Gluten-free eating is more than a passing fad, or even a way of life that impacts just a few. As many as 30% of Americans reportedly try to avoid gluten — and that can make catering complicated.
When you’re feeding a large group, you’ve got to cater to the masses, but you also need to make sure that guests with special dietary needs have options too. That might feel like a tall order, but there are pretty straightforward ways to make all parties happy. We can help you do that.
The first step in ensuring that you’re including gluten-free catering for your events is knowing which foods are gluten-free. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Gluten is a structural protein found in grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. Fortunately, there are plenty of other starches you can choose to increase your catering menu options. Take a look at our gluten-free food list to help you with your next gluten-free catering order.
The Ultimate Gluten-Free Food List
Potatoes are a popular starch that can be adapted to go with just about every meal. Baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes are ideal for a sit-down meal, while French fries and potato chips are great accompaniments to a casual work lunch. But watch out for hidden gluten.
- Plain baked or mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes: Jazz up potatoes with gluten-free toppings, such as sour cream, cheese, and bacon. Watch out for gravy, which often contains wheat flour. Switch out your regular potatoes for sweet potatoes for a taste treat.
- French fries: Confirm that they aren’t fried in a gluten batter or in the same fryer as breaded foods.
- Potato chips: Make sure they’re labeled as gluten-free.
Rice is a go-to side dish for many catered meals, not just for gluten-free catering. Check out some of your top gluten-free options.
- Risotto: Double-check that the stock or wine used in this creamy Italian rice dish isn’t made with a wheat derivative.
- Biryani: An Indian rice dish made with lamb or chicken.
- Paella: This Spanish one-dish recipe includes seafood, meats (chicken, rabbit, and duck are common), spicy saffron, and occasionally beans.
- Rice pudding: A sweet pudding pairing rice with milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, garnished with dried fruits and nuts.
- Pho: A flavorful Vietnamese soup traditionally made with rice noodles, which sometimes contain wheat, so be sure to ask.
When you think of corn, Mexican food likely comes to mind. Corn is used in many gluten-free catering dishes.
- Tacos: Make tacos with only corn tortillas (or offer a choice of flour or corn, served separately).
- Chips and salsa: Confirm that chips are 100% corn.
- Polenta: This savory cornmeal dish is common in Italian restaurants.
- Shrimp and grits: Grits is a savory porridge made from ground cornmeal. This popular dish from South Carolina and Georgia is often topped with fish. However, some cooks use flour to thicken the shrimp gravy. Before ordering grits, be sure to check that they use the gluten-free variety, because some are made with wheat flour.
- Tortilla soup: This delicious Mexican soup is made with chicken broth, fresh corn, and avocado, topped with corn tortilla chips. Be sure to confirm the restaurant uses only corn chips and doesn’t thicken the soup with wheat flour.
- Arepas: A Colombian and Venezuelan corn-based bread stuffed with cheese or meat.
- Migas: Migas is a Tex-Mex dish of corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, and homemade salsa.
Peas, beans, hummus, lentils — legumes significantly expand a gluten-free food list.
- Peas: Peas are safe for gluten-free dishes.
- Black beans: Black beans make a great meat substitute in many recipes.
- Refried beans: These mashed beans fried in oil or bacon fat are a Mexican food staple.
- Lentils: Lentils are used around the world, especially in South Asia. Try Indian vegetarian dishes for gluten-free catering.
- Chickpeas: Chickpeas are tasty on salads or roasted for a crispy snack. Look for chana masala (chickpeas in a spicy tomato sauce), panisse (fried chickpea flour cake popular in France), or chickpea pasta.
- Hummus: This popular dip is made from chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), and ample garlic. While usually served with pita bread containing gluten, you can substitute carrots, celery, and red peppers.
- Falafel: Some restaurants use wheat flour as a binder in these chickpea fritters, so double-check.
- Indian dal: Soup containing lentils, Indian spices, and water.
When determining which foods are gluten-free for a catering order, proteins are the heroes. Just ask a few questions to ensure gluten-free preparation.
- Plain steak: Meats are sometimes coated in flour or breaded before browning. When in doubt, ask.
- Grilled or roasted chicken: Chicken is a great gluten-free protein if grilled or roasted without flour or breading. Ask if unsure.
- Shrimp: Avoid breading on shrimp by ordering it grilled.
- Lettuce-wrapped burgers: While burgers are fine, buns are filled with gluten. Order lettuce wraps for a gluten-free option.
- Fried or scrambled eggs: Eggs are a great source of protein and completely gluten-free. Try a frittata, a baked Italian dish similar to an omelet, or order shakshuka, a popular Middle-Eastern dish of eggs poached in tomato and pepper sauce.
- Crustless quiche: Another egg dish popular for gluten-free food lists — without the crust.
- Bacon and sausage: Bacon has no gluten and complements many other dishes. It’s always popular. Make sure there’s no gluten in a sausage’s filling before you order it.
- Cauliflower crust pizza: Some pizza places offer crusts made from cauliflower, which is gluten-free.
- Baked fish: Baked fish is a great gluten-free option so long as you avoid breading. Make sure any sauces aren’t thickened with flour.
- Kabobs: Whether meat or vegetables, kabobs are gluten-free until you start adding marinades, which sometimes contain flour.
6. Alternative grains
If you plan to serve dishes made with grains, you’ll have to carefully check each one for gluten. Try these options to expand catered offerings.
- Oatmeal: Be sure to check that the oatmeal is labeled gluten-free; not all store-bought kinds are.
- Granola and yogurt parfait: Plain yogurt is gluten-free, but flavored yogurts sometimes contain gluten. Double-check before you order — and specify gluten-free granola.
- Quinoa: A tasty, nutty gluten-free grain, quinoa is a healthier rice alternative. Pasta made from quinoa is gluten-free and has a nutty taste.
- Soba noodle salad: Soba noodles, used in Japanese cuisine, are traditionally made with buckwheat, which is gluten-free. But check with each restaurant because some make theirs with wheat, too.
- Dishes made with gluten-free flours: Look for gluten-free pizza crusts, bagels, cookies, or cakes made with alternatives, such as flours ground from oats, almonds, buckwheat, or rice.
7. Other options
There are even more great options for gluten-free catering. Check out these dishes.
- Salads: Order salads without croutons, and get dressings on the side. Most vinaigrettes are gluten-free foods, but some dressings contain gluten.
- Soups: Ask if soup was thickened with flour to determine if it’s gluten-free.
- French macarons: These delicate cookies are made from almond flour and filled with frosting or jam. Confirm that almond flour was used.
- Cheese platters: Most cheeses don’t contain gluten. Serve them with rice crackers as a safe alternative, or expand to create a full charcuterie platter.
- Pao de queijo: These Brazilian cheesy bread puffs are made from tapioca, a naturally gluten-free starch.
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