Gather your building blocks
These ingredients are gluten-free: corn, grits, polenta, cornmeal, cornstarch, buckwheat, rice, quinoa, millet, sorghum, amaranth, certified gluten-free oats, coconut flour, teff flour, nut meals and flours, chick pea/garbanzo flour, soy flour, tapioca (whole and starch), potato starch and flour, sweet potato and yam flour, and arrowroot starch.
These ingredients include gluten and should be avoided at your party: wheat, barley, rye, spelt, durum, einkorn, graham, semolina, bulgur wheat, spelt, farro, kamut, triticale, malt vinegar, and malt flavorings. Most commercial oats are not gluten-free, so look at the packaging to be sure.
Hint: If a packaged food does not state on the label that it is gluten-free, it probably isn’t. Even if you don’t recognize any of the ingredients as containing gluten, it’s a safe bet that there’s gluten in there if it doesn’t say otherwise.
Pick a theme
Many traditional foods are gluten-free, like corn tortillas topped with chicken, avocado, onions, and cilantro; rice wraps filled with bean threads, basil, shrimp, and lettuce; and sushi served with gluten-free soy sauce. So, when planning your gluten-free party, consider an international theme.
Get them started
Gluten-free appetizers can be a snap.
- Chips and salsa
- Chicken satay with peanut sauce
- Crudités with gluten-free dipping sauces
- Cheese and fruit
- Quesadillas using corn tortillas filled with spinach, tomato, and cheese
- Artichoke dip or hummus with gluten-free crackers
Let them at it
Kids love participating in food prep, and serving buffet style allows you to do quite a bit of prep beforehand so there is less to do during the party. Having a range of food components kept separate can also enable you to accommodate other diet restrictions, such as dairy intolerance, if necessary for your guestlist. Here are some approaches that kids love:
- Surfin’ tacos: Have the kids stuff hard or soft corn taco shells with broiled fish, ground beef, pulled chicken, guacamole, lettuce, onions, sour cream, cheese, grated jicama, salsa, beans, cilantro, scallions, or any other favorite gluten-free filling. Read labels carefully if you’re using any taco seasoning or sauces.
- Pizza parlor: Gluten-free pizza crust is a hot commodity, and some brands have it down to a science. Top the pies with grated cheese blends, sliced basil leaves, gluten-free pepperoni or sausage, olives, peppers, roasted garlic, mushrooms, caramelized onions, or artichoke hearts. Look for certified gluten-free pizza sauce. Or better yet, make your own.
- Melting pot: If you choose this route, you can take care of your appetizer, main course, and dessert with just two pots and some Sterno. Dip cubed gluten-free bread, ham chunks, and veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini work well here) in a classic cheese fondue sauce. For dessert, dredge fresh or dried fruit pieces (strawberries, apples, pears, cherries, and apricots) in a rich chocolate cream fondue sauce.
Let them eat gluten-free cake
Dessert without gluten can be tastier than you think, which is why gluten-free bakeries are sprouting up in towns and cities across the country. If you want to give baking your own cake a try, do a little research: simply substituting gluten-free flour for regular flour does not usually work, but a combination of flours (or a premade mix) often does, so read up on how to add gums and egg whites to give your dough some of the other properties it needs, You can also consider sweets where the texture may be easier to produce, such as fruit tarts or cheesecakes with gluten-free crust.
Keep it clean
If you’re only going gluten-free for the party, make sure not to contaminate any of the party food or wares with gluten-containing products. Wipe your counters down thoroughly, wash all of your utensils before using, and store gluten-free ingredients separately from your other food.
Ask the experts
No one knows how to make your gluten-free party a smash better than the parents who do it every day. “Begin cooking up to a week ahead of time for large parties,” says Brooke, a gluten-free, home schooling mother of three living in Toronto. “But remember, gluten-free baked goods do not have the same moistness that other baked goods do, so I would recommend baking the day before. Cooked meals can always be frozen and reheated the day of.”
Did you know that not all baking powder is gluten-free? Since not everyone knows how to scope out hidden gluten-containing ingredients, Brooke also suggests providing all of the baked and cooked goods yourself, instead of relying on others.
Clara Barnett, naturopathic doctor and mother of a two-year-old gluten-free girl, says, “When I make gluten-free items for parties, people can't detect a difference. I always make a bit batch of chili or Mexican casserole (with corn tortillas) and use a gluten-free cornbread mix.”