Staying Gluten Free at Center Parcs

gluten-free-menusIn 2014, James Haywood, the Group Executive Chef at Center Parcs, decided to live as a coeliac for four weeks, to find out what it was like.

Going gluten free for a month clearly helped him understand some of the issues that coeliacs face, and he came up with the following principles for Center Parcs:

  • offer a specific gluten free menu
  • offer delicious food that everyone can enjoy
  • offer gluten free beer
  • work to make those small tweaks in the kitchen that make a big difference to coeliacs.

I was invited by Center Parcs to a gluten–free tasting at their Woburn Forest village, and although I didn’t try any gluten free beer, I can confirm that the other three principles have been adopted.

We tasted food that had been developed for some of the Center Parcs’ own restaurants (Huck’s American Bar and Grill, The Pancake House and Sports Café), and saw dedicated gluten free menus for all three restaurants (Hucks has dedicated gluten free menus for both adults and children, which I thought was a great touch) – and the food was excellent.

Visiting Center Parcs

Now I’ve never been to Center Parcs before, so didn’t really know what to expect (it’s big!), and managed to get lost on arrival, ending up in the hotel rather than the conference venue. However, I was rescued by Alan, who saw that I was lost, asked if I needed help, and took me to where I was meant to go – chatting to me on the way about Center Parcs and how much he enjoyed working there. Thanks, Alan: great customer service, and a good way to be introduced to the ethos of Center Parcs.

I arrived in the middle of a conversation about the release that day of some rescue hedgehogs into the woods in Centre Parcs, about the work that goes into maintaining the woodlands in which the village sits, and about the wildlife that is supported by that woodland. My kind of place…

Eating gluten free

gluten-free-macaroni-cheeseBut you really want to know about the food, don’t you?

We were offered 17-18 different dishes to taste; the extra one was some gluten free fish fingers that were prepared specifically for the children among us, and these went down really well.

And how very sensible of Center Parcs to include some children among their tasting panel, since Center Parcs is primarily a family destination (though they do offer conferencing facilities, and quite a few couples choose to holiday there too).

17 separate dishes… Happily, the adult dishes were miniature portions! I didn’t try everything, because I don’t eat meat, but I can tell you that I particularly enjoyed:

  • Macaroni cheese (gluten free macaroni, with gluten free breadcrumb topping). This was, perhaps the favourite savoury dish of the day; James (the chef) came out to talk to us afterwards – apparently the key is to follow the pasta manufacturers instructions exactly and to add stilton and parmesan to bring out the cheese flavour
  • Hot cheese, baby artichoke and spinach dipping pot (with gluten free nachos).
  • Gluten free fish and chips (batter made with Daura Damm gluten free beer and Doves Farm self-raising flour); the batter was light and crispy, and very tasty. Coeliac daughter just loves gf fish and chips, and will choose this for preference if it is available anywhere we go
  • Grilled Cajun swordfish salad with roasted garlic and lemon dressing; this is one of those dishes that is naturally gluten free (though do check the spices), but it was good!
  • Prawn fajita shells; an unusual dish to find gluten free, and it worked well
  • Flourless chocolate torte with raspberry compote; everyone thought this was outstandingly good

gluten-free-cakeA couple of the dishes didn’t work so well, because they’d been made in miniature which had caused some problems – for example, the tiny pancakes weren’t as good as I’d hoped – but I was assured by a couple of the other visitors that they’d tried the gluten free pancakes at full size, and that they were good.

And the meat-eaters told us that the BBQ wings and the mustard-brushed pork loin with hasselback potatoes and sour cream were particularly good.

Cooking gluten free

After we’d eaten, I wandered down to the supermarket, to see how a coeliac would manage if they’d forgotten to take some basics with them. I know, not likely, but just in case…

There’s a reasonable range of specialist gluten free groceries: pasta, bread (but only Livwell), cakes, biscuits, rice cakes, breakfast cereals and some Amy’s tinned foods – but I didn’t see any gluten free flour or baking powder. And I forgot to check for gluten free beer (sorry!).

With those basics available, I’m sure that you’d be able to prepare meals for coeliacs from scratch from the rest of the supermarket provisions if you didn’t want to eat out every night. And I imagine that, like us, if you have particular needs you’d take your favourite items with you.


There was a joke made on the day about the collective noun for bloggers – a chat of bloggers? An opinion of bloggers? It was certainly entertaining to see that the bloggers all leapt to their feet to take pictures of each new dish as it arrived – the non-bloggers just laughed at us…

Either way, it’s always interesting to get a group of gluten free bloggers together and it was good to see that we agreed on a great many things from the big (the issues faced by coeliacs) to the small (the best doughnuts? Borough22. The best wraps? BFree. And so on). I came away with new ideas, too!

