten-containing foods. Don't use scratched or wooden cutting boards or wooden spoons to make gluten-free foods as these can harbor microscopic bits of gluten.
  6. Beware of even microscopic amounts of gluten: For example, you can't stuff a turkey with gluten-containing stuffing and then count on feeding the "outside" meat to someone who's gluten-free. You can't add even a tiny amount of a gluten-containing seasoning mix to anything your gluten-free guest will eat. And you can't grill your guest's meat on a grill that hasn't been thoroughly cleaned, assuming you've ever used an unsafe marinade on it (or even toasted a hamburger bun). 
  7. Avoid cross-contamination at the table: For example, keep all your chips and other appetizers gluten-free, or they'll contaminate your gluten-free dip. Keep bread away from your guest's plate and away from all the serving dishes (otherwise, crumbs can fall into the gluten-free food). Plate up a fresh stick of butter and designate it solely for the use of your gluten-free guests.
  8. Enlist your other guests: Explain that some of your food is gluten-free and needs to stay that way. No matter how carefully you prepare in advance, if one of your guests uses the spoon from the crouton-filled Caesar salad to serve himself some of the gluten-free potatoes, the potatoes are no longer gluten-free.
  9. Give your guest a tour of the food and invite her to serve herself first: When you're ready to eat, point out what's safe and what's not to your gluten-free guest. Then, offer your guest the opportunity to take portions before the food has been accidentally contaminated by the other guests.
  10. If your guest is a regular visitor, buy some gluten-free supplies and foods to keep around: Check with your guest to see what foods and brands are acceptable, and stash them in an upper cabinet or in the back of your freezer. That way, you've always got something gluten-free to offer. Even if it's just a frozen mac and cheese, it could be a welcome sight to a hungry guest.
  11. Invite your gluten-free guest to bring her own food: Many people following the gluten-free diet truly fear to hurt their loved ones' feelings over food. Some will even eat food they know will make them sick, just to avoid those hurt feelings. If you can preempt this by telling your friend or family member you understand, and that she should bring her own food if that makes her more comfortable, you'll be doing both of you a favor.

A Word From Verywell

Cooking for someone with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is tricky, but it can be done with a lot of careful preparation. Following these rules can help you accommodate your friend or family member, and should make both of you more comfortable at your gathering.

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Miller K, Mcgough N, Urwin H. Catering Gluten-Free When Simultaneously Using Wheat Flour. J Food Prot. 2016;79(2):282-7. doi:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-15-213

Additional Reading

By Nancy Lapid
Nancy Ehrlich Lapid is an expert on celiac disease and serves as the Editor-in-Charge at Reuters Health.