You’re engaged! Congratulations! As you jump into planning your wedding, gluten is probably on your mind.
This gluten-free wedding guide will walk you through the gluten pitfalls in wedding planning and how to avoid them. It also includes dozens of gluten-free menu ideas for your reception and a printable wedding planner to keep you organized. From cake to cost, let’s dig in.
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100% Gluten-Free or Not?
At several points in the planning process, you will make this decision: keep the wedding completely gluten-free or allow a little bit (or a lot) of gluten.
Major decision points will be around the cocktail hour, reception food, bar, communion, and wedding cake.
After about 10 years of gluten-free living and entertaining, I’m absolutely convinced you can have a completely gluten-free wedding and no one will be able to tell it’s missing. As a celiac and the mother of a daughter with celiac disease, I encourage you to remember that this is your big day and you don’t want to risk being sick.
You want to be happy and healthy on your wedding day.
We’ll cover keeping it all gluten-free and delicious, and ways to save money along the way.
And if you decide to allow some gluten at your wedding, we’ll also go over how to avoid getting ill from cross-contact.
Reception Option #1: 100% Naturally Gluten-Free Menu
Hands down, this is my favorite option. You’re accustomed to eating gluten-free, so you already know this: foods that are naturally gluten-free are healthy and delicious.
Plus, naturally gluten-free foods are considerably more affordable than gluten-free substitutes. Why spend your wedding dollars on pricey, gluten-free dinner rolls that likely won’t fool your guests.
Instead, simply serve food that is naturally gluten-free. There’s no need to announce it to your guests, and they won’t know it’s missing.
Appetizers During the Cocktail Hour
It’s so easy to build a gluten-free charcuterie board! Except for the switching out of traditional crackers for gluten-free ones, a typical charcuterie board is full of naturally gluten-free items: fruit, meat, cheese, olives, artichokes, fresh vegetables, and delicious dips.
Appetizer Ideas for Passing:
- Sausage or Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms
- Prosciutto-Wrapped Dates or Pears
- Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp
- Tuna Spring Rolls
- Indian Paneer Fried Cheese
- Strawberry Brie Skewers
- Orange Chicken Meatballs
Recipes for all of the above and more, are in this round-up of 60+ Best Gluten-Free Appetizers to Wow Your Guests.
Gluten-Free Menu Items:
- Soup, most soup recipes are already gluten-free or easily modified
- Salad with veggies, cheese, gluten-free dressing (no croutons)
- In-season fruit with cheese
- Sorbet, as a palette cleanser
- Traditional entree options: steak, chicken, and fish
- Your favorite variety of potatoes (au gratin, garlic mashed, roasted)
- In-season vegetables
- Taco Bar: meat (chicken, carne asada, barbacoa, carnitas), corn tortillas, tortilla chips, cheese, veggies, salsa…
- Carving Station: filet mignon, pork tenderloin, turkey, lamb, roast beef
- Pig Roast, reflects many cultures, from Scotland to Hawaii
- Barbecue: BBQ chicken, ribs, pork (with gluten-free BBQ sauce) and traditional sides: vegetables, cole slaw, potato salad, beans, and gluten-free cornbread (It’s much easier to replicate gluten-free cornbread than traditional bread, due to the cake-like texture of cornbread.)
- Brazilian Steak House-Style: steak, lamp, pork, seafood, polenta, stew, rice, vegetables, fresh fruit, and Brazilian cheese bread, which is made with tapioca flour and naturally gluten-free
Consider the heritage of both of your families. Most Mexican or South American food is gluten-free. Grilled Greek food, Indian cuisine, and Southeast Asian dishes all offer naturally or easily (e.g. replace soy sauce with tamari) gluten-free options.
What to Skip at Your 100% Gluten-Free Reception
Avoid breads and pasta which are more expensive to make gluten-free. Plus, it is harder to replicate the traditional versions, especially in large quantities.
Skip dinner rolls. No one needs a dinner roll. You may not remember your gluten-eating days, but traditional dinner rolls served at weddings tend to be rather “meh”, anyway.
Plus, a gluten-free version is much more expensive to make, and your guests will probably notice the difference, especially when a roll lands on their plate at room temperature.
Similarly, avoid a pasta buffet. Even the most authentic gluten-free alternatives to wheat pasta do not hold up well under buffet conditions.
Reception Option #2: Mostly Gluten-Free
If you decide to have one or two gluten-containing items, such as dinner rolls, consider a couple of safety protocols to prevent cross-contact with gluten for you and any other gluten-free guests:
- Request that the caterer prepare and store gluten-containing items separately in the kitchen and that staff wash their hands after handling gluten-containing food.
