Words you never want to hear while eating…

…at a new friend’s home

One of the hardest things for me after being diagnosed with Celiac was meeting new friends… and being invited over to dinner. I love to hang out with friends, cook, have dinner together, etc.

My friends in Chicago (where we lived for many years before moving west) were around when I was diagnosed and they took everything in stride. Our monthly potluck brunches became 95% gluten free. Our dinners out? Some place safe for me! Dinner at their house? No worries!

And since we’ve moved, meeting new people and getting invited over for dinner has meant having a conversation about my gluten-free life earlier than expected. And it’s not one of those “getting-to-know-you” conversations, it’s a full on “now-you-know-me” conversation. LOL.

So this weekend we were invited to a neighbor’s home for dinner. She’s had us over before, but just in case, I reminded her of my food “allergies”. She laughed and said “Oh yes! No worries!”

Love her.

She served a lovely pot roast dinner. And she assured me that there was no flour, no wheat, nothing.

I helped myself.

Mashed potatoes, salad, and pot roast. Yum.

After two bites (and two more to go on the plate), I was listening to her daughter ask her about the recipe. The conversation went something like this:

“Mom, this is Cristina’s British Roast recipe?” asked the Daughter.

“Yes.” replied the Mom.

“But you made it without the flour. That’s great.” remarked the Daughter.

I took another bite of the tasty roast.

“Yes,” Mom replied, “It was easy to skip that step.”

“Oh, it’s so good.” said the Daughter. “What other seasonings did you use?”

I took the last bite of potatoes and roast from my plate.

“Oh, you know this recipe,” remarked Mom. “It’s the same one you made last fall. The one with the really dark stout beer. I think I used two large cans of Guinness this time.”

I swallowed hard and stared at my plate.

This sweet older woman who had made dinner for me and my love, invited the neighbors and her daughter over to meet us, and had spent the better part of her day cooking for us…. .she had no idea.

And at that very moment, I just didn’t have the heart to say anything.

What could she do about it?
What could I?
What would saying anything in that moment help?

I wondered all of these things to myself and made a mental note of refusing the new beer offered my way with an explanation of why I can’t have beer.

And I went home. And I’ve felt guilty, sad, stressed, overwhelmed, and ill since.

Sometimes being gluten-free isn’t easy.

Sometimes it forces us to develop stronger voices.

And take second helpings of the salads instead.

Bah. Twice in one month. And it hasn’t happened to me in SOOOOO long.

Ah well. Live an learn.

What do you all do?
How do you accept new invitations/new friendships without burdening your host?
Or becoming the “high maintenance” guest?


  1. Cassandra says:

    I try to have them over for dinner at my house instead, and only go to their house after I’m really comfortable with them.

  2. your story sounds very familiar… everywhere we’ve been invited for dinner recently i’ve been taking a dish as well. it’s easier to say you want to help out and bring something. i’ll generally eat some salad and other “safe” food like a vegetable, but will mostly stick to my dish to fill me up. another thing i’ve done is to go early to help cook… that way i can take note of what i can eat.

  3. I’ve actually stopped eating anywhere but at home or the family home a very close friend. My friend’s mom has known me my entire life and as soon as she heard about my diagnosis, she called me up to talk about what she could do to make it easy for me to continue coming for holiday dinners. Otherwise, I don’t go. I can’t even eat at my dad’s because I get sick every single time, and it’s not his fault. Like your friend, he tries really hard, but just doesn’t realize to what extent. I’m working up the courage to talk to him and plan on lending him my copy of Shelley Case’s book, but I still find it a challenge because I’m newly diagnosed and feel like I’m a “high maintenance”. I haven’t even gone out on a date with anyone lately for that very reason, I just invite the boyfriend over for dinner!!!

  4. Oh dear, I really feel for you. There is no solution to this problem that will make everyone happy. Much depends on the people you know but it is always a case of weighing up how bad someone will feel for having given you something that will make you ill, should they be told, or how offended they will become if you refuse the dish they’ve been cooking (invariably) “all day.” Or of course, how ill you will feel if you eat the dish. In my case, on the rare occasions I do eat elsewhere, I gather the strength needed to say “no, I can’t” before hand, then suffer the odd looks, derision and “jokes.” Occasionally I get caught off guard by miso, or soy sauce, or as you say, beer and spend at least three weeks feeling… well, you know.

