Let me guess — you just had an incredible date, with an incredible person you met, and when you sat down at your romantic spot in a restaurant/bar, the person said, “By the way, I’m gluten-free.”
Your heart sank. Gluten-free? What can you even eat, or drink? Will I have to stop eating bread if I want to date you? Can I drink beer next to you?
It can be overwhelming if you have just begun to date someone with celiac disease or someone who is on a gluten-free diet for health reasons.
However, fear not! There are plenty of ways to date a gluten-free person. As a gluten-free person since 2005, when most of the world did not know what gluten was, I can help!
Here are the best tips for dating a gluten-free person:
Learn about what gluten is
What is gluten? In a paraphrased definition, gluten is a group of proteins in the starches of several types of grains. The three main grains are: wheat, barley and rye. To make this simpler, it helps to list the grains that do not contain gluten, to keep in a short mental list. These include potatoes, yams, corn, rice, millet, quinoa, buckwheat (a misnomer), amaranth, teff and lentils (not a grain, but used to make pancakes in several cuisines).
In any combination, the aforementioned grains are all gluten-free, and suitable for gluten-free diets.
What makes the gluten-free lifestyle a bit more complicated is eating out, and looking at labels for the derivative products of the gluten grains (wheat, barley and rye). Among the derivatives are ingredients like wheat starch (sometimes vaguely called starch or wheat germ or wheat bran), soy sauce (contains wheat typically) and malt (sometimes listed as barley malt, and it always comes from barley unless listed otherwise).
Overall, gluten is found in food, drinks and sometimes, body products, which is why more and more these days, brands list items like body lotions and shampoos as gluten-free, for those who need to be safe about ingesting or touching products that contain gluten.
Look into which foods have gluten
Now that we’ve gone over where gluten can be found and what it is, you can learn about which foods have gluten if you have just started dating someone gluten-free.
Of course, many people have varying degrees to which they can consume or come close to gluten. For those who are not gluten-allergic, but have eliminated gluten from their diets for health or digestive reasons, eating foods in restaurants on the same plates, pans or pots where gluten-containing food was made, might be OK.
For people with severe gluten reactions (usually people who have severe types of celiac disease with life-threatening reactions), eating off of dishes or eating foods that touched glutinous foods may be problematic. Talk to your partner about what his or her level of gluten intolerance or allergy might be.
The obvious types of foods that contain gluten are many packaged goods, or carbohydrate grain products, granolas, breads, candies, chips, snacks, and the list goes on. Gluten can also be found in lots of soups, sauces, dressings and marinades. We’ll talk more about how to figure it out.
Figure out which types of date spots are best for gluten-free dining and gluten-free drinking
When I’ve had to explain very precisely about which cuisines cater best to a gluten-free diet, I rattle off this list: healthy American cuisine, Mexican, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai and Italian.
Here’s why: healthy American cuisine will usually be trendy, organic, gluten-free, vegan-type foods that are already GF or very available to be modified in order to be GF.
Mexican food typically has lots of corn options: corn tortillas in enchiladas, corn tortilla chips, tacos that are 100% or salads.
Vietnamese cuisine has pho, that rich soup with pho noodles that are 100% rice, and if it’s authentic, you don’t even have to ask if a pho soup is GF because there are no gluten ingredients.
Indian food will have lots of vegetables or meats simmered in curry sauces or other tomato-based sauces, depending on the style of food, and if you can have a heaping side of rice, you’ll be full!
Thai food is not inherently gluten-free, but many Thai restaurants (outside of Thailand itself) these days will know what you’re talking about if you ask if their pad thai or curry can be made GF or is always made gluten-free, without soy sauce. I’ve had luck in this way. There are even Thai restaurants nowadays, at least in New York, that can use gluten-free soy sauce upon request.
