A scientist/baker’s tips for safely serving gluten-free food at your wedding

Guest post by Sara aka iLiveinmyLab
Gluten-Free Tres Leches Wedding Cake

“Eating out is always risky.” This is one of the first mottoes any newly-diagnosed celiac or gluten intolerant individual is taught, and it is one of the most important mottoes to remember even on your wedding day. Based on my experiences over the years as a gluten-free bride and working within the food industry, I've got few suggestions for both gluten-free brides and brides planning for gluten-free guests.

Gluten-free is NOT the same as wheat-free. Gluten-free, depending on the country you are in, means that it's free of wheat, rye, barley, and oats. I could go into a much longer scientific explanation, but it would probably bore you. It's a medically-based diet in order to prevent dire medical consequences and should not be taken lightly by brides, caterers, or wedding planners attempting to accommodate for guests.

Gluten-Free Carrot Cake!Just because a caterer tells you they can accommodate for gluten-free does not mean it is true. One of the common trends I noticed was that everyone said they could “accommodate” for gluten-free. However when you began to ask questions like, “Do you check your ingredients to see if they are gluten-free?” and “Do you have a separate room for your bakery in your facility than where you prepare the food?” or “How would you prevent cross contamination?”, often times their knowledge would be terrifyingly lacking. If you are attempting to accommodate for a gluten-free guest or hosting a gluten-free wedding, these are questions that you should ask. Failure to do so could end in agony or even a hospital trip for your guests.

Look for kitchens that will accommodate for kosher, and then ask them to do a full cleaning and scrubbing down of the kitchen before preparing gluten-free items. This'll help reduce the amount of flour and crumbs within the kitchen that could make a gluten-free patron ill.

Make your caterer double check ALL of their ingredients (especially the sauces and starches) to ensure they are gluten-free. Gluten can hide in many forms and ways, thus it is extremely important that your ingredients are safety checked.

Buffet-style meals are agents of destruction and doom (unless the entire buffet is gluten-free but we will discuss this in a minute). Buffets are extremely easy to make your guests ill, even if you let them through the line first. I have seen instances where workers have accidentally contaminated food by switching out spoons without the manager realizing, adding incorrect toppings that would normally go on a dish, or place “gluten-free” signs in front of the inaccurate dish. Just to be safe, if you are having select gluten-free items on a buffet, have a manager pull from the uncontaminated batches in the back to create gluten-free plates for your guests. This is a much safer option.

Have everything be gluten-free. Do not let people guilt you into thinking a completely gluten-free wedding is the most horrible thing in the world, because this is a load of bunk. We designed our wedding menu away from breads, offering lettuce wrapped burgers, steaks, fresh salad, roasted potatoes, fresh fruit, and bacon-wrapped cheese-filled dates as options. Our meal plan was extremely successful and people loved the food.

Handmade Gluten-Free Couscous Find a wedding planner who is extremely familiar with gluten-free diets. That way your planner will be the one barking at chefs and double-checking all of the ingredients to help ensure a safe and happy meal for your guests. Thus you will not be living in fear of a hospital trip throughout your reception.

Utensils, utensils, utensils! Separate utensils for gluten-free menu items and cakes are imperative! One stray knife cutting into your gluten-free cake will ruin it for the rest of your gluten-free guests.

Prepackaged gluten-free foods are your friend. One of the most wonderful wedding experiences I've had was when a dear friend had prepackaged gluten-free goodies delivered to our hotel room as a “welcome gift.” The bride and groom also respected our wishes and encouraged us to bring in our own meals from a local gluten-free restaurant, which we then placed on the caterers plates and ate like traditional guests.

Always ask your guests their preference on how to handle gluten-free. If you are a bride and you know that you have friends who are gluten-free, but they have not asked for accommodation or asked you to not accommodate, PLEASE respect their requests and warn your caterer that there may be guests declining meal options. Often times I decline meals at weddings because I have not discussed personally with the caterer my meal option.

Dr. Toastee & the Pirate

Just because you make it at your own home does not mean it is safe. I get this one a lot from brides, “Oh well I'll just make something gluten-free for them.” This can easily end in disaster. Baking pans, wooden spoons, basic ingredients you use on a regular basis like sugar, butter, spices, etc., can serve as easy sources of cross-contamination.

