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How to cook a meal for a celiac is a common question when a family member or friend is newly diagnosed. Despite an unlimited supply of gluten free recipes and meal plans what people really need to know is what cross contact is and why it’s a big deal.

This post is for anyone who wants to cook a meal for someone with celiac disease. Not an elaborate multi-course dinner or an entire Thanksgiving feast, just a simple meal. To sit down and connect with family or friends the way you used to, with new information that they can’t eat gluten.

Please share this with anyone who might find it helpful. It isn’t to convince people who are unable or unwilling to support someone with celiac disease. It’s for those who genuinely want to know how to cook a meal for a celiac.

The Condition vs The Treatment

Celiac disease is a lifelong condition that must be managed with ongoing medical support. It’s more than a gluten free diet.

The treatment for celiac disease is a strict gluten free diet for life.

It doesn’t mean picking croutons off a salad or serving a burger without the bun. It’s a life changing diagnosis that requires understanding and ongoing support. Learning the very basics of what’s required to live gluten free is crucial to genuinely help anyone with celiac disease.

What Makes a Gluten Free Diet Overwhelming

When people are diagnosed with celiac, especially during that first year, it’s overwhelming. Add to that they may continue to have symptoms as their body heals over one to two years, sometimes longer.

Plus it takes time to learn so much new information and figure out what is most important at the moment. This list is just the beginning.

  • What is celiac, what is an autoimmune disease and which of the 300+ symptoms they have.
  • How it is managed, what are markers of healing and how to minimize the ongoing risk factors.
  • What is gluten and where is it. No food labels list gluten so learning where it’s hidden is a new lifelong, daily challenge.
  • How to eat safely all day, every day. At home, at work, with family and friends, when on the run, when travelling, at events and everywhere people eat food. Everywhere!
  • Understanding food manufacturing, ingredient labels, nutrition labels, allergen warnings, food recalls, the allowable parts per million and on and on.
  • Ways to reorganize your kitchen to make it a safe, stress free environment. This affects everyone in the home and gluten eaters may not be as quick to appreciate the stress caused by some practises that are no longer safe.

I only share this list to make people think twice about rushing to buy food that looks gluten free or says it’s gluten free. To reconsider recommending a restaurant that advertises a ‘gluten friendly menu’ yet could have fine print that reads, ‘not safe for celiacs’.

The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.

Ann Wigmore

9 Things A Celiac Wants You To Know

There are 100 things a celiac wants you to know before they’ll be comfortable having you cook a meal. There are even things they don’t know yet but will learn over time.

They might say “don’t bother cooking for me” and you can see why. That’s okay too but over time you’ll both realize they’re celiac for life. Might as well start learning now.

Here’s a short list of what many celiacs wish other people understood.

  1. The gluten free diet is not a choice or a weight loss diet. It’s not less gluten, low gluten or a little bit of gluten. When food is prepared in an unsafe manner then it’s not gluten free and shouldn’t be eaten.
  2. The hardest part of living gluten free isn’t really the food, it’s the social situations where food is always present and the misconceptions about the diet.
  3. Cross contact with gluten containing foods causes damage to the gut with serious long-term health consequences, even for those with no obvious symptoms.
  4. Reading food labels is exhausting. It’s likely more complicated than you think and it’s important to read every label every time.
  5. Gluten is a protein that can be washed away with soap and water. It can also hide in the cracks of cutting boards, knife blocks and dishcloths. It’s possible to safely cook a meal by thoroughly cleaning the area and cooking utensils. (refer to the checklist below)
  6. Hand sanitizer is meant to kill germs. Gluten isn’t a germ so there’s nothing to kill. Just get rid of it with soap and water.
  7. Shopping for gluten free ingredients can be inconvenient, expensive and frustrating.
  8. Many people with celiac disease can’t tolerate dairy when newly diagnosed. Planning meals that are dairy free is often a good choice.
  9. They didn’t make up the rules but things are going to be different. There’s a global community of people cooking, eating and sharing how they created their healthy gluten free lifestyle. Finding them is another job that takes time and effort.

How To Cook A Meal: Keep It Simple & Safe (K.I.S.S.)

Challenge yourself to make a simple gluten free meal. Imagine something your grandmother or great-grandmother could have made before we had so many processed foods to choose from.

Focus on whole foods; fruits and vegetables, unseasoned meat or fish, fresh and dry herbs and olive oil. Start with quality and use simple, single ingredient seasonings.

Plan ahead then clarify your plan with a single phone call well in advance (see the checklist). Please, no texts with a picture of a label and the question, “is this safe?”

A Julia Child quote "Learn how to cook; try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!

Checklist: How To Cook A Safe Gluten Free Meal

9 Simple Gluten Free Menus

Simple can mean cooking without a recipe but I’ve included a few links to dishes with only a few ingredients.

Grilled Steak
Baked potato
Steamed asparagus or broccoli
Garden Salad with oil and vinegar
Roast Chicken with lemon
Roasted Root Vegetables
BEAUTIFUL BOWLS with Vegan Options
Buddha Bowl or
Santa Fe Salad
Pork Souvlaki with Steamed rice
Greek Summer Salad
Blackened Steak Salad or
Mediterranean Salad Nicoise
Arctic Char with Citrus Sauce or Shrimp
Steamed Rice
Green Vegetable

5 Naturally Gluten Free Desserts

If you enjoy making dessert, or want to make something together, start with naturally gluten free desserts.

The Dinner Invitation

I hope you’ll invite your friend to cook together and have a good time. Talking about all the things of interest to you and not talking about food labels or what the heck gluten friendly is supposed to mean.

Embrace this new chapter of life and raise your glass to a journey toward better health.

I guarantee anyone can learn to cook a gluten free meal and enjoy a lifestyle that includes amazing food and good times in the kitchen.

I’d love to hear about your dinner, what you wish you knew when you started gluten free or what your gluten-eating friend had to say about this information. Let me know in the comments below.

Originally posted May 2021, updated May 2023.

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