No matter the place of employment, there’s always a chance there will be food in the break or conference rooms. In the United States, this free food often involves, pizza, donuts, bagels, birthday cake, other baked goods, catered food such as fried chicken or sandwiches- all of which are off limits for someone with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
As I learned the hard way one time- and only one time- there are no cheat days when it comes to gluten allergies and sensitivities. Depending on someone’s level of sensitivity, a little gluten can trigger issues such as inflammation, diarrhea, cramps, rashes, nausea, vomiting, among others long-term issues. Although that chocolate glazed or yeast donut may look appealing, consider the risks.
Where there’s a social gathering, there’s going to be some kind of food. With social gatherings often come social pressure, so what is someone to do? I equate navigating office food with Celiac disease to the equivalent at being the designated driver with your friends at a party- you must be aware and stay away from anything that would interfere with getting home safely. So how can one navigate the standard office menu?
1. Explain your situation.
Honesty is the best policy, so be upfront with your coworkers. Your health is of paramount importance, don’t wreck it because of social pressure. Although many people without Celiac disease avoid gluten like some others don’t eat meat, carbs, sugar, etc, there is a growing awareness of Celiac disease. For example, I had to explain my situation to my current coworkers and they have been very understanding and accommodating. At the monthly birthday party, I am provided with my own gluten-free alternative. Another example was that my work group won a pizza party and they purchased skinless chicken wings for me. I have also learned that there are numerous other people who have this same affliction, so there is a developing understanding of this disease.
2. Bring your own gluten-free alternative.
If you know ahead of time of a company-wide catered meal or a food truck, you can always bring your own lunch that day. If the company is buying pizza or subs for everyone, definitely consider bringing your own lunch.
3. Be selective at company dinners.
If your company is holding a holiday meal, stick with the items that are gluten-free- chicken or turkey (with no gravy), vegetables, salads (with no croutons), fruits. Avoid such items as breads, gravy, pies, cakes, brownies, breaded and fried items, cookies, cupcakes, as they will have gluten in them. If there is a gluten-free alternative, then great.
4. Avoid cross-contamination
Even after being gluten-free for almost two years, I am still learning much about cross- contamination. When at company or family gatherings, be mindful of such things as how utensils such as knives, spoons, and forks are used. Don’t use the same knife Coworker Bob used to cut the apple pie to cut into your gluten-free brownies. Even if someone brought in a gluten-free dessert for you, you don’t know for sure if that person took the proper precautions at home to avoid cross-contamination- you must still be cautious and monitor your symptoms.
5. Be wary of vending machines.
You may need something to hold you over until lunch or maybe you need that last energy boost to complete the day, so you go looking for something in the vending machines- whether it be a cup of coffee or a snack. As far as coffee goes, be aware that some coffee flavorings and creamers, even hot chocolates may contain gluten. The same machines hoses used to deliver black coffee also used to deliver flavored coffees which contain gluten. In this situation, it is best to make your own coffee at home or bring in your own pre-packaged hot chocolate such as Swiss Miss, which is gluten free.
As far as food items go, here are some gluten-free items you may purchase: Payday candy bars, Reese’s cups Reese’s pieces, M&M’s in the following varieties: plain, peanut, and peanut butter. Snicker bars in the regular and peanut butter varieties. Plain Hershey bars. There is plenty of information on the web concerning gluten-free candies, I would encourage you to do your own research as well.
Vending machine foods to avoid: Any candy bar with a wafer, wheat or nougat base- Kit-Kat, Reese’s Sticks, Zero (which was my favorite), all forms of licorice, Pretzel M&Ms, Cookies and Creme Hershey bars to name a few. Also avoid any snack cakes, cookies, pretzels, barbecue chips, Pringles chips, Cheetos, gum (as it can be coated with wheat flour). Definitely stay away from the sandwich or pre-packaged meal machines- as the first ingredient in these foods will be wheat flour.
Though this is by far not a definitive list, consider this a starting point concerning moving towards a gluten-free lifestyle. I encourage you to educate yourself and do your own research as well. This is your life and your health, put yourself in charge.