It’s time to tailgate!

I love football, and I love fall, so I’m not sad to see the end of summer’s barbeque season, I just pull out my favorite team jersey and get the tailgate started.  Being gluten-free doesn’t have to hold you back from tailgate fun, you just need to take charge and plan ahead, so you are ready to enjoy the festivities without the worry of what to eat.

The key to the whole event is the pre-planning.  I’ve put together a gluten-free tailgate party checklist to help you easily plan the food everyone can enjoy, so the day of the event you can sit back and enjoy the fun.

First thing, if you are planning the event, I would contact friends and family attending and ask them if they have any additional dietary requirements that you can help accommodate.  We’ve all been heartbroken at social events where there was nothing gluten-free available to eat, so reach out before the event to see if you can eliminate that frustration for others.  It’s easy to have some vegan, vegetarian, paleo or keto friendly dishes for everyone to enjoy.  If you aren’t the planner, contact the person who is, and ask them to reach out to attendees to see what other dietary needs the group has.  Be that “dietary champion” that will surprise everyone that has a special diet need.

Next, choose a theme for the tailgate.  It will make your life so much easier, especially when other people ask what they can bring.  If you just leave it up to others to bring whatever they want, in most cases it won’t be gluten-free, or you won’t be sure if it was made with concern to preventing cross-contamination.  When you choose a theme, you can even make suggestions of specific food items and brands that you know are safe for you (and other dietary restricted guests) to eat.   Some examples of easy themes are; Mexican, Mediterranean, wine and cheese, barbecue, tropical or just picnic style.

Once you choose a theme, and know what ingredients you need to avoid, you can start to put a list together of what you can make and what others can prepare easily.  For example, for a BBQ themed party, you could offer to bring the pulled pork and ask others to bring coleslaw, gluten-free corn chips or a vegetable tray.  For a tropical themed party make some gluten-free teriyaki chicken skewers and ask others to bring a green salad (with no croutons) and some fresh fruit.  I’ve included a great planning guide with party themes and menu ideas.

There is a lot of items that you may need on the day of the party, and not all of them are food.  Perhaps you could ask friends to bring themed decorations, tablecloths, small tables and chairs, cups and napkins, beverages (non-alcoholic or alcoholic), coolers, prepackaged snacks, garbage bags, zip lock bags or saran wrap for leftovers. 

If you are bringing hot food items (or cold), be sure and plan ahead how to keep them at the proper temperature before and after the game.  A small grill is the perfect way to heat up food, but don’t forget to bring some foil pans to keep them warm and utensils to serve.  Don’t forget extra ice and coolers to help keep food cold for safe food preparation after the game.  I also like to label my food items with small signs, so others know what’s in it.  If it’s gluten-free and dairy-free, why not label it so others know they can eat it.  If you are concerned about unforeseen cross-contamination during the tailgate, keep some of your own salads or dips in a separate container to enjoy for yourself to take the pressure off.

Finally, have fun!  A little planning and preparation goes a long way to ensure a fun and satiating tailgate party that everyone can enjoy.

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Local and Seasonal Foods for the Gut

seasonal-eatingFor a Celiac sufferer, nothing should pass by the lips that could damage their already fragile intestinal tract.  Most importantly, they must avoid anything that could contain gluten.

In case you don’t already know, gluten is a protein that is found in many grains, but most commonly in wheat, barley and rye (there are many others).  Ingesting any gluten containing grain will trigger a reaction in the intestines of a Celiac (an autoimmune disease), causing their villi (tiny finger like hairs) in the gut to atrophy (or shrink).  This reaction prevents nutrients from being absorbed into the body, thus creating nutritional deficiencies and a multitude of symptoms (bloating, gas, diarrhea, pain, anemia, etc.).  In the non-autoimmune condition called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), the symptoms range even farther than just intestinal.  Many suffer from anxiety, depression, joint pain and migraines, just to name a few.  For a wheat and/or gluten allergy, sufferers must carry an EpiPen to counteract the anaphylaxis response that could be generated from ingesting ingredients.  Three designations of gluten disorders, but all with the same result…ABSOLUTELY NO EATING GLUTEN.

