So much has been written, blogged, and vlogged about how to dine out gluten-free, and yet it all comes down to very simple steps: understand the diet, research your restaurants, ask questions, be prepared to not order your first choice, and always bring a back-up snack.
1) Understand the gluten-free diet. To dine out safely, you must know what grains to avoid, the hidden sources of gluten and how to avoid cross-contact with gluten.
2) Choose a restaurant that has gluten-free options. This means selecting a dining establishment that either serves naturally gluten-free items, such as meat, chicken or fish that is not breaded nor served with a floured sauce, has a gluten-free menu, or serves items that can easily be made without gluten like a hamburger without the bun or salad without croutons.
Look for the menu online and call the restaurant, during its non-busy hours, to discuss your menu choices. Questions to ask include:
- Do you have a gluten-free menu?
- What items can be made gluten-free?
- Do you know what gluten is? If yes, what is it?
- Has your restaurant or staff completed a gluten-free training program?
3) Inform the wait staff. Let them know you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity and ask if they understand what that means. If they don’t, tell them that you cannot eat anything that has flour, bread crumbs or soy sauce or you will become very ill. If your server does not understand, ask to speak to the restaurant manager or the chef.
4) Ask questions politely, but ask! It is best to choose simple dishes without a coating or sauce, or ones that can be made without a sauce. Always ask your wait staff to let the chef know that you cannot eat gluten because you will become ill. Don’t assume that anything is gluten-free. Egg omelets may contain pancake batter to make them fluffier. Baked potatoes may be coated with flour to make the skins crispier. Green tea may have barley in it.
The Dining Dozen:
- Are there croutons, wontons or crispy noodles on the salad?
- Does the salad dressing contain wheat or flour?
- Does the soup contain flour or barley?
- Has the food been marinated in any sauce? Does the sauce have flour, soy or teriyaki sauce?
- Has the food been dusted with flour before being sauteed or fried?
- Is the oil used for the French fries also used to make the other breaded products? Are the French fries coated with flour?
- Are artificial bacon bits or other meat substitutes used on potato skins and salads?
- Are your mashed potatoes from a mix, or from real potatoes?
- Do you use imitation crabmeat or seafood?
- Does bread come with my dish?
- Is my dish garnished with fried onions?
- Will the ice cream come with a cookie?
- Do you clean or is there a separate prep space for gluten-free food?
- Do you use clean or separate coookware and utensils for gluten-free food?
- Do you clean the grill before preparing gluten-free food ?
- Is there a dedicated fryer or do you change the oil for gluten-free food?
5) Be prepared to eat something that isn’t your first choice. Sometimes, no matter how prepared and informed you are, there is not a satisfying gluten-free choice. There are two strategies to address this. The first is to “pre-eat” prior to dining out so that your hunger is under control and you are less tempted to make unsafe menu choices. The second is to bring gluten-free foods with you such as bread, crackers or even pasta, which you can ask the chef to cook in a clean pot.
Janelle Smith, MS, RD,specializes in gastrointestinal symptom management through appropriate nutrition and food choices, helping you adapt to living on a gluten-free diet.