    M-Elle: my dad is like that, too. It took a long time to convince him that I wasn’t being difficult or choosing an alternative diet like vegetarianism! These days, if I go there to dinner he prepares something different for me, which seems to annoy others but… well, you’ve got to say ‘let them be annoyed’. Talking with him is the best thing. Be brave, he’ll get it.

    So, my answer was to become a hermit! Fortunately, my fiancé and I enjoy each other’s company best of all. 8^)

  5. Oh, I forgot to say, it is five years since I was diagnosed and in the early days I did actually choose to eat the things I knew I couldn’t, simply out of embarrassment or not wanting to offend. Pleeeeeease, don’t anyone ever do this! Be strong, you can do it! Truthful and reasoned explanation is always best. 8^)

  6. That’s awful! I once went to our favorite Peruvian restaurant and order lamb stew, I had started to itch by the time we got home, and when we told my boyfriends mother what we had, she looked at me surprised, and told us that beer is used in the preparation of ‘seco’. Unfortunately these things happen. I’ve decided that if someone can’t deal with my dietary issues, than they probably can’t deal with my whole package. I know that sounds a little snotty, but we know know that this becomes a big part of who you are, whether you want it to or not. I usually bring up gluten free fairly early in an acquaintance and then I tell people first what I can eat, and then what I can’t eat. I’m facing a catered affair this weekend, and although I know my cousin is very thoughtful of my issues, I doubt in all the hubbub that she mentioned GF to the caterers. I’ll probably just bring my own food and deal with any funny looks with a detailed explanation.

    I think that your new friend deserves to know that you can’t have beer. I wouldn’t make it into a big deal, and maybe she doesn’t even need to know that she made you sick. But perhaps before you visit her, or go out with her next, mention the list of things you can’t have and add some of the odder ones like soy sauce and beer.

    Good Luck

  7. Kate, I am so sorry for you. I really don’t know what to say. Is it too forward to ask her what she is cooking and what the ingredients are? Like Kerrin, my wife and I are hermits – it’s the kids that always get invited and we always provide our own food (though the parents are always understanding).


  8. Someone else I know uses 1 tsp of Pascalite or bentonite clay (mixed in a glass of water) at the beginning of a meal in unfamiliar places. She swears it protects her from being glutened – intentionally or otherwise.

    Interesting. I know that there are some natural remedies that can make the symptoms of ingesting gluten lessened, but nothing can really protect us once we have eaten it. That is just the way the whole thing works, sadly.
    Thanks for the tip though!

  9. When visiting we generally will bring a side dish (like GF cornbread) and make sure the menu includes something safe like a meat and an unsullied salad. However we always seem to encounter little mistakes no matter the intention, so I read the recipes just in case… and keep some almonds and snacks in the car for an unhappy hubby. However, I must admit, we very rarely eat at anybody else’s house.
    We did have a rather horrid experience recently, when we took my mother out to a mothers day dinner at a local restaurant. We’ve been there several times in the past and have had no trouble. My hubby (the celiac) orders a chicken breast, side of steamed broccoli and some Alfredo sauce (that we’ve checked previously). This time the waitress misunderstood my husbands order and brought the chicken breast out on Alfredo noodles. (After a brief conversation about NO BREAD or WHEAT PLEASE, surely familiar to everyone reading this). We explained that his food could not touch the noodles and we needed another order. Back suspiciously quickly the waitress swore that his meal was now a new chicken breast and fresh steamed broccoli. We’d been waiting for our food for over an hour already, so my hubby just sighed and dug in. Several bites in he found little shards of noodles and knew he was in for a rough night. To make matters more insulting we were charged for the noodles! Arguing didn’t help. They were completely rude and disrespectful about it. Obviously, that was the last time we go there… still it’s so frustrating when you do assert yourself at a restaurant and they don’t view your allergy as important or legit. I’ve a serious peanut allergy, and imagine if someone blithely did that to me? I’d be in the hospital in no time.
    We’ve learned not to be rude or pushy with family or friend mistakes, but my hubbys reaction is so bad he just doesn’t eat it, no matter the possible rudeness. Restaurants are a different story.

