It's picnic and party season. If you're new to being gluten free, this might seem a little intimidating...
Hopefully the people you are celebrating with are friends and family who understand the situation you are in, and want to be helpful with your situation. If you know food and your new eating habits will really be an issue, eat first and go late. Preferably after the main meal has been served. And remember, if you know it will just be really unpleasant, you can always say "no thanks". Don't set yourself up to fail by surrounding yourself with negative people. Failing here could make you sick. Really sick.
So let's start by saying right now that you don't need to feel intimidated. Or confused. Or anything else but confident. You can do this, and you'll make it through just fine!
Picnic and party season is the same as dining gluten free for Christmas, or Easter, or Super Bowl Sunday. If you are not hosting the shindig, get the ball rolling with the host. A polite phone call to discuss eating arrangements is your first priority. Talk about the threat of cross-contamination, and offer to help with whatever you can reasonably do. Bring your own hamburger and hot dog buns (Udi's brand are phenomenal!). If the grillmaster at your event toasts the buns on the grill, ask that yours be toasted first, and in an area where no sausages were cooked (sausages often have fillings that may contain gluten ingredients). When the burgers are being piled onto a serving platter, try to get your burger onto your own plate separately, or at least snag one that's far away from sausages and hot dogs.
And as for the sides - try to stick with foods that would be "generally regarded as safe". Like coleslaw, or a gelatin-based salad. Fruit plates and vegie trays are going to be your best friend! Remember, if you bring a side to pass, be sure that everyone understands whatever system you and your host come up with to keep it from being cross-contaminated.
Try to be as polite and diplomatic as possible when passing up someone's famous dish that took them hours to make. Say lots of nice things about how delicious it looks. Ask for the recipe, and tell them that it looks so good, you'd like to try to make it at home gluten free. Usually the compliment of asking for the recipe will help soothe any hurt feelings.
Oh, and of course, if it's a birthday or graduation party or bridal or baby shower - SKIP THE CAKE!!!
Let me give you a real-life example of the RIGHT way to go about this:
For a birthday party we were attending, the hostess was making root beer pulled pork in her crock pot. I know this because I called as soon as the invitation arrived. Our contribution to the party was the root beer and the barbecue sauce. We also brought potato chips and our own buns for our sandwiches. The other party-goers were genuinely interested in the how's and why's of living gluten free. Not one person noticed a difference in the quality of the pulled pork, and some said it was better than ever. When it was time for ice cream and cake, we skipped the cake and had just plain ice cream. None of us felt deprived or left out. Everyone had a really great time.
Try to keep the focus on the purpose of the gathering, whether it's the celebration of a special event, or just the fellowship of friends and family. Find ways to make eating safely work for you, and have a great time!