Dude…How do I Handle Holiday (Food) Gifts?

gluten free Christmas cookies

Q: Why was Santa’s little helper depressed?
A: Because he had low elf esteem.

Q: Whats the difference between the Christmas alphabet and the ordinary alphabet?
A: The Christmas alphabet has Noel.

Q: Why doesn’t Santa have any kids?
A: He only comes once a year.

Ah…the holidays are upon us. As a kid, I loved Christmas. And I mean I LOVED Christmas. Loved seeing the lights in the neighborhood. Loved the fact that my Dad had some time off from work. Loved coming downstairs and seeing the presents under the tree. Loved the day with family. And yeah…I loved the food. It was always a nice feast.

Fast forward to the present. I still like Christmas. I detest the commercialization of it all, but it’s still a day with the family and I’ll take that any day of the week.

But here’s a question for my fellow celiacs. What do you do when someone gives you food as a holiday gift? Check out this email.

Hi Gluten Dude,

Do you have any advice for how to graciously handle the situation when someone gives you homemade food gifts during the holidays? I know everyone probably has their own way of doing this, and I could use some more ideas. It’s my first Christmas since my diagnosis and I’ve already had some awkward situations. I put zero pressure on myself to actually eat the food that is given to me, but I’d like to figure out what to say to the generous person who just gave me something I can’t eat (or maybe I could eat it, but not without asking a zillion questions first).

Most recently a friend who knows I have celiac gave me a present and wanted me to open it right away (awkward at the best of times…for me, anyway) and I realized it was a dessert sauce that had been made in either a blender or food processor. I thanked her and politely asked if she ever prepares dough/cookies, etc. in her processor, and that’s when things got really strained.

She said she takes cleanliness very seriously and always washes her equipment. At that point my heart sank. She felt defensive, as though I’d accused her of not cleaning her kitchen, when I was just trying to see if she EVER used wheat flour in her processor. It’s not like you can tell if there’s still gluten in there after you wash it. Anyhow, we got through it, I thanked her for answering my questions, but I stopped short of asking whether one of the ingredients was from a bulk bin, so I won’t be eating the sauce anyway.

I felt all bewildered about how it went. Super awkward. We talked about it a bit later and things are smoothed over but the point is…I STILL don’t know if the sauce is safe.

Now I’m wondering how to handle things in the future–is asking about how something was made worth it? I didn’t think it was rude, especially with a friend, but now I’m not sure. I LOVE food. I WANT to eat ALL THE FOOD. But I can’t just open a present, see cookies, and eat them. That was last Christmas, and that’s done. People are frustrated with ME? I’m the one who can’t eat the food!!!

Do you (or any readers) have go-to phrases or ways of handling food gifts that have worked well for you? When a neighbour brings by fresh-baked muffins, and your house is totally gluten-free, what do you do? When your acquaintance who has NCGS but tolerates mild exposures and uses ingredients from bulk bins bakes you a plate of cookies, and you are not going to eat them but you don’t know what to say…what DO you say?

If you could share strategies or ask others what their strategies are, I would be very grateful.

Thanks so much,

R

This is such an awesome question and I’m sure everyone would handle it in their own unique way. First…let me tackle the specific situations in this email:

When a neighbour brings by fresh-baked muffins, and your house is totally gluten-free, what do you do? I know this sux and it can be awkward, but I’d say I have celiac disease and our house is completely gluten-free but thank you so much for the wonderful gesture.

When your acquaintance who has NCGS but tolerates mild exposures and uses ingredients from bulk bins bakes you a plate of cookies, and you are not going to eat them but you don’t know what to say…what DO you say? I’d say thanks, take the cookies and leave it be. Would I eat them? No.

Now…let me expand a bit and hit on a few varying situations.

Situation 1: It’s an office party and everyone has a secret santa. The person who has you does not know you have celiac disease and he gives you a box of chocolates or cookies. I would say thank you, bring them home and give them to someone who can enjoy them.

Situation 2: It’s an office party and everyone has a secret santa. The person who has you KNOWS you have celiac disease and he gives you homemade “gluten-free” cookies AND tells you to try one right there and then. This is where it can get a bit awkward. The options are:

  1. Ask a thousand questions about ingredients, cross-contamination, etc.
  2. Give in to the pressure of the situation and eat one cause you don’t want HIM to feel bad.
  3. Explain what having celiac disease really means and you cannot risk it but thank you so much.
  4. Say you don’t want to eat anything now and change the topic. Bring the cookies home and then do whatever you wish.

Options 1 is out. Even if he says they are totally safe…are they really? Option 2 is a big fat no.

So it’s between Option 3 and Option 4. Option 3 feels like the right answer but it can be taken a thousand different ways and ya never know how the other person is going to react. But it’s also an opportunity to educate. But do you really want to be doing this at a holiday party!? Yeah…lots of things to consider.

So in this specific situation, I THINK I’d go with Option 4.

Ok…now my head hurts thinking about this. What would You do??

HAPPY HOLIDAYS EVERYONE!!!!

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8 thoughts on “Dude…How do I Handle Holiday (Food) Gifts?”

  1. Well done gluten dude. I do think this issue comes up alot. Another variation is when people bring things especially for me to a potluck or party. I usually go with some variation of ‘wow, it was so nice of you to think of me, and I really appreciate it, but there are a bunch of rules my doctor gave me not just for what ingredients to use, but also how things need to be prepared. I really appreciate the thought but it’s just simpler for me to stick to food I made myself. If you want to bring me something though, wine is always appreciated’. That way I’m doing a little casual educating that it’s more than just gluten free ingredients and avoiding the repeat food dodge that can be frustrating to persistent food-is-love friends.

