What to serve someone who is gluten and dairy-free?

Cooking for someone with dietary restrictions like gluten and dairy allergies or intolerances can seem daunting at first. However, with some simple ingredient swaps and recipe adjustments, you can easily prepare delicious meals that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.

The first question that often comes up when cooking for someone who is gluten and dairy-free is: what on earth can I serve them? It may feel like all the easy, go-to recipes are off the table. But have no fear! There are still plenty of flavorful, comforting options to choose from.

What is Gluten and Why Does it Need to be Avoided?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can trigger a number of unpleasant symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and fatigue. The only treatment for gluten intolerance or sensitivity is strict avoidance of gluten.

Some ingredients that typically contain gluten include:

  • Breads, cereals, baked goods
  • Beer and malt beverages
  • Pastas
  • Wheat-based flours
  • Soy sauce and teriyaki sauce
  • Breaded or fried foods

Thankfully, there are many readily available gluten-free alternatives to these ingredients, from gluten-free flours and pastas to beers and soy sauces. Choosing gluten-free packaged foods and reading labels carefully makes sticking to a gluten-free diet much easier.

Why Dairy Needs to be Avoided

Like gluten, dairy is another common food sensitivity or allergy. Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products. This is caused by a lack of lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest lactose. Consuming dairy can cause gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea in lactose intolerant individuals.

Milk allergies are different than lactose intolerance. A dairy allergy triggers an immune response, causing hives, vomiting, and other immediate allergic reactions. Those with milk allergies need to avoid all milk proteins, like casein, not just lactose.

Some dairy products and ingredients to avoid include:

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Cream
  • Butter
  • Yogurt
  • Ice cream
  • Whey protein
  • Casein

Substituting dairy milk with non-dairy milks like almond, coconut, soy, or oat milk is an easy swap when cooking and baking for dairy-free friends. There are also many non-dairy cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams made from nuts, soy, coconut, etc. that mimic the taste and texture of dairy quite well.

Appetizers and Snacks

Starting off your gluten and dairy-free meal with some appetizers is a great way to take the focus off what can’t be eaten and kickstart the fun. Here are some delicious options:

Vegetable crudités – Fresh veggie slices and gluten-free dips like guacamole, salsa, hummus, or baba ganoush are simple but satisfying options.

Stuffed mushrooms – Stuff mushroom caps with dairy-free cheeses, seasoned breadcrumbs, veggies, or meat for a flavorful bite.

Shrimp cocktail – Large peeled shrimp served with lemon and gluten-free cocktail sauce.

Bruschetta – Dice fresh tomatoes, basil, and onion and serve atop slices of gluten-free bread or crackers.

Caprese skewers – Thread mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil onto skewers for an easy appetizer.

Tzatziki with veggie slices or gluten-free pita chips – A tangy yogurt-based Greek dip. Swap regular yogurt for dairy-free.

Nuts, seeds, olives – An easy gluten and dairy-free snack platter.

Having some appetizers on hand can take the pressure off preparing a perfect entree. Get creative with fresh veggies, nuts, seeds, greens, and naturally gluten and dairy-free ingredients.

Main Dishes

For the main event, there are plenty of crowd-pleasing classics that can easily be made gluten and dairy-free:

Burgers – Beef, turkey, or black bean burgers served on gluten-free buns with all the fixings are an easy dinner. Load up with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, and gluten-free condiments like ketchup or mustard.

Fajitas – Sizzling chicken, steak, shrimp, or veggies wrapped in corn or gluten-free flour tortillas. Skip the cheese and sour cream and load on the guacamole, salsa, and sautéed peppers and onions.

Stir fries – High heat and gluten-free sauces like tamari give you lots of flavor fast. Try beef and broccoli, sweet and sour chicken, or shrimp and veggies over rice noodles or cauliflower rice.

Soups and chilis – Simmer up a batch of chicken noodle soup with gluten-free pasta or a hearty veggie chili. Top your chili with Fritos corn chips and avocado.

Kabobs and skewers – Alternate chunks of chicken, steak, shrimp, pork, or plant-based meat onto wooden skewers with veggies like onions, bell peppers, zucchini, and pineapple.

Salads – Toss up a protein-packed main dish salad without croutons or cheese. Chicken, salmon, steak, eggs, beans, and nuts give you staying power.

Cauliflower crust pizza – Load up a creamy, tender cauliflower crust with tomato sauce and gluten-free pepperoni for homemade pizza night.

Baked fish – Salmon, tilapia, cod and more are delicious simply seasoned and baked until flaky. Serve alongside roasted potatoes and veggies.

Pasta and “rice” dishes – Swap regular pasta for zucchini noodles, brown rice noodles, or chickpea pasta and finish gluten-free pasta dishes with olive oil instead of cheese.Spanish rice, curries, and stir fries are also flavorful over cauliflower rice.

Roasts and bakes – Chicken, pork, or beef roasts make comforting entrées, as do baked chicken thighs and drumsticks. Season and roast your protein of choice alongside potatoes and other root veggies.

Frittata or Quiche – Eggs shine in these easy gluten and dairy-free baked egg dishes. Simply substitute milk and cheese with non-dairy alternatives.

Tacos – Ground beef, chicken, pork carnitas, or pan-fried fish are right at home tucked into corn tortillas and topped with sides like salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, and rice and beans.

The possibilities are endless for reinventing classic comfort foods so they’re safe and satisfying for gluten and dairy-free diners. Common ingredient swaps like non-dairy milk and cheese, alternative flours and pasta, and naturally gluten-free grains and proteins make it easy.

Side Dishes

Every great entrée needs an equally delicious sidekick. Playing up fresh veggies, whole grains, beans and legumes makes it easy to keep sides gluten and dairy-free. Some enticing options include:

– Roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes

– Rice or quinoa

– Beans like black, pinto, chickpeas, etc.

