Dining out with family and friends is such a central part of living a happy, healthy, gluten-free life that you should not let the challenges it presents stop you from enjoying a meal outside your home. You can eat out, just be cautious.
If possible, go to restaurants that have a gluten-free menu. The most trust-worthy of these have certification or training though one of the celiac disease support groups. When that’s the case, you know the restaurant is knowledgeable about gluten-free dining and has made an effort to create options that use gluten-free ingredients prepared in a way that prevents cross-contamination. A number of national chain restaurants and local individual restaurants have this kind of certification. You can find lists by going to:
Gluten Free Certification Organization—Search by cuisine under Find a Restaurant
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness—Search by state
Celiac Sprue Association—Search by scanning a list of participants. Restaurants and food companies are listed together by the year in which they received CSA recognition.
But not all restaurants with gluten-free menus have certification. Some restaurants are more attentive to the details of preparing a safe gluten-free meal than others, so you have to ask a lot of questions as you order. Even more important if something seems suspicious when your food arrives, don’t hesitate to ask questions until you are sure your order has been prepared and delivered properly.
Always tell your server you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance and need to avoid anything with wheat, barley or rye and most oats, including flour, breading, soy sauce or teriyaki sauce, and seasoning that might contain flour. If you are ordering a salad or other topped item note that you cannot have croutons or any topping made with bread or breading. Also ask about preparation, because this can cross-contaminate foods that would otherwise be gluten free. Are French fries made in a dedicated fryer? Are gluten-free items prepared in a separate, dedicated area using dedicated pots, pans and utensils or are these cleaned thoroughly between uses? Is the grill cleaned before gluten-free foods are made?
If possible, it’s helpful to know the answer to these questions before you are sitting at the restaurant with menu in hand. Call ahead whenever you can.
In restaurants where you are unsure about the validity of the gluten-free menu and those that don’t have one and can’t answer your questions satisfactorily, order the items on the menu that are unlikely to be cross-contaminated. A plain baked potato is a better choice than fried potatoes for example. Ask that the grill or pan be cleaned before your plain meat, seafood or poultry is prepared. Plain vegetables and fruit are also good choices.
Smart phone apps can be very helpful in locating a restaurant that can meet you gluten-free needs and you can find restaurant cards that details gluten-free requirements. Go to the following websites for more information:
Allergy eats—Also provides online information about gluten- and allergen-free restaurants searchable by location.
Gluten Free Travel site—Also provides online information searchable by country, state and zip code.
Find Me Gluten Free—Also provides online information searchable by address. You can specifically include chain restaurants and/or exclude those that do not have specific gluten-free menus.
Gluten Free Passport—Also provides online information searchable by food categories, including fast food, chains, ethnic cuisines and gluten-free menus.
Someone else’s home
Dining at a friend’s or relative’s home can be easier or harder than a restaurant depending on the menu and the host. Some friends and relatives will be very conscious of your diet needs and work with you to make sure there is something you can eat. Others are less aware, and some can be defensive or hostile.
Once you gauge where things stand on this scale, you can decide how to prepare to make sure you and your host both enjoy the food and the company. No matter what, always call ahead to see if there is something you can bring. In fact, it is a good idea to always bring something just to be sure you’ll have at least one gluten-free choice. Even well-intentioned hosts can accidentally make a mistake. If your host is interested in preparing a gluten-free item, suggest something simple that does not require a lot of specialty items. Many potato and rice dishes fall into this category, as do some ethnic recipes.
If you do bring something to dinner, a picnic or party, it’s a good idea to provide a disposable serving spoon. Let others know the item is gluten free and that the spoon should not be shared with other dishes. This can be a little tricky because once other guests know the food is gluten free, they may have preconceived notions about the taste and avoid it, but you’re better off being safe. If you bring something like cupcakes or another food that comes in an individual serving size, you don’t have this worry and it can be interesting to see if people enjoy the food if they don’t know it’s gluten free.
When you are going to eat at the home of someone whom you don’t know well, you can eat beforehand just in case nothing is gluten free. Then enjoy samples of anything you find that just happens to fit the diet. And for times when you end up eating at someone’s home unexpectedly, it’s always a good idea to have some filling back-up snacks in your purse, car or bag to tide you over if everything served includes gluten. When the food is served, gravitate towards dishes that look like they might be gluten free and ask the host about ingredients and preparation. It’s highly unlikely that a pasta salad will be gluten free, but the potato salad or coleslaw has a much better chance. If a food meets the gluten-free test, enjoy. If not, you’ll have your back up.
“If in doubt, leave it out” should be your philosophy in any away-from home dining situation.