When I first went gluten-free, I found that facing certain events or social situations caused me a lot of anxiety beforehand (or, conversely, I wasn’t worried enough about and it majorly cost me). Weddings, catered work lunches, dinner parties, baby showers, etc. Oh, the panic! I swear I can still feel the shakes creeping up.
One of the most common questions I’ve gotten from friends-of-friends, family, co-workers, etc. who were going gluten-free and looking to me for advice is: “I’m going to a wedding. How on EARTH do I navigate that situation?”
Guys, weddings are my favorite. They are the most joyous of occasions. Two people making a lifelong commitment to love and cherish each other, through the roughest (and best) of times? I miiiight be shedding a happy tear just thinking about it. [I’m a sap. Please don’t judge.] That being said, I promise you do NOT want to be so preoccupied worrying about what you’re going to eat that you don’t get a proper glimpse of the groom as he sees his bride for the first time. So here are my top tips for attending a wedding as a gluten-free guest (and this is coming from a pro – it’s that weddings allllllll summer everyyyyyy summer season of life):
As the girl scouts say: always be prepared. I am known for always having snacks with me (purse, car, gym bag, you name it) but I go above and beyond for weddings. Since you never know what is going to be available for you, make sure you have enough food to satisfy yourself for the whole evening. My recommendations are little things that pack a big punch: a hearty protein/ granola bar, trail mix, granola, and crackers.
Eat a small meal beforehand.
I can’t stress this one enough. Before you head out the door to the event, eat a small meal that packs some protein and staying power. A bowl of oatmeal + an apple with peanut butter. Leftovers from the night before. Eggs with some gluten-free toast. Whatever works best for you. You don’t want to walk into the wedding stuffed, but make sure you are completely satisfied. Nobody likes a hangry guest.
Call the venue/caterer before hand, if possible.
If you know that the reception venue is handling the food preparation, give them a call a few weeks out, explain your situation, and ask for a run-down of what is being served. The intention here is NOT to expect them to make you a gluten-free meal, but rather to know if you will be able to eat a full meal or not, so you can prepare accordingly. They are usually more than happy to help! If the reception venue is not handling the food, sometimes you can call the venue, explain your situation, and ask for the name of the caterer. If you can’t identify the caterer ahead of time…..
Sneak in a chat with the caterer before dinner is served, if possible.
I’ve had great success with this. If you see the caterer, or even one of the wait staff, getting the food ready during the cocktail hour, don’t feel bad about asking about the food. I usually explain that I have celiac disease, and would they have just a moment to let me know what is being served, what I can have, and what I should avoid? I’ve found that the caterers are usually more than happy to stop and walk you through everything – food is their life and passion after all!
I’ve also been fortunate enough that many of the brides and grooms have known about my restrictions and are very considerate and thoughtful people. Many have told the caterer in advance about my needs, and had a special meal prepared just for me. In this case, being assertive and identifying yourself as the celiac in the bunch makes the caterer’s job much easier, and keeps them from asking the bride/groom to point you out.
Cheese and veggie hors d’oeuvres are your Bestie
During cocktail hour, most other guests probably think I haven’t seen food for years. If there is a veggie/fruit tray and/or cheese tray (with the crackers separated, of course) I usually try to be one of the first ones there, and load up a big plate. If a table place has already been assigned to me, I’ll try to sneak a plate of the goodies over there for meal time. Better safe than sorry! Disclaimer: you never know what surfaces the food was prepped on, and what other (potentially glutenous) items were prepped on the same space so, as always, practice discretion.
When in doubt, don’t.
If you weren’t able to get a hold of the caterer before the wedding or at the reception, my advice to you is don’t take any chances. Give your food to the other folks at your table (Anthony just hates this part of my restrictions 😉 ), and eat off of your snacks. I’m not sure what it is about catered food (aside from the higher chance for cross-contamination) but I know I’ve been shocked to find that I can’t have a lot of things that I would assume to be gluten-free. Not even the most tender looking filet mignon is worth sitting hunched over in a corner somewhere (or worse, spending your evening in the restroom) while everyone else is cutting a rug and partying it up with the newlyweds. Just. Don’t.
Watch your alcohol intake.
….in more ways than one. If you aren’t able to eat much, make sure you take it easy on the drinks. 2 drinks when you’re only able to snack lightly will hit you a LOT harder than it will hit your friends who just downed a large meal + wedding cake! It’s easy to get carried away in the festivities, so just make sure you’re keeping tabs on yourself and not trying to keep up with your friends.
Also, there is a lot of debate in the gluten-free community over whether grain alcohols are safe. Personally, alcohol has never glutened me (though I usually only take a sip or two of dark liquor and grain alcohols — I’m a rum/tequila girl and those are grain-free more often than not) but if you are on the more careful side or sensitive to grain alcohol, I would skip out on any signature drinks. Also, be sure to ask the bartender to use a clean stirrer/shaker when making you a cocktail.
Hopefully these tips help to take some of your anxiety away, and you’ll be able to celebrate with the best of ‘em, worry free!
How do you navigate a wedding gluten-free? Have any other tips? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!