  10. Oh sweetie, this is such a hard one. I’ve had this happen to me earlier this year. I was literally two bites from finishing a super yummy porkchop when I asked “So what is the marinade?” which I should have asked BEFORE I started to eat. “Oh, it’s soy vey sauce”. GULP. At that point, I thought, why not just eat some of the challah bread that was there too. I have not told the hostess about this, but if invited again, I will be friendly and just say thank you but I have to be 100% sure you can accomodate, as last time, there was an issue. It’s so hard for us to be firm, but polite, as we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but our health is too important to us and we must stand firm. Hope you are feeling better.

  11. Jyesika – sorry to hear about your hubby’s experience. What I try to do when that happens, is cut into the chicken/meat or whatnot and you then know if they gave you a new one, or just plopped it onto a new plate.

  12. Ooh, that’s tough. I think I would wait until the next time they invited me to humorously mention “oh yes, beer is off my list too.” If they remember that last diner, I wouldn’t go into any detail about how sick I was.

    Once I was at a chips and dip party enjoying tortilla chips and salsa. Someone mentioned to the host how good those chips were and she replied, “They’re those new multi-grain chips.” I must have turned white as a sheet because without saying anything, she suddenly began apologizing to me for not mentioning it before.

  13. OHHHH… I just wanted to shout…I KNOW YOUR PAIN!!!! Oh goodness, have i ever dealt with this! This is my mom in law — for instance she made her famous hot dog chili for memorial day and since now I always eat naked hotdogs (I never seem to have time to make buns!!) I always throw her chili on the hot dogs… I ate two of them, never even thinking it could possibly have wheat in it. I knew she used tomato sauce to thicken it… then when I was helping her with dishes I noticed a cheap can of gluten-filled tomato soup sitting empty on the counter. I asked her what she used it in and she said, “Well the chili!?!” Kate, I nearly cried. I had had a bad weekend because we were away all weekend and several times of eating out I had made mistakes in ordering (you’d think i’d have this down pat after nearly a year) So I spent my weekend in allergic benedryl misery, and then to top it all off was the hot dog chili on memorial day. *sigh*

  14. Oh Kate…it’s so tough when events like these happen so close together! Something that I’m working on is learning to be more “forceful” when I talk to people about my dietary restrictions. I have spent too many dinners crossing my fingers and hoping that everything will work out.
    I think its OK to ask people if they would like to look at your gluten-free dining cards when they invite you over for dinner. If they don’t feel like they can completely accommodate, then invite them over to your place when you can. I am trying so hard to remember that I have to stand up for myself and be really open from the beginning of any friendship when it comes to what I can and cannot eat. It’s been rough, but it’s getting better.

  15. We don’t have to apologize for eating only what makes us healthy and feel good. We don’t have to think that it is polite to be silent, or to eat food that makes us sick.

    We can have a snack before gatherings, and bring a gluten-free dish we know is safe for us, so that we can spend more time enjoying conversation and good company than focusing on what we can’t have.

    Our families and friends generally want us to be happy and healthy. Our expectation that others will think we are high maintenance isn’t always accurate. When I was first diagnosed, I felt guilty and afraid to talk about it. But I found that when I did, my friends were truly curious and wanted to learn about it. Our conversations encouraged some of them who had similar symptoms to see their doctor. You never know who else you can help by speaking up.

    And we are so much more than what we can’t eat.

  16. I’m still learning about this whole thing and since I went gluten free by Drs recommendation before getting tested, I don’t actually know if I have celiac or just how sensitive I am. So I find myself cheating when I’m in unfamiliar places. Mostly it is because I don’t know what I really can and can’t handle, or if the occasional roll will do me in.

    However, since I have other food and environmental allergies, I know how hard it can be to convince people that you are seriously allergic rather than just picky. My own mother still puts beans in chili even though she was at the allergists with me when I tested positive for beans. I think it is because I don’t live at home and everyone else can eat them. She just forgets and thinks that picking them out will be enough. So, most of the time, I cook when I’m at their house. I know I’ll have to stock a second pantry for when I’m there over Christmas and such. My mom is even a dietitian, so she knows this stuff, but it isn’t in her normal routine. Maybe you can suggest cooking together so that you can offer a safe recipe or two. Of course, if just being around a cross contamination situation could set you off, then you’d have to be really careful.