I hope that Center Parcs found our comments and suggestions both welcome and useful. It must have been reassuring for them that their visitors agreed on so many things, and we suggested a variety of other menu items we’d like to see and brands that they could look at. I also think the gluten free menus (and the lactose free menu, and the vegan menu) should be available from the website, rather than just on request, so that people can check in advance. I think Center Parcs said that they would be… but they’re not there yet.

It was clear to me that Center Parcs had put a great deal of effort into adding gluten free items to their menus, and to thinking through how to make a Center Parcs break better (more manageable; safer; more delicious) for coeliacs. Good for them! If any of you have been gluten free at Center Parcs, do let me know how it went…

Update: I’ve just realised I last wrote about being gluten free at Center Parcs back in June 2007. Things have obviously changed a bit since then; but it was a successful trip back then too!

Cricket flour: high in protein and gluten free

cacao and cricket flour bar

How does eating crickets sound to you? You might be surprised to find out how good they are.

I went to the Food Matters Live conference in the autumn, and tried out the Crobar cricket flour brownies made by Gathr.

As a longtime demi-vegetarian (I eat fish but not meat), I was slightly concerned about eating insects. However, I’m aware that insects are said to be the food of the future (the way we’re going to feed billions of humans in years to come) and decided that in the interests of research I’d go for it—and, actually, the brownie just tasted like brownie. There was no way of telling that it was made from cricket flour.

I was particularly interested in the cricket flour because my reason for giving up eating meat some 35 years ago was to do with the inefficiency of feeding animals in order to eat their meat. Eating insects, as is done across the world—though rarely in western Europe or the US—is extremely efficient from this point of view: most of a cricket is digestible; there’s less food waste, less water usage and less air and water pollution than rearing cattle; and a lower risk of inter-species disease transmission.

To see what I mean about efficiency, take the figures from Gathr about what is needed to make 1lb of meat to feed humans:

  • crickets need 100lbs of feed, while the cow needs 1250lbs of feed
  • crickets need 4litres of water, while the cow needs 9000litres of water.

Crickets are also very good for you: high in good quality protein, iron, vitamin b and omega oils but low in fat. And protein intake is a big topic in our house at the moment, as the gym takes up ever more of our spare time…

The Crobar site describes the proportion of protein in 100 calories for each of crickets and cows (a slightly unusual way of displaying the numbers):

  • if you ate 100 calories of crickets, you’d have eaten 15g of protein and 4g of fat
  • if you ate 100 calories of beef, you’d have eaten 11g of protein, and 8g of fat.

Eating crickets begins to sound really sensible, doesn’t it? So if you’re looking for a healthy snack, the Crobar options seem to be a good idea.

The Crobars are gluten free, dairy free, grain free, soy free and GMO free. However, the FAQ on the Crobar site do warn that if you are allergic to shellfish/crustaceans, it is safer not to eat insects either.

Crobars come in two flavours: cacao or peanut. You can also buy cricket flour so you can do your own baking – that’s what the brownies were made of – and it is gluten free. Note, though, that the recipes on the Crobar website are not necessarily all gluten free (remember to check all the ingredients).

So what do you think? Tempted?

crobars - gluten free

Is it Coeliac Disease?

coeliac disease - boy feeling ill

1 person in every 100 has coeliac disease.

And most of those people don’t know that they have it. Symptoms can easily be misdiagnosed as something else, and on average it takes 13 years for someone to finally get a diagnosis of coeliac disease.

This year’s Coeliac UK Awareness Week (9-15 May) is focusing on raising awareness, improving diagnosis rates, and finding the estimated 500,000 people in the UK who are living with symptoms but aren’t yet diagnosed.

What are those symptoms? Typically, they are gut symptoms, but not exclusively. The most commonly reported symptoms are:

  • diarrhoea or constipation (yes, it could be either)
  • nausea: feeling sick and vomiting
  • stomach pain and cramps
  • bloating and gas
  • feeling tired all the time
  • ‘brain fog’
  • anaemia
  • weight loss (sometimes, but not always)
  • regular mouth ulcers
  • skin rash
  • and, in a very young child, failure to thrive.

It is important to know that:

  • not everybody shows all the symptoms, and some people don’t show any
  • if a member of your close family has coeliac disease, then your chances of having it are increased
  • and people with other autoimmune conditions such as diabetes and thyroid disease are also more likely to have coeliac disease – and should be tested.

Does that sound like you, or someone you know? Talk to your doctor, and have a look at Coeliac UK’s symptom checker.

Raising awareness of coeliac disease: Awareness Week 2016

To try to raise awareness, and get more people to find out whether they have coeliac disease, Coeliac UK are organising a range of different events, from mud runs to country walks, and social media thunderclaps to pop-up events. Some of these are happening during Awareness Week, such as the charity walks…

Interested in walking in some of the most beautiful countryside in England and Wales on 7/8 May? There are five walks of different lengths.

