The Holiday Conversation: Communicating Your Gluten-Free Needs

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

By Rachel Begun, MS, RD

Every holiday season, articles abound providing gluten-free individuals with tips for navigating celebrations while staying gluten free. Over the years I have written many such articles myself.   There’s usually a tip about having a conversation with the host to communicate your needs.   But the advice ends there.   They don’t tell you HOW to have the conversation, which can be the most daunting part for those who are gluten-free.

This post is dedicated entirely to sharing tips for how to have “the conversation.”

  • Contact the host as soon as you receive the invitation to let them know about your gluten-free needs. Be proactive about setting up a time to talk that is far in advance of the event, so the host has enough time to consider your needs before planning.
  • Don’t go into the conversation assuming you are a burden. Most hosts are more than happy to accommodate you; they just don’t know how and need guidance.
  • Be friendly and positive in your approach.   While it’s important to communicate your needs and the severe consequences of eating gluten, you are less likely to get your points across when using a defensive or combative tone.
  • Communicate clearly, assertively and graciously, without shame, apology or embarrassment. Do not trivialize your condition or need to eat gluten-free. In fact, it can be helpful to explain the severity of the symptoms you can experience and what the long-term health consequences of gluten exposure are.   Don’t assume your host knows why you have to eat gluten-free or the implications of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
  • Go into the conversation with a solid knowledge of where gluten may hide in common holiday dishes.
  • Don’t have a haphazard conversation. Review each and every menu item so you understand which dishes are of concern and can lead a discussion about which recipes can easily be adjusted to be gluten free, which you will prepare, and what you will need to avoid.
  • Review safe gluten-free preparation techniques, including preparing gluten-free dishes with sterilized cookware, utensils and surfaces, cooking gluten-free dishes separately from others (in the oven; over the stove), and storing gluten-free dishes on the top shelves of freezers, refrigerators and pantries, above gluten-containing items.
  • To avoid confusion and embarrassment at the celebration, discuss serving options up front. Ask the host if you can assemble your plate first before food is served to everyone else. Let the host know that individual gluten-containing dishes should be kept at the opposite end of the table from those that are gluten-free. Ask the host to share a reminder with guests not to mix up serving utensils between dishes.
  • Thank your host for his or her help and consideration, both after your conversation and upon leaving the party.

Each holiday season is an opportunity to educate your host a little bit more. Over time, he or she will be a pro at serving gluten-free.   For more information about gluten free holiday eating, go to:

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season and a wonderful New Year.

Rachel Begun, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.   She provides education, communications and consulting services to health organizations and the food industry. She also educates the public via speaking opportunities, online activities and writing for publications, including her own blog, The Gluten Free RD.   You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest via her website at  

The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness offers website visitors weekly recipes and blogs about living the gluten-free lifestyle. For more information about celiac disease and gluten-free living, visit