The Perfect Gluten-Free Picnic

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Sunshine. Blanket. Picnic basket full of delicious food.

Picnics are the perfect way to soak in the summertime. Picnics that include both gluten-containing food with gluten-free dishes, however, could put a damper on things because of the potential of unwanted cross-contact.

How can you keep gluten from interfering with your summer picnic fun? We’ve got some tips!


Pick the Right Picnic Style

Picnics and outdoor eating can be handled in a variety of ways. Typically, picnic foods are packed in separate containers and served or laid out to serve yourself. You can minimize the risk of cross-contact with carefully packed foods in individual containers and by packing a separate basket or cooler for the gluten-free items.

If you’re going with a DIY style picnic where you build your sandwiches or salads from containers of ingredients, keep any add-ons that contain gluten (like croutons or some imitation meats) away from the gluten-free ones (like fresh veggies and fruit and nuts). Bring double the serving utensils so that the same ones aren’t used between foods with gluten and foods without.

Try to avoid a picnic buffet or potluck-style if you, or anyone joining you, is gluten-free. If you do go with a buffet, consider setting up a separate space—another blanket or a table—so you can keep gluten-free foods apart from those containing gluten.


Watch Out for the Potluck

For a potluck, the risk increases when those who are not gluten-free bring dishes to share with others. Not everyone bringing food will be familiar with preparing it safely gluten-free. Even with careful instructions before the picnic, mistakes can happen, and gluten can inadvertently get into the dish at any stage of preparation.

Determine in advance how to handle a potluck picnic where people coming will be a mix of those who eat gluten and those who don’t. The safest solution may be to have everyone label their food and have people who are living gluten-free make gluten-free fare or ask people to bring labeled, or preferably, certified packaged gluten-free foods. GFCO-certified packaged foods pass the threshold of 10ppm or less of gluten, so they are safe to eat. Check out the GFCO searchable directory of GFCO-certified gluten-free products. Keep gluten-free foods on one end of the table or area with dedicated utensils.

Try Going Totally Gluten-Free

The simplest way to keep gluten away from your picnic is to plan for a completely gluten-free spread. Consider bringing only gluten-free bread, buns, wraps, crackers, and cookies for a picnic. And don’t forget naturally gluten-free, delicious picnic items like watermelon, grapes, and other fresh fruits as well as crunchy carrot, celery, and cucumber sticks. Hummus or tzatziki are tasty, gluten-free, and perfect for dipping.  With the wide array of quality gluten-free options available at local grocery stores, most people won’t notice much of a difference in taste, if at all.


Label It for Ease

Get out that permanent marker and label everything you can. If your food is in packaging or disposable plastic containers, write clearly whether they contain gluten or are gluten-free. You can also use labels you can write on or a labeling machine to let people know what they’re getting. Bringing along plastic cutlery? Get entirely different styles or colors—such as one set of red for gluten-containing foods and one set of clear for gluten-free—to differentiate. Use the same color coding for plates and bowls.


Beware of Double-Dipping

If there is food with gluten at your picnic that requires condiments—like bread for sandwiches where people might spread butter, mayo, or mustard on it—watch out for someone using the same knife with gluten-free bread. That’s a common cross-contact mistake. You may want to have two of each and label the condiments for gluten-free eaters or bring condiments in squeeze bottles.


With awareness and creativity, you can ensure every picnic you host is safely gluten-free for anyone who needs it!




The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.

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