  2. Option 4 is my go to. I think it’s totally fine to sincerely thank someone for thinking of you, and then to pass on the goodies discreetly to someone who can enjoy them.

  3. It took me a long time to get to the point where I really believe that my health is more important than someone else’s feelings about a gift.
    That said, it’s also not a license for me to be a jerk to someone who is being nice. I’m offered food ALL THE TIME at work. People bring in homemade GF stuff for pot lucks, etc. They make a point to tell me “This is GF!” and are excited to share. I’m glad they’re doing the research and thank them. I sometimes will ask for the recipe. Usually, I bow out of eating the stuff by saying that I’ve already eaten but wanted to spend time with them, or “I’ve been having some tummy issues so I’m playing it safe this week.” or something like that. I make sure to thank them for their effort in including me in the festivities. My husband does not have any dietary restrictions, so gifts usually wind up being gifts for him. I’m happy to hand treats over to him.
    One time I was given a gift card to a subscription for one of those meal delivery companies. The person spent $50 on it. I checked, and there was no option to request GF meals from them, so I regifted it to someone I knew would love and use it. When asked if I’d used it, I was honest and told them that the company couldn’t accommodate me but that I made sure that it went to someone who would enjoy it and they loved it and “Thank you.” That one was a teaching moment and prompted me to ask my friends and family to not buy/make me food items as gifts. Social interaction is so centered around food that it can be hard to navigate, especially in an office environment where it’s how people connect with each other.
    Things I find myself saying every year “Thank you for including me.” and “I’ve eaten already but wanted to spend time with everybody”(at the pot luck.)
    Sometimes you can’t avoid hurt feelings though. Remember, your health is more important than someone’s feelings. Be considerate but not to the level of causing your own injury.

    Re: The muffin question – Keep them contained and take them to the office. Share with non-CD friends. A box or bag of muffins is not going to contaminate your entire kitchen. If you’re worried, seal them in a zip top bag for storage until you can regift them.

  4. We do #4 in our family because of our nut allergies. Everyone knows about our allergies, but we still get home made treats from time to time. I always say, “Oh this will be a great treat for later!” And no one has ever batted an eye about that. I would also say to non-celiacs/food allergy friends, never put someone under pressure to do something they are uncomfortable with. We’ve been dealing with our kids trying to get each other to eat stuff they don’t like or want to eat (eg: mayo on a sandwich was the most recent incident for our super sensitive to texture kid). It led to a really good discussion about negative peer pressure and how to tell someone no in situations. The lesson was that we should never pressure someone to do something they are uncomfortable doing. Never make someone feel obligated to eat something they are not sure about. It’s a constant struggle, but we keep doing it because our health and safety is more important that someone’s feelings. But, we always try and be very gracious when people think enough of us to give us a treat.

  5. I generally use a variation on #4, and will ask where they found such-and-such brand/flavor/variety, especially if it’s one I haven’t seen, and thank them for the information and thoughtfulness of tracking down something specifically for me. It’s a good way to acknowledge their efforts.

  6. My hubby is the one with celiac and he is always the nice guy so I’m his advocate. If any of you don’t want to “be the bad guy” and have this option – make your other half your advocate. I’ll jump in when people try to get him to eat something and say no – he will try things but we don’t want to have to deal with him being sick for days so I will pass on his behalf. I look like the rude one and he doesn’t. I don’t care, my husbands health is more important to me than someone else’s feelings. I’ve seen him struggle with this for 5 years now and it’s just not worth the risk. We don’t go to anyone’s home we invite everyone to our home because we know we can cook safely. I explain that to people, even when he says ok, I say no, we are happy to have you over here. So if someone gives us homemade food. I say no but thank you. If they are truly a friend they would not be offended. If you continue to take gluten free items from people they will continue to make them for people and waste their time and money. I say option 3 with a simple explanation .

  7. I just now arrived home from a walk to find a bag labeled “Gluten Ingredients” on our porch. Turns out that while I was out my sister in law came by with gifts for my family from my mother in law, including a big bag of Christmas cookies, muffins, and Christmas pudding. She (MIL) had preemptively double-bagged it and labeled it herself. Still not sure how that makes it okay to send it to our house, but this is one of the mysteries of life. My husband was really mad (his mum has already been asked not to send us baked goods; we’ve been through this before), but rather than send his sister away with extra treats for her family he put them on our porch! This is darkly funny to me. My husband was standing up for me but his solution was to put the gifts out in the rain.
    Anyhow, they did not go to waste: I was already in rain gear, so I rang a couple of doorbells until I found a happy recipient for the treats. When my mother in law follows up to ask how we liked the treats, we will be telling her up front that we gave them away to neighbours and reminding her why we didn’t keep them. We’ll be polite, but direct. Maybe there will be hurt feelings, but we have to be blunt with her on this issue until she gets the message. She knows our home is gluten free; it’s not like Christmas is an exception.

  8. Option 3.5 – where I tell them how much it means to me that they were thoughtful, and give them an example of the MANY challenges I find when baking/cooking as a celiac, which generally make them recall that they have not taken the necessary precautions. A GOOD friend or co-worker then tells me that they don’t de-cross contaminate their kitchen, or buy ingredients from a safe source, and tells me not to eat the cookies. A “meh” or “ugh” coworker doesn’t….and that tells you all you need to know about them, because you were never going to eat those cookies anyway, and now you have additional insight on your work relationships.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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