Eating Out Gluten Free

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Eating Out: Uninformed Employees, Planning Ahead, Peer Judgment, and Accidental Gluten-ing

You would think in this age of gluten-free diners all over the place that restaurants would train their employees on how to properly deal with food allergies. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

I have encountered countless employees who have no clue which dishes are safe for consumption. Some might even be hearing the word “gluten” for the first time. I’ve even asked some workers to check with the chef and they look at me like I am asking them to kill a puppy. For these reasons and many others, eating out at restaurants can be quite burdensome for the gluten-free eater.

As we learned in Section 3, cross contamination is a major problem for gluten free people when dining out. Some celiacs will not even eat in restaurants because of the risk of cross contamination and lack of control of the food. I know most restaurants have good intentions when they offer a gluten free menu, because so many people ask for one when they come in to dine. But, are the restaurants really doing everything they can to educate their employees and set up dedicated gluten free equipment and cooking areas in their kitchen? The vast majority do not. Can you see why eating out can be so tough when you are gluten free?

Luckily, I have learned many tips for eating out just from experience and talking to other gluten free people. I want you to be able to go out to eat every once in awhile and actually enjoy yourself — while still keeping that peace of mind you have when eating at home. Life would get a little boring if you had to eat every meal in your house, wouldn’t it?

Plan Ahead

If you know which restaurant you are going to ahead of time, the easiest and safest way to make sure you get a gluten free meal is to call them in advance and ask the questions you need to ask. Don’t just speak to the person answering the phone, either. I lost count of the number of times I would try to ask the 19 year old kid on the phone questions about gluten and hear crickets on the other end. While they might be trying their hardest to help you out, the chef and manager are the people who really have your interests at heart and will gladly take the time to answer your questions. Some questions that you should be asking them:

  • Do you offer a gluten free menu?
  • Is there a dedicated cooking area for gluten free food?
  • Is it possible for the chef to make (menu item) gluten free?
  • Will the chef use clean gloves and utensils to prepare my gluten free meal?

As long as you are talking to the manager or chef (or another higher-up), the answers you receive should be reliable and high-quality. It also helps to dine out during off-peak hours. You are much more likely to get extra attention when the restaurant is 1/3 full than on a Saturday night with a packed house. When the manager and chef aren’t rushed, you can ask them as many questions as you need in order to achieve peace of mind about your food.

This won’t always be the case, but restaurants that offer fresh, local ingredients are usually incredibly accomodating for diners with food allergies. The chefs really do want to please their customers, so if you request a gluten free meal in advance, the good ones will run through a brick wall to take care of you.

Bringing Your Own Gluten Free Food

I have only done this once or twice, but bringing your own gluten free food with you to the restaurant is another option. One time I went out to eat at an Italian restaurant and I looked over the menu beforehand — there wasn’t a single gluten free item on it! I called the chef before and let him know my situation and informed him I could bring my own quinoa pasta for him to make as long as he cooked it separately from the other pasta. He was very understanding and I was able to eat a delicious meal while socializing with a glass of wine (or two).

Traveling gluten free soon and feeling a bit anxious? Head on over to Section 9, where I help you prepare for your trip and find gluten free-friendly restaurants.

Family, Friends, and Colleagues: The Questions

You will undoubtedly be bombarded by questions from the people you eat with the first time you ask for a gluten free menu or check if a specific item contains gluten. Most of them are not mean-spirited — they are really just curious and want to learn more.

Questions and comments you might hear, and some good responses to offer:

-Gluten free, huh? When did you start doing that?
-(Simply tell them when you started. Be prepared for a barrage of follow-up questions.)

-You are on a gluten free diet? How come?
-(Tell them the honest reasons you are on the diet. It is natural for people to be curious about something different to them.)

-Ugh, you are going with that fad diet, too! You are such a Miley Cyrus wanna-be!
-Gluten free is NOT a fad diet. I have to eat this way or I will get extremely sick. Yes, there are people who are on a gluten free diet because they heard some celeb lost weight on it, but those people are in the minority and are just following along with the crowd.