- For buffets, keep gluten clearly labeled and on a separate table, and have an announcement for gluten-free guests and guests with food allergies to visit the buffet first. This critical item should be added to the wedding day checklist and overseen by the wedding planner or another responsible party so it is not overlooked.
- Ask the caterer to prepare gluten-free plates for the bride and groom in the kitchen. While this is standard practice for the mingling bride and groom, it is especially important for preventing cross-contamination.
Given the high cost of wedding cakes in general, and gluten-free wedding cakes in particular, some couples choose a gluten-containing dessert option.
Keep gluten-free desserts separate to avoid cross-contact:
- Keep a gluten-free sweetheart’s cake for a cutting ceremony safely on a separate table or on a raised platter with gluten-containing desserts below.
- Have the caterer store and cut a gluten-containing sheet cake in the kitchen, then serve slices directly to guests.
- Conversely, if displaying gluten-containing desserts, store gluten-free individual desserts in the kitchen and have them delivered directly to the bride and groom and gluten-free guests. It would be a shame for a handful of gluten-free cupcakes to be accidentally eaten by guests without dietary restrictions.
Bottom line, whether a separate table for rolls or for gluten-free cake, it is safest to keep the gluten-free and gluten items separate.
Reception Option #3: Special Meal for the Bride and Groom
You have found your dream venue, and the approved caterer(s) cannot make you a safe meal. There is still a really good option!
Use the approved caterer to make everyone else’s meal (I still recommend naturally gluten-free) and get permission as an accommodation under the American Disabilities Act to have a gluten-free meal brought in just for the bride and groom… and any other gluten-free or allergy guests.
Consider having a trusted loved one make this meal. Or order from your favorite gluten-free or trustworthy restaurant, so you can enjoy a safe meal at your wedding.
By special meal, I mean truly special meal. So often our “special meal” is a sad substitute, so choose something you love.
Whether your meal matches the menu of the evening with a few special touches or you choose a completely different favorite food, make it spectacular.
If Allowing Gluten…
Kissing! If one half of the happy couple needs to avoid even trace amounts of gluten, then the other half should, too. Or else you’ll be rushing to brush your teeth every time the wedding guests start clinking glasses for the bride and groom to kiss.
Don’t rely on your guests to prevent cross-contamination. Many do not understand celiac disease, the gluten-free diet, and cross-contact. Even those who do, can make a mistake. And if you are serving alcohol, many guests will not be in a condition to be aware of or careful about cross-contact. Make it easy and keep the gluten separate.
If you elect to have gluten options, remember you will be hugging all of your gluten-eating friends and family. Just make sure you have hand wipes at the ready or a chance to wash your hands if you plan to eat anything by hand (e.g. wedding cake).
Let Them Eat (Gluten-Free) Cake
Any way you slice it, a wedding cake is expensive. (pun intended)
All brides, gluten-free or not, have to make a decision about how to handle the wedding cake. Gluten-free simply introduces another variable. There are several great options, depending on your budget.
100% Gluten-Free Cake Options
Local Gluten-Free Bakery
Hire a local (or within reasonable driving distance) gluten-free bakery or safe, gluten-free home baker to make one of the following:
- Gluten-free, tiered wedding cake, big enough for all the guests
- Stunning, gluten-free sweetheart’s cake, a smaller 6-8″ cake for the bride and groom to cut
- Gluten-free cupcakes
Many couples opt for a less expensive sweetheart’s cake to use for the traditional cutting of the cake. The sweetheart’s cake can be accompanied by any of the following gluten-free sweets: non-traditional desserts (more about those in a minute), cupcakes, or slices of more-affordable sheet cakes, sliced, plated, and served from the kitchen.
Gluten-Free Bakery with Nationwide Shipping
There are dedicated gluten-free bakeries that make stunning wedding cakes available for nationwide shipping. A couple are on this list of 15 Irresistible, 100% Gluten-Free Bakeries in Los Angeles:
- Karma Baker ships gluten-free cakes, including beautiful, tiered wedding cakes that can be assembled on-site. This is the most costly option, due to the expense of shipping.
- Yvonne’s Vegan Kitchen does not ship its tiered wedding cakes, but it has gorgeous pressed flower cakes available for shipping. They would make a beautiful sweetheart’s cake.
The two bakeries above are completely gluten-free.
Be sure to carefully vet online cake companies with nationwide delivery, as many bake regular and gluten-free cakes on the same equipment.