  17. With so many people finding little time to cook, I find that it is only family gatherings I have to worry about. My BEST story is when my mother in law used chicken broth in the chicken tortilla soup. I swear we had been over the chicken broth thing before so I didn’t question her about it. Well, I had hives so bad that we took a picture of them to give to a medical study on urticaria. EEK! She felt so bad. Since she doesn’t have to constantly live with the gluten free diet, she had forgotten. Honestly, the incident was my fault. And YES, I feel high maintenance!


  18. Oh sweetie, I know how you feel. I hope you’re feeling better. It is little consolation she tried, isn’t it? As for me, no one ever invites me to dinner (in Georgia or Florida). I have to navigate a potluck next weekend…I feel your pain, I really do.

    Except I’ve had family do it, without thinking, which hurts just as much.

    Hang in there, ok? Much love, Ging

  19. Shirley says:

    I quiz as politely and tactfully as I can and if I still am uncertain, I skip the questionable item … even if I run the risk of unintentionally offending or being labeled high maintenance. I can’t imagine how ill I would be after that incident, so I hope you are doing okay.

    I’ve had two experiences recently that were very disheartening. One was at an upscale restaurant where the chef professed to know gluten. Sometimes I get symptoms pretty quickly and that was the case with this grilled shrimp with grits dish The chef came over and assured me what I had been eating was gluten free, but I know it wasn’t. Then he suggested that I order the crab cake instead. What??? He said that it was made with Japanese panko bread crumbs and their consultant nutritionist had told him those were GF. I told him politley, but aghast, that they contained wheat. I have never heard of panko breadcrumbs being made of anything other than wheat and I researched the matter further later and could find no evidence they ever are GF.

    I participated in a family team (my husband’s family) for Relay for Life last Saturday. The plan was to have a cookout with burgers and hot dogs, which I can do most of the time as long as I “oversee” the cooking and skip the bun, but lo and behold, cookout time came and our cousin announced that the plans had changed and she’d be right back. Well, she returned with fried chicken, pasta salad, and rolls and she knows I am gluten free. But obviously she doesn’t really get it or she just thought it would be no big deal. I’d already walked 6 miles at that point and had gotten by on safe snacks I’d brought, but I just had to leave and go home and eat a safe meal. My own family is very up on it and tend to cook simply anyway like steamed shrimp, mashed potatoes (with just butter and milk), deviled eggs (safe ingredients), etc.

    I have actually used veratrum album before with great success, two sublingual pills under the tongue immediately upon having symptoms or learning of gluten in my food. However, once I took several pills over an 8-hour period per continuing symptoms and ended up with high blood pressure for several days. Finally, I figured out that was it becuase I have never had high blood pressure and that was the only thing different as far as diet, meds, etc. … my doctor concurred. So just FYI … veratrum album can be a lifesaver, but don’t take more than the one dose. You can get it at The Vitamin Shoppe or other health food stores and keep it in your purse.

    Hugs and consolation,

  20. Ohhhh….how awful. I’m not a celiac, but wheat, coconut and palm oil trigger migraines for me. My ‘food reaction migraines’ don’t respond to medication, they last five to seven days and I’m bedridden in a dark-quiet room the whole time. Also during that time, I loose a lot of weight, so I just can’t take the risk. I eat at home, invite people over or take my own food-my ‘true’ friends understand and have seen the pain I’ve gone through, so they’re not offended.

  21. Julialuli says:

    After a year of being GF, I think I’m at the point where either I don’t let others cook for me, or I take my knocks. I’ve had a bad run of inadvertently getting contaminated this month. I’ve had so many conversations at good mexican restaurants and still, I get sick. I was assured that the curry I ordered was gluten free; was not. And every time I’ve been invited for dinner, even though my friends try really hard, I get contaminated. I feel like Steve…eat the Challah.