Avoiding gluten containing grains is stressful enough, but my feeling is that they should not only avoid gluten, but try and stay away from foods that don’t support a healthy immune system (i.e. sugar, food dyes, processed foods, etc.).  My recommendation is to choose naturally gluten-free foods to support the immune system.  We naturally are what we eat, so choosing quality foods is important for anyone with a compromised immune system.

One way to support a healthy immune system is to eat foods that are whole, clean, local, seasonal and organic.  I’m not saying that prepacked gluten-free products don’t have a place, but keeping balance in your diet is an important practice.  Where is the best place to do that?  One place to start, is shopping on the outside aisles (fresh produce, dairy and meats) of the grocery store.  BUT, the best place to shop, is the local farm markets in your town.farm4

Here in Eastern, Pennsylvania there are farm markets almost every day of the week from spring until late fall.  Finding a winter market takes a little more work, but they are there.  Wednesday is farm market day in my town and quite honestly, it’s the best day of my week.  Buying local is good for everyone!  Supporting local farmers keeps money and jobs close to home, helps preserve farms, open space and supports families in our community.  And just as important, foods locally produced can help heal the body.  Nutrient content goes down as soon as fresh foods are picked, therefore, the closer to home the food is grown, the more nutrients it will have.  This is not only true for fruits and vegetables, but meat, poultry and dairy as well.

In my opinion, local ingredients produce more flavorful foods as well.  Fresh picked ingredients are usually in the hands of consumers within 24 hours of harvesting.  Compare that to foods grown and picked on the other side of the earth that are shipped to warehouses before getting into stores.  It could take weeks to get to you, after being picked, which certainly affects taste and nutrients.

Another thing to remember is that many foods are picked before fully ripened and exposed to ethylene gas to change their appearance to look riper.  Tomatoes are a good example of this, they are picked green and unripe, then gassed with ethylene to give their appearance a more red and ripe look on the outside.  Food can stay on the vine longer when grown locally, since transportation distances to stores is closer, which helps their flavors build.

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The other wonderful benefit of farm markets is finding seasonal foods to eat.  Why does eating seasonally matter on a gluten-free diet you ask?  Our bodies adapt to the environment we live in, specifically the different seasons/climate in the geographic area.  Seasonally rotating foods in (and out) of our diet keeps our immune system in balance. Eating foods out of season (or climate) can overload our systems, which may contribute to food intolerance/imbalances and disrupt our immune system.

A good example of eating seasonally is preparing our bodies for winter.  The foods available here in Pennsylvania during fall are high in vitamins A, D & C (immune supportive) rich foods.  Winter squashes, like pumpkin, butternut and delicatta, as well as ginger, onions, peppers, apples, pears and honey help to make our immune system strong for the coming cold winter.farm1

Eating fats in winter helps to keep us warm and conserve energy.  Low sodium foods, beef, eggs, mushrooms, dairy and root vegetables support our systems and help keep us warm in the winter.farm3

In spring, there will be more cleansing choices to help detox our bodies from winter.  Dark green leafy foods (lettuce, kale, spinach, arugula, etc.) help clean out the liver from the heavy fats consumed in winter.

Summer foods provide liquids to prevent dehydration and keep us cool (melons, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries and lean meats and fish).

Finally, a note on eating organic whenever possible, is always a plus for the gut.  Less pesticides and fungicides on our foods means less in our bodies.  Remember, USDA certified organic means NO GMO ingredients or hormones can be used in foods including livestock.  It’s also better for the environment with less run off into our water and in the air.

My recommendation has always been to try to buy fresh and local whenever you can and maybe do a little preserving or freezing in the summer to enjoy locally produced foods all winter.

To learn more about eating seasonally buy my book, 3 Steps to Gluten-Free Living on Amazon.