Homemade Gluten-Free Wedding Cake
If you can make your own gluten-free wedding cake, you win Super Bride of the Year. But no pressure! While more than one bride has taken on the challenge of baking her own wedding cake, that is not the solution for most busy brides who want a stress-free wedding day.
Other homemade cake options include having a friend or family member make the wedding cake in your gluten-free kitchen. Ask a relative with celiac disease and mad baking skills if they would make your wedding cake in their safe kitchen. Or enlist a trusted friend who loves baking and decorating cakes and understands cross-contact protocols for the job.
DIY options can run the gamut from complex to easy:
- Gluten-free, tiered wedding cake
- Sweetheart’s cake
- Taking a basic gluten-free cake from your local gluten-free bakery and dressing it up with flowers
- Gluten-free cupcakes to accompany a homemade or bakery sweetheart’s cake
- Gluten-free sheet cakes to accompany a sweetheart’s cake
The last three options are much less intimidating than the first two and can really help stretch your gluten-free wedding dollars!
This gluten-free wedding cake recipe from Fearless Dining includes simple instructions for assembling and decorating a wedding cake.
Your DIY baker/friend/relative can also shortcut the process by using an excellent gluten-free cake mix. King Arthur Baking Company sells Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix and Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix. Both are undetectably gluten-free and delicious!
Tips if Serving Regular Cake (Gluten) to Your Guests
It’s your wedding. You should be able to safely eat the cake or dessert of your choosing. At a minimum, have something safe and special for you to enjoy!
A gluten-free sweetheart’s cake for you to cut and safely eat is one option.
If you want to skip the traditional cake cutting, then any individual gluten-free dessert could be kept separate and served directly to the newlywed table.
Wedding guests can be served affordable, regular sheet cakes from a local bakery or even Costco. These are cut and plated in the kitchen and are a common money-saving tactic at weddings.
If you have just a handful of dedicated gluten-free desserts, do not display them. Dedicate someone in charge of distributing them directly to the wedding couple and any gluten-free guests only.
100% Gluten-Free Dessert Alternatives to a Wedding Cake
Serving gluten-containing cake to guests is not the only way to stay within budget.
Going with a non-traditional dessert opens up the door to so many naturally gluten-free and affordable possibilities. These ideas can be used in addition to a sweetheart’s cake or to replace a traditional wedding cake entirely:
- Cheesecake, made with gluten-free graham crackers (Aldi traditionally sells an affordable and delicious gluten-ree cheesecake sampler during Celieac Disease Awareness Month in May, if the timing works for your wedding)
- Ice Cream Cake, with gluten-free cookie pieces in the center
- Gluten-free Macarons (I often find gluten-free Tipiak French Macarons at Costco at a great price.)
- Crème Brûlée
- Flan (to match a taco bar themed menu)
- Panna Cotta
- Flourless Chocolate Cake
- Mini Dessert Bar: a combination of mini gluten-free desserts (see previous list for ideas)
- Ice Cream Bar: choose flavors, toppings, gluten-free cones, sauce
- Crème Brûlée Bar: crème brûlée , berries, caramel, chocolate sauce, chocolate shavings, edible flowers, whipped cream
- Candy Bar full of colorful gluten-free candy
- S’mores Bar: gluten-free cookies, graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate, white chocolate, Nutella, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Rolos
- Sweet Beverage Bar: coffee bar with fraps and “treat coffees”, smoothie bar, hot cocoa bar (vet ingredients for gluten-free)
A dessert charcuterie display is similar to a dessert bar, but with an artsy presentation along a collection of boards and trays to suit the size of your party. Include any combination of mini desserts, cookies, nuts, chocolate, cheese, honey, berries, sliced fruit, and sweet dips.
Most alcohol is naturally gluten-free, such as wine, champagne, and distilled liquor with no added flavorings.
Even if a liquor starts from a gluten-containing grain, the distillation process leaves the gluten protein behind, making the liquor itself gluten-free. Note, Ouza can be an exception, as it occasionally has gluten-containing grains added back after distillation.
Additionally, producers can add flavorings that contain gluten, so the final product still has to be vetted. Tito’s Vodka is corn-based and popular with those on a gluten-free diet who report they are still sensitive to gluten-based distilled alcohols. Here’s an extensive list of gluten-free alcohol.
Mixed drinks should be vetted, as the added flavorings can contain gluten.
Ordering cases of wine from a local winery can be both affordable and a lovely touch to your wedding reception.
Beer is the main challenge at the bar. Like the wedding cake, you’ll have to make a personal decision for how you want to handle this at your wedding.
Most beer is not gluten-free. Unlike distillation, the fermentation process used to produce beer does not remove gluten. You have several options:
- Don’t serve beer.