Call a local (or national) gluten-free bakery and have them ship gluten-free desserts to your venue. Then have them held in the back, or on a separate table from the gluten-containing items. This will help prevent cross-contamination and promote peace of mind with your guests.

Do NOT send gluten-free baked goods to a traditional wheat bakery to be decorated. On average it takes 3-5 days for the flour within the air of a bakery to be filtered out enough to produce safe gluten-free items for individuals with medical needs. I have interacted with many bakers who have the best of intentions but do not realize this and will try and convince you that producing items in their bakery is safe.

I think the one take home message that brides and families should remember is to respect your guest's wishes on how to handle gluten-free. I take a rather vigilant stance when planning for gluten-free due to my increased sensitivity to it, however not everyone takes this stance. Not everyone has the same level of sensitivity of gluten, but you should do your best to provide a safe and happy experience for your guests. Have any other suggestions or ideas for easy-to-make gluten-free options? Feel free to share!

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Comments on A scientist/baker’s tips for safely serving gluten-free food at your wedding

  1. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this. We are just beginning to think about a gluten-free wedding as myself, my mother, three aunts, one uncle and a host of my cousins and cousins’ children are all celiac. It is mind-boggling how many ways there are to ‘glutenize’ a celiac sufferer – and almost surprising how few people are aware of the real risks gluten poses to those of us who cannot have it!

  2. Great info! I’ve had a lot of people wonder why I want an entirely gluten free menu for all guests… I’m sending this article on to people. Thank you!

  3. Thanks, this has come at a really good time, I’m about to host a christmas dinner meal. So many ingredients I never thought to consider that have gluten in them!

    • Johanna, please remember to double-check anything with caramel coloring, malt flavoring, or texturized vegetable protein. Sometimes, you have to call the company to get that information, as they are not required to disclose the source on the package, just the final ingredient.

  4. Hi Rae, as you have so many Coeliac guests I would recommend going completely gluten free, you’ve enough to be worrying about on your big day without guests getting ill.
    Hi Johanna, I’m not a coeliac myself but earlier today I did a turkey dinner for friends one of whom is a coeliac. I made my usual stuffing using a shop bought white gluten free loaf (be careful I nearly bought a “wheat free” loaf which isn’t gluten free). Myself and my husband didn’t notice any taste difference whatsoever.
    I have the Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook and I made the flourless chocolate cake it was gorgeous, I served it with cream and defrosted frozen berries.

    • I went to Thanksgiving with my massive family, being the only gluten-free duo. I brought stuffing and gravy that were gluten-free. Our gluten-free version was gone at the end of dinner, with an untouched pan of the regular stuff still sitting around. The products available today are so amazing, you don’t really miss the gluten.

  5. as someone in the food industry, i would tell brides to be as knowledgeable as you can YOURSELVES! dont rely on others for being an expert. a friend of mine who has celiac works at a local country club. the club’s new menu had a bunch of gluten free options on it, and she was way excited. then she saw the menu- there was soy sauce in a salad, and a fried item, amoung other problems…. so she goes and asks the EXECUTIVE CHEF of the freaking country club, and he goes, well of course soy doesnt have gluten. thats not wheat. and then he says that, and I quote, “well the fryer oil is at 350… everything dies after 160”. anyone who knows anything about gluten knows that you cant “kill” gluten like it is bacteria…. needless to say, she alerted some key people, and their entire menu had to be redone- none of it was actually gluten free. this is the executive chef, the guy in charge of everything- he had no idea what he was doing. be the expert and ask lots of questions!!

  6. My future father-in-law has extreme reactions to Gluten, so we’re planning on making the groom’s cake gluten free and have food prepared especially for him, separate from everything else. Since all the food will be home made I’m worried now =/

  7. For the meals and events that my side of the family was is charge of planning we focused on gluten free – and even had a guest on my husband’s side say to me, “this is so refreshing that I can actually eat at a reception!”

    For the cake we went with a gluten free cake for the bride and groom and all who needed GF, and regular cupcakes for all of the guests. Set them up separately on a cupcake tree. Worked VERY well for us.

