One of the hottest dietary trends these days today is going gluten-free, and the avoidance of the protein found in wheat, rye and barley doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Though Celiac disease, a genetic allergy to gluten, affects only about 1% of the U.S. population, the gluten-free movement continues to pick up steam. Gluten-free dishes like pizza, sandwiches, pasta and cookies are popping up on restaurant menus all over the country.
In spite of the increasingly high profile of the gluten-free movement, dining out can be a challenge for those who are new to being gluten-free. We’re here with an important message: you don’t have to sacrifice dining out for this new diet! We’ve compiled some helpful hints and best practices to help gluten-free foodies get the most from their dining experience.
1. Become Educated
Not 100% sure which grains to avoid? Make a cheat sheet and keep it on your phone. Make sure to research areas on the menu to avoid, ingredients to steer clear of, and dishes that often include hidden gluten ingredients where cross-contamination is possible.
Dining tip: Having a gluten-free dining card can be handy if your server is unsure of what dishes to recommend or alternatives that could be safe to eat.
2. Going Out with Friends? Offer to Choose the Restaurant!
Going out while on a gluten-free plan can be a chance to introduce your friends to tasty new restaurants. Offer to choose the place and keep a list handy of your favorite gluten-free friendly restaurants. You’ll avoid walking into a gluten-filled nightmare and introduce your friends to a great new restaurant. If your friends want to pick a place to dine, don’t worry! Just take some time to plan ahead. Menus for most restaurants are readily available online, so you can scan your options before you go. If you are unsure if a dish is gluten-free, give the restaurant a call in advance and let them know of your dining needs!
Dining tip: Not many gluten-free restaurants in your area? Create your own directory on your phone with restaurants that offer gluten-free options or will create non-menu alternatives to suit your needs. Keep the non-menu offerings written down for quick reference next time you dine there. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need and want – most restaurants will be happy to accommodate.
3. Become Besties with Your Server
Get to know your server and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Tell your server about your dietary needs right away and ask if they offer any gluten-free alternatives that might not be on the menu. Don’t forget to ask how the food is prepared, as cross contamination can easily occur. If your server is unsure of what you are requesting, politely ask to talk with the manager or chef to clearly explain what you need. If you are not comfortable doing this in person, call ahead and make sure they are ready to accommodate your dining needs.
Here are some questions you might want to ask:
- Do you have a gluten-free menu?
- I have a gluten allergy. Do you know what gluten is?
- May I speak to the chef?
- Could you show me the ingredients in the dressing or sauce?
- Do bread or croutons come with that?
- How do you avoid cross-contamination from wheat products in the kitchen?
- Could you check my order with the chef or kitchen manager to make sure that I ordered a gluten-free meal?
4. Ask the Chef for a Custom Dish. If you find yourself in a restaurant with limited or no gluten-free options, look at the menu and find a great protein or vegetable option and ask your server if the chef can whip up a custom dish using clean utensils and a non-contaminated cooking space. Most restaurants will be happy to oblige, particularly when dealing with a food allergy.
5. Make a Gluten-Free “Go-To” List
On the road, or out to eat on a whim? Not to worry! Look for these tasty gluten-free dishes:
- Fresh fruits and veggies
- Grilled meat or fish
- Cream of rice cereal with fresh fruit or nuts
- Cottage cheese or yogurt
- Scrambled eggs, bacon, or a cheesy veggie omelet
- Stir-fried meat and veggies
- Tacos, fajitas or burritos made with corn tortillas
- Most sushi (but watch out for tempura and soy sauce)
- Thai, Indian and Japanese food offer many naturally gluten-free options
- Salads (but beware croutons and dressings)
Dining out should be an enjoyable process for everyone, even when you’re trying a restricted diet. To make the most of your dining experiences, educate yourself about food preparation and terminology so you can effectively communicate to your server and chef, and never be afraid to ask questions!