- Stick to gluten-free beer that is made from non-gluten-containing grains, such as Holidaily or Divine Science Brewing, which can be enjoyed by individuals with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
- Serve gluten-removed beer, which is considered unsafe for celiacs, but your guests could drink it without concern of cross-contact.
- Allow regular beer at the bar, as the risk of cross-contact is fairly low.
While cross-contact from beer is unlikely, it is not impossible. My daughter once had someone spill beer all over her at Disney’s California Adventure.
To further reduce the risk of cross-contamination such as beer being spilled at the buffet, let gluten-free guests hit the buffet first if you are serving regular beer.
And, of course, no gluten beer for either half of the wedding couple, to avoid a gluten kiss!
Venders, Venues & Destination Weddings
You have several catering options.
100% Gluten-Free Restaurant
Hiring a 100% gluten-free restaurant to cater is the safest option. This option usually requires a little bit of luck or living near a large city.
Trusted Non-Dedicated Restaurant
You likely have a short list of go-to restaurants you already trust and frequent when dining out. Consider hiring one of your favorite local restaurants to cater your wedding.
We have a local BBQ restaurant with amazing gluten-free protocols. Farm-to-table restaurants know exactly what is in their food and generally do an excellent job accommodating celiac disease and other dietary needs.
Also look at chain restaurants with good allergy training, such as Chipotle or P.F. Changs, if your nearby location passes your vetting.
You’ll still need to communicate your needs and address cross-contact, but you’re at least starting with a restaurant you already trust for its good cross-contact processes.
Vetting Catering Companies: In-House, Venue-Approved, or Any Outside Caterer
Many hotels and upscale venues offer in-house catering, often with excellent allergy protocols. Some venues have a list of approved caterers, often to comply with health and safety laws. And other wedding venues will allow you to bring in an outside caterer of your choosing.
Any caterer, whether in-house or outside, needs to be vetted regarding ingredients and safe preparation of your food, to avoid gluten cross-contamination.
This is your usual restaurant vetting process on steroids. You’ll want to understand the ingredients, how each dish is prepared, and what else is going on in the kitchen. My Celiac Guide to Dining Out includes cross-contact questions to ask when vetting a restaurant.
Work with your caterer throughout the process to address safe preparation to accommodate your celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
What if the Required Caterer at Your Dream Venue Isn’t Safe?
You may be able to negotiate a reasonable accommodation with the venue under the American Disabilities Act. Reasonable is subjective and may vary by venue. The venue may approve a caterer with a commercial kitchen that’s not on its regular list. It may waive a fee normally charged for outside catering. Or it may allow you to bring in outside meals only for those with a special dietary need.
In the case of the latter, I recommend having an approved vendor make a naturally gluten-free wedding menu and bring in trusted gluten-free meals from the outside that match or beat the regular menu for those who need a safe, gluten-free meal.
Self-Catering (Homemade Food)
Many venues require caterers to have a commercial kitchen. They simply will not allow your aunt to cater, due to health codes.
Other venues are more conducive to self-catering. It is often allowed at rented halls and is certainly allowed at backyard weddings.
If permitted, bringing in homemade, safe food is both an affordable option and a solution to the gluten-free issue. The key word is safe. Whoever is making the food for your reception should be someone you trust to understand and avoid cross-contact with gluten.
Choosing a Venue
Consider starting with the food and working backward. Find a restaurant you trust to cater and ask where they have catered weddings. You may just discover a beautiful venue and lock-in safe food at the same time!
Upscale hotels (read expensive) are usually very good at accommodating allergies and celiac disease. You’ll still need to vet more carefully than for your usual dinner out. This is your special day and you don’t want to risk getting sick. Discuss allergy protocols from sourcing and cooking to serving.
Host your wedding reception at a local restaurant you already trust for dining out. Even better if you are lucky enough to have a dedicated gluten-free restaurant in town.
Some locations lend themselves to bringing in your own food:
- Backyard wedding
- Vacation rental home
- Rental hall (from a city or community group)
- Friend’s farm
Places that frequently host weddings and events, such as wineries, farms, and historical buildings, are more likely to have in-house or an approved list of caterers. Be prepared to work with the venue to find a safe catering company or to get approval to bring in a few safe meals.
Destination weddings require the same vetting as any restaurant. Ask all of the usual questions and make sure you can have safe food at the reception, as well as at all meals before and after.
Some destinations are exceptional at accommodating gluten-free visitors:
- Italy is amazing with celiac disease. Choose a hotel approved by the Italian Celiac Association for delicious, gluten-free meals.