-Is there anything you can eat on a gluten free diet? It seems like all the best foods have gluten!
-Yeah, actually you can eat all the same food as before, you just have to make a gluten free version of it! The gluten free versions are often just as good as the normal versions.

-You can still eat just a little bit of gluten, right? Just one bite can’t hurt!
-No, I cannot eat even one bite. Even trace amounts of gluten can make me sick. Would you take a bite of pizza if it made you sick for days afterwards?! That’s what I thought.

Yes, you may not want to hear these questions and comments, but NEVER EVER cheat on your gluten free diet just so you can fit in with the crowd. Trust me, no one thinks you are some alien outsider because you are asking about gluten free food. Ask the restaurant employees the questions that need to be asked to ensure you are getting a gluten free meal, and move on!

School and Peer Judgment

This is something that older folks won’t have to deal with as much as the youngin’s, but peer judgment and constant questioning can really become a burden when eating gluten-free in social settings. I was 24 years old when I first became gluten-free as I mentioned earlier, so I had already finished all schooling in my life. I didn’t have to deal with being gluten-free in the dorms at college or in the cafeteria during high school. However, I am still in my 20’s and can easily relate to many of the challenges these young kids face on a daily basis with regards to eating gluten-free.

For people in grade school, high school, or college, I can understand how difficult it would be to be gluten-free. Meal plans at the cafeteria would just not work, due to cross-contamination, not to mention the majority of the dishes contain gluten. The only reasonable choice someone in school has is to bring their own lunch every day so that they are 100% sure that it is safe for them to eat.

College

If you are in college and reside in a dormitory on campus, things get even more difficult since there are no parents around to cook meals in a safe gluten-free environment. The best advice I can give is to ALWAYS be prepared. The most likely you will ever be to eat gluten is when you are hungry, so keeping gluten-free snacks on hand at all times is the smartest thing you can do.

The mini fridge is going to be your best friend while living in a dorm. The fridge is where you can keep all the little things you are going to be eating; for example, when I was in school I would keep some deli turkey, bread, broccoli and ranch dressing, blueberries, and a frozen pizza or two. There are many brands of gluten-free frozen pizza out there today, some good, some not-so-good. Keeping some gluten-free frozen pizza in your room is a great way to curb the late night snack cravings without giving in to gluten. Since you probably won’t have access to an oven, make sure you get a brand that is microwaveable.

I know college is a time of making new friends and discovering oneself. You might be a little nervous about fitting in. But, never be afraid to ask questions when you are in the cafeteria or out to eat. I know it might make you feel like an outsider or different, but honestly, your friends will understand and they aren’t going to stop hanging out with you just because you asked if the chicken breast on the menu is gluten-free! Asking questions when eating out is a must, no other way around it. If the waiter/waitress isn’t sure about a dish, kindly ask them to check with the chef.

And for the love of God, don’t just eat gluten-filled food to fit in with your friends. Your health is way more important than anything else!

Accidentally Being “Gluten-ed”

No matter how much planning you do, how many questions you ask, and how safe you are when it comes to making sure your food is gluten free, the chances are still very high that you will accidentally eat something with gluten in it at some point. Everyone will react differently when getting “gluten-ed”.

Some tips I have heard people give when suffering:

  • Activated Charcoal
  • Benadryl
  • Peppermint tea
  • Ginger ale
  • All-natural orange juice and apple juice
  • Probiotics
  • Heat packs
  •  …and of course, lots and lots of water

These things can definitely help to some extent (or at least trick your mind into believing they help), but time is the only thing that is really going to get us past this painful period. I know it may seem like an eternity of suffering, but just being patient and waiting it out is all we can really do. Oh, and making sure we don’t make the same mistake in the future!

Move to Section 9: Traveling Gluten Free