    For the meal that my mother-in-law was in charge of I got to go through the buffet line first – but found out that none of the entrees were actually gluten free because of the sauces put on them, and the one dish that they could make without the sauce my father couldn’t eat due to another medical issue. How frustrating after a year of engagement and education around gluten-free eating that she couldn’t have made a special arrangement for me and my dad to have a separate gluten free entree?!?

    The other flaw of the day? My brother-in-law feeding the nervous groom bagels for breakfast. It made for the quickest kiss at the altar ever because I get nervous about getting gluten off of the lips, and the ceremony was just two hours after eating the bagel. Maybe that is going overboard, but better safe than miserable!

  8. As someone who is highly allergic to wheat (but not gluten), it’s a real pain trying to figure out what can and can’t be eaten. Often I have friends saying, “Well, you can just take your antihistamines, can’t you?”. NO. It doesn’t work that way. When we get married, we’ll be having a completely wheat- and gluten-free menu (with vegan options) to accommodate as many people as possible. Fortunately we are s-l-o-w-l-y finding places that can and are willing to accommodate our needs, and we have a few years to go yet, so hopefully by then we’ll have a wider variety of caterers from which to choose!

  9. I am a Celiac bride, and my lovely fiance’ is gluten-intolerant. Our baby will never have gluten in her diet, to prevent the medical nightmares possible with Celiac complications. As a result, I have planned a gluten-free wedding. The issues that I have faced include venues that would not allow a gluten-free-friendly caterer because “we don’t have a contract with them, you must use one of our caterers”, a family member who is no longer being subjected to “that weird food you shouldn’t be forcing everyone to eat”, and the joy of trying to find a diet-friendly caterer.
    Happy ending: I hired a taco truck whose owners are both gluten-intolerant, and they use free-range meats and support our CSA. I am getting married at a beautiful outdoor venue, for free, courtesy of my fiance’s boss, who doesn’t feel that we should be punished for a disability. Finally, I have pared down my guest list and can now spend more on the people who will be attending, instead of wasting money on those people who felt put-upon by being asked to eat corn tortillas, gluten-free red velvet cake, and hard cider instead of beer.
    Life happens, and this one little day out of mine, is my day. I’m not letting anyone make me feel bad for that.

    • What? Being fed free range meats and corn tortillas from a taco truck, gluten free red velvet cake and hard cider is considered “being put out”?!?! To me, that sounds like the best wedding reception meal EVER!

  10. I recently returned from a vacation that had me mentally listing off all the things people don’t think of when you have food allergies. I especially loved the last point. I’m gluten intolerant, but my sensitivity is stress related. We went to a restaurant one night and the server happened to be Celiac. I was all “Oh, yay! Someone who understands!” until she kept telling me not to order just about everything I wanted to order. I appreciated her concern, but I really didn’t want another salad, or a plain steak, and if I got sick it would have been my own damn fault and it tends to pass within a few hours for me. I really just wanted to blurt out “But I’m the one paying for, and eating, the food!” Like I said, I loved her concern for my safety, but I DO happen to feed myself daily pretty successfully.

  11. As someone who keeps kosher, I’m not sure how a kosher kitchen will help you. If they’re in Passover mode, then they won’t be cooking wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or oats. Unless they were in matzoh form first, so you’re not going to be gluten free. Also, many of those kitchens will also not allow rice, corn, or any beans either. While cleaning a commercial kitchen is easier, cleaning for passover is a HUGE undertaking. Unless you’re willing to shell out for a lot people to do that cleaning and disrupt the caterer’s other jobs, this is not a viable option.

    • Also, if they are of the persuasion that avoids corn, beans, and rice they will likely avoid a variety of spices and other items that an even smaller proportion avoids such as quinoa and amaranth.

    • Due to the knowledge of how to clean out a kitchen for Passover, this is why it was suggested. I have worked with quite a few caterers & chefs who are experts at preparing allergen-free items through my job & this is something that you will hear commonly suggested to ask as a way to “feel out” if a kitchen has the knowledge to be able to appropriately clean for gluten-free patrons.

