Admin Assistance: How to Cater to Gluten-Free Diets in the Office

Posted by on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 with Comments Off on Admin Assistance: How to Cater to Gluten-Free Diets in the Office Comments

If you’re an administrative assistant in charge of ordering workplace meals, then you are probably more familiar with your coworkers’ diet habits than anyone else in the office! You’re the first one to know when a colleague decides to try out a low-carb diet, you can name every vegetarian, and you even know which middle manager is just a plain, old picky eater. It’s your job to ensure that every member of the staff can benefit from the motivation, personal relationship growth, and employee appreciation that’s served up alongside the actual food on the lunch table!

In recent years, however, one dietary “trend” has presented a unique opportunity for admin assistants: gluten-free diets. If you have gluten-free coworkers in your office, you may be asking how, exactly, you can create a gluten-free meal plan for the entire office?

gluten free cupcakes catering

Plan gluten-free options so coworkers with sensitivities can still join in the fun.
Image source: flickr user JuditK

What is gluten?

Let’s start with the basics: gluten is a kind of storage protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, along with a handful of other grains (spelt, farro, and triticale). Gluten is what lends texture to pizza dough, bread, and baked goods, and is used as a thickener in all kinds of sauces, soups, and salad dressings. People following gluten-free diets know that even if an item contains no wheat but lists a vague ingredient like “natural flavoring”, there’s a good chance it contains gluten.

Celiac disease vs. gluten sensitivity

If one of your coworkers has celiac disease, then they absolutely cannot eat gluten or any food that may have been exposed to gluten. Their bodies perceive gluten as a threat to the immune system when eaten, and the immune system responds by attacking the gluten. This attack can ravage the small intestine, leading to gastrointestinal pain and long-term consequences like anemia and osteoporosis. Untreated celiac disease can be deadly, and the only treatment is to avoid gluten entirely. As one woman with celiac puts described in an interview with Pennsylvania State University, “… I can’t even dip mayonnaise out of a jar at someone else’s home or use their butter due to the risk of contamination from bread particles.”

Celiac disease affects about 1 in every 133 people, and if one of your colleagues has it, they are probably used to bringing their own food or avoiding many restaurants due to the severity of the consequences if they accidentally ingest gluten (for instance, even if a restaurant has a gluten-free menu, if they use the same cooking surfaces for all the food, it’s dangerous to a celiac sufferer). However, many more Americans have decided to forego gluten in their diets due to a gluten sensitivity (meaning they experience uncomfortable but not life-threatening bloating, diarrhea, and stomach cramps) — or as a weight-loss strategy, especially as gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular with celebrities and fitness gurus. If this is the motivation behind your coworker’s decision to go gluten-free, they will probably still feel comfortable participating in office lunches or parties and will look for some gluten-free options to fit their diet.

gluten free menu

Gluten-free menus will make your life easier, but still be on the lookout for hidden gluten sources.
Image source: flickr user Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Planning a gluten-free meal

Luckily, as gluten-free diets have become more popular, so have gluten-free restaurant menus, packaged foods, and catering options. Here are a few ways to plan a gluten-free meal and avoid the “hidden gluten” ingredients that might otherwise derail your good intentions:

Salads: Fruits, vegetables, and lean meats are all excellent gluten-free foods, but many restaurant salads are sprinkled with gluten-containing croutons and dressings. Order any salads without croutons, ask for the dressing on the side, and keep a few bottles of gluten-free dressing in the office fridge.

gluten-free Asian sauces

Keep gluten-free sauces and salad dressings on hand.
Image source: flickr user Andrea_Nguyen

Ethnic cuisine: Ordering rice instead of noodles may seem like the obvious choice to avoid gluten, but keep in mind that nearly all sauces used in Chinese restaurant (soy, hoisin, and oyster included) contain gluten. Skip Chinese, unless you know of a trusted restaurant with a gluten-free menu (like P.F. Chang’s). Gluten-free diners report having better luck with Indian food, where most of the staple ingredients (vegetables, chickpeas, spices, and meats) fit into a gluten-free meal plan.

Beer: If you’re in charge of planning an in-office happy hour, don’t forget that barley, one of beer’s key ingredients, contains plenty of gluten. There are some gluten-free beers available, but it might take a little extra legwork to track them down. Most wine, however, is gluten-free.

gluten-free beer

Keep the happy hour hopping with gluten-free beer.
Image source: flickr user justmakeit

Fish & meat: The good news is that fish and meat is naturally gluten-free. The bad news is when that innocent chicken breast is breaded or even marinated, it’s likely come in contact with gluten. When ordering from a restaurant or caterer, specify that you would just like the meat cooked without breading or marinades.

Pasta: Unless otherwise labelled, pasta contains gluten, whether it’s made from whole wheat, semolina, or durum flour. Order a rice-based dish instead.

When it comes to choosing gluten-free menu items, all the information available at makes it easy to determine which restaurants are your best bet! Don’t leave any of your coworkers out in the gluten-free cold; a little advance planning and help from our easy online ordering makes it easy to include everyone in the office.

When it comes to feeding employees and coworkers, make your company's food program really count! If your workplace dining plan needs to take it up a notch — or if you don't have one at all — is here to help. From Virtual Cafeteria Service to diverse menus to local takeout & offers customizable dining solutions for every business and budget. Contact us today to get started!

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