Eating out at restaurants while on a strict gluten free diet is a bit risky. If you’re particularly sensitive or still struggling with symptoms, then sometimes it’s in the best interest for your health to avoid eating out. That being said...
Eating out is important for your health in a way you might not expect. There is a certain loneliness that comes with not ever eating out. Many people on a strict gluten free diet face social isolation and this can have real affects on your health. So weigh your options and decide what’s best for your health, but there are definitely ways you can safely eat out on a GF diet and that’s what today is all about!
For me since I also have severe life threatening food allergies to soy, peanuts and a few tree nuts as well as having celiac disease so I unfortunately can't eat out. That doesn't mean that you can't! I'll be the first to admit that it can feel like an outsider not being able to go to restaurants. I've spoken to many with celiac disease about their experiences eating out and today I'll share what helped them eat out without getting sick.
Eating Out Gluten Free Basic Tips
1. Don't eat fast food
While you may have heard some fast food restaurants are safe this simply isn't true. No only do the majority of foods in fast food restaurants contain gluten (burgers, hotdogs, and even french fries) they aren't healthy for you and the cross contamination risk is at an all time high. My opinion is to avoid these fast food restaurants if you're very sensitive to gluten or have celiac disease.
2. Pick the right restaurant
In general restaurants that are more expensive and are very small tend to fall on the safer side. If at all possible, eating at a 100% gluten free restaurant is the best and safest choice.
3. Stick with the basics of meat and vegetables
When looking at the menu or talking to the server it's safest to stick to plain meat or fish with steamed vegetables. I know that may sound boring but trust me it's better then being sick.
4. Don't automatically trust a gluten free menu item
It's easy to see a gluten free menu item and think oh i'll just order that and say nothing to the waiter. Unfortunately it's not that simple. Often that's catering to the gluten free trend and there is still a cross contamination risk. So make sure when ordering from a gluten free menu that you clearly state you are a celiac or gluten sensitive and you need the meal to be prepared without cross contamination. Then dig further, if you suspect that they're just being dismissive then ask further questions.
Eating Out F.A.Q
When is it safe to start eating out?
It's suggested to wait for a while after diagnosis to start eating out. Why? Because you want to make sure you're healing and getting as little cross contamination as possible. When you first go gluten free waiting until you've seen a good improvement of symptoms is key. Waiting until you've mastered the gluten free diet at home and are feeling better can set you up for eating out success.
Is it even safe to eat out with celiac disease?
This is a tough one. Eating out on a gluten free diet is getting easier and easier. There are more knowledgeable restaurants and staff members and many places will accommodate. That being said remember that just a tiny amount of gluten can make you ill and cause damage if you have celiac disease. Cross contamination happens really easily so proper steps need to be taken in order to stay safe. If you're still getting symptoms, or were just diagnosed hold off on the restaurants for a while. It really comes down to a personal choice.
Steps for picking out a restaurant
First things first!
This all starts well before you walk into a restaurant and sit down. Unfortunately not every restaurant in the world is safe for those of us on a GF diet. So you have to choose carefully.
Where do you start?
1. Find Me Gluten Free- How do you know whether or not it’s a safe place. Well one of my favourite resources is a website/ app called Find Me Gluten Free. One of the best parts is it not only has a database of gluten free restaurants from all around the world, it also has a option that you can click called celiac safe where others with celiac disease can write reviews saying how accommodating/ safe the food and staff were. So if you’re traveling or looking around your city for a safe place to eat that’s is an excellent place to start.
2. Local support groups- In most cities there is a gluten free/ celiac support group and they will be an excellent resource not only in your gluten free journey, but also on who to ask for safe gluten free restaurants. So call them up or email them and see what places the recommend someone on a strict gluten free diet can safely eat from.
3. Look on their website- Have a place in mind? Try looking on their website to see what they say about special diets. Many will have a little bit of info on their gluten free menu choices.
4. Call- If in doubt call. Ask them if they’re familiar with a strict gluten free diet and ask what precautions they take to keep gluten free food strictly gluten free. If the place doesn’t have a gluten free menu that doesn't mean that they aren't accommodating. That’s why it's good to call and get the answers to your questions.
What kind of restaurants are the safest?
American steakhouses are great if you eat meat, just be careful about the seasoning and sauces. Mexican and latin restaurants are corn based and can be a great option. Organic and vegetarian restaurants are usually quite knowledgeable about gluten free. The best of course is a 100% gluten free restaurant.
Do your research, if will save you time and sickness! There are plenty of ways to figure out how gluten free educated a restaurant is.
You found a place that’s going to be a safe choice to eat at. What’s next? This is a very important part of the process.
Go at a quiet time. If the restaurant isn’t busy this is good. It means extra attention can be focused on your meal. If everyone is busy and flustered mistakes can happen much easier. So go in the hours where restaurants are typically quiet like between 2-5.
Preferably call before and talk to the manager or chef. I know what you’re thinking, is that really necessary? But I can assure you it makes the process much easier. Ask these questions:
What’s the protocol for handling a special diet?
Will my meal be prepared in a clean pan with clean utensils?
What measures are taken to prevent cross contamination?
Have you had a customer with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity before?
Where you sit matters. If you sit furthest away from the server at the table and are trying to yell to them what you need it’s difficult for important details to be shared. Try to sit in a seat that puts you closest to the waiter for a easy conversation.
What to say to your server
When you talk to the server make sure you reiterate what you asked the manager earlier. Then make sure to remind them to:
Scrape/ clean the grill before you grill any meat or fish
To prepare the gluten free meal in a area safe area free from gluten and use separate utensils
To slice any gluten free bread with a clean knife and serve on a separate plate or basket then the gluten filled bread.
To prepare any components of the order with clean pans, cutting boards, knives, bowls and again utensils.
Gluten Sensitivity Side Note:
Even a couple crumbs of cross contamination can make someone with gluten sensitivity sick. Depending on your level of sensitivity treat eating out at a restaurant as seriously as if you had celiac disease and follow the measures above.
Red flags that eating the food may be a bad idea
- The chef or server is irritated by your questions
- The server dismisses your questions
- The server doesn’t indicate that this is your gluten free meal when they serve it t you
- Something just doesn’t feel right
Trust me better safe than sorry, if you feel at all worried or unsure don’t risk it to be polite.
Once you get the food
Ask the server if the food is gluten free and get assurance from them that is was prepared correctly. If all seems safe, enjoy!
Tip well! There was extra effort involved so be a good tipper. If all goes well and you don’t get sick and loved the food become a regular. Then the staff will get familiar with you and the whole process will become less stressful.