    Before I was diagnosed, I had a friend and her mother for the weekend. I am a pretty advanced home cook, but for the life of me, I could only think of two dishes to serve to them. It was overwhelming and I was blocked. So I know from that experience that it is quite taxing and stressful and I do not want to ask that of others. One could spend $75 just trying to get the right foods in the house for a Celiac guest and I couldn’t ask that of someone. It’s not like being a vegan or being allergic to nuts. It’s a huge task. It took me six months to get my head around it, so I’m not expecting friends to do it.

    So for me, it’s have people over and feel well. After this conversation and my horrible month, I’m *so* (not) looking forward to traveling in for a week!

  22. Shirley says:

    I really try to show people that gluten-free meals can be easy meals. If you think of simple meals like the ones we eat in finer restaurants, they are usually naturally gluten free; e.g., steak, lobster, grilled shrimp, grilled fish, grilled chicken, baked potato, grilled vegetables. I believe our true friends really want to know how to feed us safely. I shop in a regular grocery store that does not have a GF section. I encourage people NOT to buy GF specialty items for me, because for the most part, I don’t care for them and I don’t think they are healthy for me, not even considering the cost of those items. I just focus on simpler meals most of the time. Last night, we had grilled steaks (just salt and pepper), steamed artichokes (with melted butter), and baked potatoes (with some butter). Tonight, we are having grilled tuna (marinated in a little olive oil and lime juice), steamed broccoli, and baked sweet potatoes (with a little butter after being baked in the microwave). I really think if we focus on eating “real” food and not processed foods, it’s easy for us and others to “get it” and eat safely.

  23. I’m so sorry to hear about your experience. Being vegetarian as well protects me a bit because many people who might otherwise make me food don’t know how to do vegetarian, so they let me just use their kitchen or bring my own (which I then share with others.) When someone does make me food, I generally am very “interested” and ask, “Oh, what’s the recipe” in an enthusiastic way and I get a lot of information that way. I stayed at a friend’s house last weekend and his Mom had made her famous soup- she actually figured out to leave the beer out on her own, but it had beef stock or something in it, and that was tricky, because not only was it non-veg, but who knows if the beef broth was made from bullion or a safe stock, even if I were to eat it out of politeness. Luckily it was a very casual set-up and so I just pleaded “not hungry” and nibbled some of the fresh fruit etc. that she had set out.

    I’ve also had bad experiences with very thoughtful DFIL and DMIL buying bad (as in, not tasty) GF products to make me food and then they had such a hard time working with it (using arrowhead to make a pie crust) and the end product was so bad I think they might never do it again. I felt TERRIBLE and wished I could have steered them in the right direction with it because now I think they’re discouraged for life.

    Haha, guess we all have our sad stories. I hope you felt ok/recovered quickly. *hugs*


  24. I am a coward. I freak out all the time. I ask people a million times if I can REALLY eat what they cooked for me. This may sound mean but I always assume the worst in people and the don’t know what gluten is. Like last night, the new boyfriend (who is a professional cook like I am) took me out to his best friends restaurant. I was trying to come up with excuses all day long why we can’t go. I was just freaking out. And even during dinner I kept on asking if this stuff was REALLY gluten free. And yes, it was all glutenfree. I had a wonderful dinner and for once I did not get “glutened”

  25. Oh, Kate…ack! This happens to me so often, I just dont know what to do either! I guess we can take a little bit of solace knowing that it happens to us all. It is no fun at all, though :(

  26. This has so happened to me…we were in Istanbul last year eating dinner with friends. I had explained all of my dietary constraints. I thought they understood. Then I was confronted with some meat patties to try. Now I know that almost all types of meat/bean patties use some sort of flour as a binder. I ate some. Then when I asked, our friend said “oh, there’s only a tiny bit of flour.” Yikes. And then the JUICE they served had wheat in it. Wheat in juice?! What’s the world coming to???

  27. Allyson says:

    Kate – Bless your heart. I’m so sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. How frustrating! Based on what I’ve read on your blog, you have far too much of an outgoing personality to not visit with people. And more so, just don’t have the heart to say anything that might make someone feel bad.

    I think some of the folks here have great ideas (offering to help cook, bringing something to contribute to the meal, etc.). I do similar things myself. What can be challenging though is that even if the entire meal is gluten-free, it can get contaminated by a mixing spoon or pan with gluten “residue”.