Lastly, Italian might surprise you as a gluten-free type of cuisine, but in the past, before gluten-free pasta was widespread, I’d eat a grilled chicken salad when my friends wanted to go out for Italian. Nowadays, many Italian restaurants may surprise you with gluten-free pizza crust options or a gluten-free pasta or two on the menu.
Find out if the person you’re dating has additional allergies or intolerances
After finding out I had celiac disease and would have to adhere to a gluten-free diet for the rest of my life, it took me a few years, but I later discovered that I absolutely must have lactose intolerance.
This was because dairy products started making me feel ill, and after some Googling, I discovered that anyone with gluten intolerance is already predisposed to having other sorts of food intolerances.
In dating me, my boyfriend gets a triple whammy, because I’m allergic to gluten and intolerant to dairy products, along with soy-related foods.
Read about how to cook your favorite dishes, gluten-free
In love with baking bread, or making burgers from scratch, or brewing your own beer? Everything has a gluten-free alternative, is what I’ve learned.
Starting with family recipes like those for matzo-balls or hamentashen, and all the way to replacing couscous with rice, or bread crumbs with gluten-free breadcrumbs, it can all be done.
What’s lucky is that there are SO many gluten-free blogs and recipe books out there nowadays, so all you have to do is Google what it is you want to make, and your efforts will go a long way.
These are also great activities to do together, with the person you’re dating or beginning to get to know. An awesome date night is cooking a favorite recipe in its gluten-free revamp.
Surprise your boyfriend, girlfriend or partner with a gluten-free surprise
This is the best way to make an awesome impression on the person you’ve just started getting to know. For someone with a restrictive diet, there’s nothing better than going on a date that’s sure to be safe and delicious.
Take your boyfriend or girlfriend out for wine at a wine bar, a gluten-free beer at a specialty craft beer bar or a mezcal cocktail (mezcal is made from the agave plant – sure to be free of gluten!) at a Mexican restaurant.
Alternatively, go on a picnic with hand-picked gluten-free essentials from the grocery store — think gluten-free crackers, hummus, babaganoush, sorbet, fresh fruits and cut veggies, nuts and dried fruit and some bubbly (champagne comes from grapes – easy!).
Get good at explaining what gluten-free means, when friends or family ask
Have an elevator-pitch length of blurb for what gluten-free means, when friends ask or balk at the idea of this seemingly-challenging restriction. Friends may draw a blank when you refer to your gluten-free partner, or may cringe that they’ll have to accomodate for him or her at a party, but you can stand in to assure friends and family that there are options readily available and that you can help.
Prepare your family for how to accommodate your gluten-free partner at family meals or gatherings
The first step in preparing friends or family to help accommodate your gluten-free partner at a party or event is to gently mention gluten-free options when the topic is brought up.
Then, ask about what kind of food and drink will be served, if there is a set menu or if you should come prepared with your own food. Conversely, you can plan to make sure your partner eats beforehand, if the food is already set up.
If it’s a potluck, you can speak to others on the guest list, asking if there’s a way to create their dishes in a way that will accommodate your gluten-free significant other. It’s these small types of preparations that will help your partner fit in smoothly to any pre-planned event when you attend together.
Offer to help be prepared when going out for the day or taking a trip
Going on vacation, or going away for the weekend? Offer to ask in advance about gluten-free options (at a wedding, for example) for your partner, or offer to pick up some gluten-free snacks (snack bars like Lara or RX, fruit, veggies, nuts, gluten-free crackers and cookies) for the road.
All these types of actions will go far in terms of impressing your significant other and making him or her feel comfortable, because gluten-free people often want to avoid the feeling of making others go out of their way for them.
Have fun with being gluten-free together!
Having gluten-free fun can sound lame, but here are only a few things that are gluten-free, and fun: wine, a Mexican food/taco crawl, any sort of sports, ice cream, smoothies, cooking dates, going to the movies, cooking together, taking trips.
See? Life goes on when someone is gluten-free, and it can be so easy these days that it becomes a part of life.