  12. Thanks–I’m not gluten-sensitive, but some of our guests are (I don’t know to what extent), and this is motivating me to talk to them about what they need to be able to enjoy the wedding in peace. (I wouldn’t dream of not having them there!) I know we have some great local gluten-free bakeries, since we live in a city, and I’m thinking it may be worth the effort to get meals brought in from a restaurant, too. I can do the vegan/dairy-free stuff myself, but gluten-free isn’t something I’d feel comfortable doing with my highly limited knowledge/all-purpose bakeware.

  13. Thank you so much for this post! My issue is that my fiance discovered that he is gluten intolerant in the midst of wedding planning. We’ve already put down a deposit, planned the menu, etc. and, although the caterers (who we love)have been incredibly kind and accommodating, they haven’t done gluten free events in the past. I’m not sure what steps to take to ensure that everyone is clear on what is and is not gluten free without becoming overbearing and expecting them to completely reinvent their menu.

  14. I am getting married in November and having my reception in a Brewery/pub. After looking through the menu I realised the had NOTHING which was gluten free. I can’t tolerate gluten or dairy, so basically I told them what I want and they will make it for me. Luckily I have a good understanding of my diet. If anyone needs some ideas you can see my blog http://www.forkingdiana.com which has all my recipes. I like to turn ‘regular’ food allergy free 🙂 Any chef should be more than happy to accommodate your needs and your guests.

  15. My partner and I are both gluten and dairy allergic, plus I am also intolerant to soy and yeast and can’t have cane sugar. Our wedding will be entirely free of these elements. The only thing containing gluten will be Beer, but we do not drink so have asked the bar to bring in more non-alcoholic options than normal so we have more choice than just orange juice. We have a caterer for the first meal, who have agreed to not bring any bread products onto the premises and agreed to provide a list of all ingredients for us, right down to what is in the salad dressings. Then we are self-catering a massive dessert bar. It IS possible to make amazing desserts that are “everything-free” so we have 3 family members doing the bulk of the baking, plus we are going to publish a list of recipes on our wedding website so that if any guests would like to volunteer to make a dessert, they don’t have to think about what to make, they can just choose one of the recipes we have provided. Fingers crossed it all works out for us!!

  16. I am gluten-free and I am planning a gluten-free wedding. There seems to be this negative stigma about “gluten-free” in that many people will turn up their nose and criticize it. I have heard people say “yuck” at the mere mention of the word, all the while eating naturally gluten-free items all the time. Some people in my family have even accused me of lying: Yes, I in fact do have an allergy to wheat, rye, oats and barley. Yes, you remember me eating bread as a child. Yes, you can develop allergies later in life.

    To avoid such comments, I simply do not advertise it. My advice will be to simply not advertise a gluten free wedding, but rather tell gluten-free guests and their families directly. People who do not have either a personal or familial experience with going gluten-free will *not* understand the severity of Celiac or of wheat allergies. Just let them be uninformed, because it’s not worth trying to explain and defend yourself to the stubborn ones.

    The stubborn ones will just as happily enjoy the dish of chicken, rice and vegetables as they would the chicken pot pie. They will, however, be stubborn and complain if you label said dish as “gluten-free.” If there are people like this on your guest list, just save yourself the trouble and avoid talking to them about it all together.

    • I am also gluten-free and I agree. My work just had a conniption fit because I didn’t come to the Christmas party. The restaurant could not provide anything for me to eat (the party planner did check), so I stayed home. When my other half and I finally get married the whole thing will be gluten free. Not only am I affected but two of my sisters, my 16 year old son, and both my parents are as well. I’m in Southern California, which is know for being pretty diet friendly no matter what your restrictions are, but I still worry about finding a place that will accommodate. The idea that I will find a beautiful, in budget venue only to have my battle ship sunk by a catering contract eats my head.

  17. This is one thing I will be considering as more planning gets underway – I follow the paleo diet, which means no rice, corn, wheat, or other grains, and no beans or refined sugars. It’s mostly choice for me, but I find it helps my depression when I eat this way and I feel better on the whole. I also have friends with gluten intolerance or celiac. I have no idea if the venues (with exclusive caterers) I’ve been looking at would be able to create gluten-free or paleo dishes; frankly I forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder.

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