- Cruise ships are generally excellent with dietary accommodations.
- Disney sets the standard with allergy and celiac protocols, consider Disney World, Disneyland, or a Disney Cruise.
- Pick a dedicated, gluten-free Bed & Breakfast in the United States: the Inn on Randolph in Napa, California, or the Inn Berlin, near the Eastern Shore in Berlin, Maryland.
- Book your destination wedding at one of my favorite hotels with excellent gluten-free protocols, Arenas del Mar in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, for luxury, monkeys, and fabulous food.
- Choose a vacation rental home in your dream destination, beach, lake, mountains, dessert, international, or close to home. Self-cater or bring in a trusted caterer.
Staying in Budget
Good news! Choosing naturally gluten-free items will not necessarily increase your cost. Some gluten-free choices, such as a naturally gluten-free dessert bar over a standard wedding cake, could even save you money.
A particular dedicated gluten-free caterer may be more expensive than some other caterers in your area, but not necessarily. If it is more costly, you can either consider it money well spent or opt for a hybrid option to keep costs down. Have a more affordable caterer make the meal for your guests (it can still be naturally gluten-free) and hire a dedicated gluten-free caterer/restaurant just for the gluten-free meals.
The one area that will likely cost more pound-for-pound is a gluten-free, tiered, wedding cake. Gluten-free cakes are expensive (due to costly ingredients and specialized skill) and wedding cakes are already pricey.
Again, this can be considered money well spent, or you can get creative to stay within budget. Naturally gluten-free desserts, a fun build-your-own ice cream bar, gluten-free cupcakes from a dedicated bakery, or a sweetheart’s cake for cutting paired with homemade gluten-free cupcakes or cake are all delicious money-saving options.
More Wedding Considerations: Communion, Rehearsal Dinner, Parties, and More!
The Ceremony: Communion
In a church ceremony, the couple traditionally takes communion. Regular communion bread/host contains wheat.
In fact, the Vatican has clarified that a gluten-free host is not valid for the Catholic Eucharist. Options for Catholics include partaking only in the cup (a separate cup, don’t share with the priest partaking in a gluten-host) or using a low-gluten host. Learn more about the low-gluten hosts, so you can make an informed decision.
For Protestants, Gluten-free communion is a bit easier. Consider Yehuda Gluten-Free Matzo-Style Squares or gluten-free communion wafers. Discuss with your minister, but any gluten-free bread or cracker is usually acceptable.
Accommodating Other Guests with Dietary Needs
While prepping your gluten-free wedding, consider accommodating your guests with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, allergies, and other dietary needs. There may be more than you think. Last month, I attended a wedding, and at our table of 10, three of us were gluten-free!
Add a place to note dietary needs on the response cards. Address with the caterer if those needs can be accommodated with your planned menu. Develop a system for those guests to be served first or hit the buffet first.
You’ve been there. You’re accustomed to bringing your own food and making sure your dietary needs are met. Your expertise in this area makes you especially prepared to delight loved ones with food they can actually eat.
While I usually pack my own wedding dessert, my nephew’s bride thrilled me, my daughter, and a few other guests with allergies when she gave us a choice of several adorable cupcake cups from Sensitive Sweets, a local gluten-free (and multiple allergen-free bakery).
Day of: Before the Wedding Ceremony
Plan for safe gluten-free food before the ceremony. It’s not uncommon for a busy, distracted bride to forget to eat on her wedding day.
Think ahead for safe gluten-free food to have on hand before heading to the venue, and while getting ready. For breakfast, prep a tray with gluten-free muffins, almond flour scones, fruit, and nuts. Getting ready later in the day? Put out a charcuterie board, topped with cheese, meat, veggies, fruit, and gluten-free crackers
Rehearsal Dinners, Bridal Showers, Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties
Weddings come with a seemingly endless stream of events that involve food: an engagement party, bridal shower, bachelor and bachelorette parties, a lunch break while wedding dress shopping, and the rehearsal dinner.
For your engagement party, rehearsal dinner, and any impromptu lunches while wedding planning, go with a dedicated or well-vetted restaurant.
Consider certified gluten-free pizzas from California Pizza Kitchen, enjoyed in-restaurant or carry out to a beautiful, outdoor setting.
Similarly, for bachelor and bachelorette parties, stick to well-vetted restaurants. Better yet, head to the city! From Portland to New York City, most metropolitan areas have a larger variety of gluten-free options.
Bridal showers and engagement parties easily lend themselves to in-home events, which can feature a variety of gluten-free appetizers and miniature desserts.
Wishing you a beautiful wedding and a lifetime of love!