    On a side note, in addition to the wheat/gluten allergy, I also seem to have developed quite the intolerance for rice. I am so frequently frustrated in having to STILL read labels on items marked “gluten-free”! And then, of course, with thoughtful friends and family, it gets challenging always reminding them that it’s not enough for foods to be gluten-free…they also have to be rice-free. AHHHHHH!!!!

    My heart goes out to you! I hope you start feeling better soon!

  28. I went to a friends house last winter for dinner. I had her email me every ingredient she was going to use. Then I could tell her what brands to get and what to look for.

    I think going to others homes and going out to eat are the two hardest things. I got glutened eating out two weeks ago and it’s just not fun.

    The other thing you could do is just explain how hard it is to eat at others homes and offer to bring a dish that you could eat. Other than that, just ask lots of questions.

  29. Christine says:

    Educate, educate, educate, and prepare. Your new friends and yourself. There is no need to feel sad or guilty about keeping yourself healthy.

    Educate: after the meal, thank her. Then explain why you couldn’t eat the meal ,and ask her over for dinner to repay her kindness. There’s nothing wrong with letting people know why you can’t eat their food. The next time you’re invited over tell her you’re bringing something you can eat because you don’t want her to go out of her way to make sure you can eat everything. Or ask her for a tour of the kitchen before you eat. I have no qualms with pushing my nose into someone’s garbage to look at the empty cans before I eat. (After watching my lovely 14 month old son turn from happy boy to sad, crying, skinny, throwing up boy, I will do almost anything to protect his intestines!). :)

    I have a 2 year old with celiac and we carry a full meal everywhere. Starch, protein, snack, and dessert. I trust only several restaurants in our town and only two relative’s houses, one of whom is celiac herself. If you need help packing meals, go to lunchinabox.net. She packs lovely bentos for her son every day and has some great ideas for small meals in boxes. This weekend I made tamagoyaki (sweet Japanese egg loaf that’s used for sushi) for my kids using gluten free soy and they loved it. I”m going to make it and chill it the next time we have a trip out to eat, it’s a fast easy protein source. You can even freeze them!

    Kate, I wish you the best and hope you feel better. Then go out and buy yourself a gorgeous bento box like this one!

  30. Christine says:

    PS…look on the right hand side of the lunchinabox site, there’s a section for gluten free options!!!

  31. I am so sorry about what happened to you at your new friend’s house. I am right there with you. We don’t want to hurt their feelings, but we don’t want to be sick either.

    Like many of your other commenters, I don’t eat away from home much any more. I dread it, and I avoid it whenever possible. It’s just not fun, and for a couple of reasons:

    1. There’s usually nothing safe to eat, or nothing satisfying anyway.

    2. It’s incredibly awkward to eat that one safe thing like, say, fruit chunks, while everyone else is eating warm, fragrant, gooey cinnamon rolls [there’s good chance I’ll be joining you on the Good Ship GF Lollypop], steaming hot cheese potatoes [milk and its byproducts hate me], and still warm breakfast casserole [and I’m allergic to any bird thing in a big way].

    It’s awkward for a couple of reasons:
    – Your plate sticks out like an Ethiopian’s ribs in the middle of a room full of Westerners, and
    – everyone has to point out that you sure don’t have much on your plate, or ask, “Is that all you’re eating?” and “Are you sure?” a thousand times, or they make a production out of telling you, “You really ought to have some of that food up there. There’s lots of it, and we don’t want to take any of it home with us.”

    People care, they really do, but they oftentimes just don’t get it. It’s about awareness. Kind hearted people do not understand that none seems bad, but even a little is pure poison. “How could just a little bit hurt?” I don’t know, but it always does, and that’s enough for me!

    I hope you’re feeling better by now and you’ve had a chance to figure out what you’re going to do in the future when these things come up. It’s not fun to be “high maintenance”, but it’s necessary to keep us from getting sick. It seems like a drag, but we have to stay vigilent to protect our health, regardless of what anyone else feels.

    You are definitely not alone!

  32. Joyce Hawkinson says:

    I carry Buffered C, which helps with immediate symptoms, and seems to cut delayed reactions in half. I’ve been looking for an enzyme product that helps with gluten digestion just in case we go somewhere on holiday where the food is intrinsic to the experience — like Italy. Does anyone know of something like that?

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