If you can put a team together, and raise some sponsorship money to go towards Coeliac UK for campaigns, support and research, the first 20 teams to raise £100 will generate a matching £100 from debbie&andrew’s. (This is part of debbie&andrew’s CSR programme: sponsoring grass-roots fundraisers for causes that promote rural values and countryside life. It works in this case because people are being sponsored to walk in the countryside, and debbie&andrew’s make gluten free sausages, available from all large supermarket chains here in the UK).

Find out more about Awareness Week 2016.

Surprise: it’s a box of gluten free doughnuts

gluten free doughnutsDo you miss doughnuts?

I’ve been meaning to post an update on the gluten free doughnuts from Borough22 that I mentioned a while ago. You may remember that I’d tasted these as part of judging for the Free From Foods Awards earlier this year, and been impressed by the cinnamon doughnuts.

I ordered a box of 6 (one each of sugared, cinnamon, vanilla glazed, raspberry & pistachio, raspberry, and nutella) as a surprise for Coeliac Daughter to try on a visit home back in February.

Unfortunately, there was a problem at the delivery depot, and they didn’t arrive as planned, but Ryan at Borough22 arranged for a delivery of doughnuts to her university address instead (excellent customer service) – so I didn’t get to see her enjoying the doughnuts, but I did get a steady stream of updates and photos via social media.

I had told her there was a parcel coming, but not what was in it…

Coeliac daughter said via social updates (over a period of time, and probably with a mouth full of doughnut!):

They’re so cool!
Sooo yummy!
Yummiest thing in a long time..
So good.

Her favourites were the cinnamon one and the sugared one, so another time we might order a mixed box of those, rather than of all 6 flavours – or maybe some mini doughnuts.

And 6 doughnuts is a lot for one person to get through. If they’d been delivered to home, of course, I’d have been able to help out! I’m not sure what the solution to this is—other than sharing with friends—as the postage costs would be excessive for a couple of doughnuts. But I was delighted that she enjoyed them so much.

These doughnuts are: gluten free, dairy free, egg free, soya free and vegan. You can order them online, or buy them in a few places in London (oh, those lucky Londoners).

And, if you are interested to read another view on these doughnuts (and one that made my eyes prickle), go and read the review at 7 Years to Diagnosis.

Update: Ryan tells me that the doughnuts freeze well, and defrost within an hour, so there’s no need for greedily eating all the doughnuts immediately. Good to know!

On Dairy: why choose goats milk?


I was recently sent some samples of a range of goats milk cheeses by Delamere Dairy, so I thought I should find out more about why people choose to use goats milk rather than cows milk.

It turns out that there are lots of reasons that people swap to goats milk products rather than cows milk products.

One of the members of my family used goats milk instead of cows milk for years because of asthma (yes we are the classic atopic family, with—between us—asthma, eczema, psoriasis, hayfever, and coeliac disease) but making the swap is also recommended for some people with eczema, catarrh, or with some digestive disorders.

For some people who are intolerant to cows milk, it appears that it is one of the proteins in cows milk – A1 casein – that is causing the problem, rather than lactose. Although there are some breeds of cow that don’t produce A1 casein—and A2 milk can be bought as a specialist product in most supermarkets here in the UK these days—most cows used in standard mass dairy production are A1 producers. (Note: both A1 milk and A2 milk contain lactose, so A2 milk is not an option if you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy).

Goats milk contains only A2 casein, which means that for some people, goats milk is much less inflammatory than cows milk – so if you’re trying to avoid the A1 casein, goats milk products are a good choice.

And although goats milk contains lactose, it seems some people with lactose intolerance can handle goats milk. It is thought that this may be because goats milk is more digestible – it has less casein, smaller fat globules, and very slightly less lactose, than cows milk.

And if that’s not enough, it turns out that goats milk is very high in potassium and calcium, as well as tryptophan – so it works very well to help people with sleeping problems…

And some of us just enjoy the taste.

So what about those samples?

I’ve always been a goats cheese fan so was expecting to enjoy these cheeses. But I didn’t know they offered so many varieties, so my first thought on opening the package was surprise. I particularly enjoyed the goats cheese and honey log (handily ready-sliced into portions, though I will confess to have eaten rather more than a portion…) and the Greek cheese (like a feta).

Unfortunately, though goats milk, goats milk butter and some goats cheese are generally available in supermarkets, it looks as though these two varieties are only available from Booths, Ocado and Wholefoods at the moment. Shame that there isn’t national coverage in supermarkets… but Ocado is particularly good for free from shopping, so perhaps I’ll just place an order sometime soon.

Find out more:
Lara Briden on A1 milk
Steve Carpers guide to dairy products
FoodsMatter on A2 milk