– Sautéed veggies like broccoli, green beans, asparagus, etc.

– Salad greens with oil and vinegar dressing

– Corn on the cob

– Mashed cauliflower or potatoes

– Roasted beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts

– Baked beans or succotash

– Polenta

– Cornbread

– Gluten-free rolls or biscuits

When serving starchy sides, be mindful of using oil instead of butter for sautéing and mashing. Get creative mixing up herbs, spices, garlic, citrus, nuts, seeds and other gluten and dairy-free ingredients to take veggie sides to the next level.


Just because dinner is gluten and dairy-free doesn’t mean dessert has to be boring. There are so many naturally gluten-free dessert options to choose from, including:

Fruit crisps – Bake up apples, pears, peaches, or berries topped with a streusel oat topping. Drizzle with caramel sauce for extra decadence.

Puddings – Creamy chocolate chia seed, coconut, or tapioca puddings made with non-dairy milk hit the spot.

Cookies – Bake up a batch of gluten-free chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, or sugar cookies.

Brownies – Fudgy brownies made with gluten-free flour and oil instead of butter can be dairy-free too.

Ice cream – Non-dairy coconut milk, almond milk, or cashew milk ice creams give you a cool, creamy treat. Top with fruit or gluten-free crumbled cookies.

Cakes and pies – From decadent chocolate tortes to fresh fruit galettes, there are endless gluten and dairy-free options when a birthday, holiday, or special occasion calls for cake.

Fruit and fruit salads – Fresh fruit is a perfect light dessert. Dress up melon, berries, and tropical fruits with a squeeze of citrus juice.

Gluten-free flours, non-dairy milks, and creative substitutions make nearly any dessert possible for those avoiding gluten and dairy.


Wash down the meal with gluten and dairy-free beverage options like:

– Water infused with fruits and herbs

– Fresh juice or smoothies

– Iced tea or coffee drinks

– Hot coffee or tea

– Sparkling water or gluten-free soda

– Coconut water

– Non-dairy milk like almond, coconut, cashew

– Wine, gluten-free beer, ciders

Sticking to unprocessed beverages like water, natural juices, teas and coffee makes it easy to avoid hidden gluten or dairy. Offering specialty drinks like smoothies and fun mocktails and cocktails shows your guests you’ve gone the extra mile to make sure they have something delicious to drink.

Key Tips for Gluten and Dairy-Free Cooking and Baking

When cooking for gluten and dairy-free friends and family, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

Read all product labels carefully – Scan ingredients lists for wheat/gluten sources and milk products/casein and know names for hidden sources like maltodextrin. When in doubt, leave it out.

Stock up on staples – Having gluten-free flours, pastas, non-dairy milk and cheese, oils, vinegars, proteins, etc. on hand makes throwing together a meal easy.

Flavor is your friend – Herbs, spices, garlic, citrus, etc. help make dishes packed with flavor so you won’t miss the gluten and dairy.

Communicate – Ask guests questions to learn specifics about their dietary needs and what they can and can’t eat.

Avoid cross-contamination – Use separate utensils, cookware, etc. for gluten-free dishes to prevent contact with gluten sources.

Embrace substitutions – Creative swaps make nearly any recipe gluten and dairy-free. Play around and find the subs you like best.

While initially challenging, cooking for gluten and dairy-free guests gets easier with practice. Focusing on fresh ingredients, flavor, and thoughtful accommodations ensures everyone can enjoy the meal and feel included. With an arsenal of modified recipes and substitute ingredients, you’ll soon be an expert at putting together delicious allergy-friendly feasts.

Sample Gluten and Dairy-Free Weekly Meal Plan

To make life easier, plan out a week’s worth of meals so you’ve got gluten and dairy-free breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks ready to go. Here’s an example:


– Gluten-free oatmeal with sliced fruit and nuts
– Egg sandwich on gluten-free bread
– Berry smoothie with spinach, non-dairy milk and nut butter
– Avocado toast on gluten-free bread
– Veggie scramble with peppers, onions, etc. and gluten-free toast


– Leftover stir-fry with cauliflower rice
– Salad greens with chickpeas, veggies, oil and vinegar dressing
– Vegetarian chili, Fritos, sliced avocado
– gluten-free wrap with hummus, roasted veggies, greens
– Hearty vegetable and bean soup and gluten-free crackers


– Fajitas with chicken, sautéed peppers and onions, guacamole, salsa
– Burgers on gluten-free buns with baked sweet potato fries
– Shrimp and veggie kabobs over quinoa
– Lentil shepherd’s pie
– Chicken fried rice with mixed veggies and cauliflower rice


– Apples and nut butter
– Carrots and hummus
– Gluten-free cereal and non-dairy milk
– Trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried fruit
– Protein smoothie
– Popcorn
– Roasted chickpeas
– Rice cakes with nut butter

Get creative mixing and matching breakfast, snacks, mains and sides while leaning on simple go-to staples like eggs, salads, roasted veggies, soups and fresh fruits. With an arsenal of gluten and dairy-free recipes to choose from, it’s easy to keep your menus full of variety and flavor.


Cooking for gluten and dairy-free guests may seem difficult, but with some easy ingredient swaps and recipe adjustments it can quickly become second nature. Focus on naturally gluten and dairy-free foods like produce, lean proteins, legumes and alternative flours and non-dairy products. Rely on herbs, spices and bold flavors in your cooking while reading labels carefully to avoid hidden allergens. With planning and practice, you’ll soon be whipping up plant-based feasts that everyone at the table can savor, restrictions or not. The reward of sharing food and connecting over delicious fare is well worth the extra effort.

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