Gluten-free eating may seem like a passing fad, but for many people, a “GF” diet is imperative for health reasons. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity may experience all sorts of unpleasant symptoms—and, in some cases, long-term digestive damage—after eating gluten. So, while many of us wouldn’t bat an eye at a lunchtime bowl of pasta or sandwich on rye, it’s important to remember that, for some folks, these foods are a genuine threat to good health.
If you’re the point person for office catering at your workplace, it’s up to you to ensure everyone eats safely–which can certainly be a daunting task when co-workers have special dietary needs. To keep everyone in the office safe (and happy!) it’s smart to learn the ropes of ordering gluten-free catering. Here’s how to cover your bases.
Get educated about gluten
Wait, what’s gluten again? You don’t have to be a nutrition pro to understand the basics of this commonly avoided ingredient. Gluten is the ingredient responsible for giving grain products like breads and baked goods their signature chewiness. It’s a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye—which means that any food that contains these grains will contain gluten. For the GF crowd, you’ll need to steer clear of ordering wheat-based breads, pastas, crackers, pizza, and tortillas. Anything made with rye or barley is also off the menu, so beware of rye bread or crackers, or soups and salads with barley.
Watch out for hidden sources of gluten
Your education doesn’t stop with the usual gluten suspects. Other foods can be surprising sources of gluten, including soy sauce, beer, couscous, cereal, shredded cheese, salad dressing, malt vinegar, and oats processed in a facility with gluten.
It’s okay if you can’t keep a running list of every gluten-containing food stored in your memory—but when planning catering, be sure to ask GF co-workers about particular ingredients they’d like you to avoid. They’ll be able to tell you what they can and can’t tolerate.
Unless an entire restaurant is gluten-free (and, increasingly, many restaurants are!) most eating establishments don’t have a completely GF kitchen. However, to claim a dish is gluten free, restaurants are supposed to abide by the FDA’s standards for gluten-free packaged foods—namely, that the dish contains fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten.
While you can’t examine a restaurant’s kitchen with a microscope, you can ask about the preparation of gluten-free foods. Inquire about whether gluten-free dishes are prepared in a designated space, or whether they come in contact with foods that contain gluten. Then, when your order arrives, be sure to keep gluten-free items separate from the rest of the food to avoid cross-contamination.
Don’t be afraid to make special requests
Most restaurants and catering companies aim to please their clients. You’re not a pest if you make a special request for a gluten-free burger bun or ask if fettucine Alfredo can be made with GF pasta—even if it’s not on the menu. Now that gluten-free eating has become mainstream, food service professionals are increasingly used to accommodating customer requests.
And again, don’t hesitate to ask questions! If a menu item is labeled “gluten-friendly,” ask what this means. (There are no guidelines that regulate how a company can use this term.) You can even ask to speak to a restaurant’s chef, who should have the expertise to answer your questions. Though it may take a few extra minutes to get the answers you need, you can rest assured it’s time well spent for keeping your gluten-free co-workers healthy, happy, and well-fed.
Let us help!
As always, CaterSquad is your trusted resource for all kinds of catering needs, gluten-free meals included. When ordering for special diets feels overwhelming, let our expert team shoulder the burden. We’re well-versed in tailoring the perfect order to gluten-free employees’ needs.