Eating out or at friend’s houses is probably one of the more challenging parts of the gluten free diet.
You want to eat out – it is fun to gather with friends and family and have someone else prepare a meal that you can just enjoy.
If you are lucky, you will also have friends or parents of your child’s friends, who are going to want to cook something you can eat at their house.
But you worry about the ingredients, cross-contamination . . . is it worth the risk to eat the food that may in all honesty not be that satisfying?
Do not let the gluten free diet stop you from engaging in these activities.
But do not go into them lightly.
This is the time when you need to put on your advocacy fighting gloves and stand up for yourself and/or your kid. Easy for me to say, but I have to admit it was intimidating in the beginning.
Pre-diagnosis we loved eating out – nearly every Friday you’d find us at one of our favorite local restaurants letting someone else cook the meal and serve us.
The pleasure of eating out was something that I initially mourned over when going gluten free.
We did not eat out for the first six months on the diet – I just wasn’t prepared enough to handle that yet.
The first time we did go out, it was a disaster! We went to Red Robin during the busy lunch hour at a very busy mall. We were not sure what we were doing and our waiter was even worse. When the food finally did arrive – the burger was on a bun. We sent it back . Our daughter who was too self-conscious about the diet at that time in tears by now. Of course, while we were waiting for the new burger the other kids (who were starving by this time) gobbled all of their lunch and they were more than ready to go by the time the Gluten Free Kids burger arrived – then she did not like the burger. Just a hunk of hamburger meat was not too appealing to her. So we went home and cooked lunch.
It was months before we went out again – this time we were armed with information, called before we went to confirm they could prepare a GF meal, picked a gluten friendly restaurant and went before the dinner rush. We went to Outback Steakhouse and had a great time – they were so nice they even gave us complimentary Thunder Down Under desserts.
No – we do not eat out as much as we used to. But we have had many great gluten free dining out experiences since then and have had friends also successfully prepare us meals.
We had two great lunches at the Hard rock Café on Maui – the manager was so accommodating he even prepared some special potatoe skins for the GFK. They showered us with attention and detail. By the end of the meal, not only were we ful and happy, but they gave all of my kids special HardRock Café hats.
Remember how special it was to eat out when we were kids? Instead of an every week activity, eating out has become a special event to our family. Now we plan for it, get dressed up and make an event out of dinner out.
We have also had a few bumps along the way and learned some lessons. We were in Washington DC on vacation and had called the restaurant to see if they could accommodate our diet. The hostess assured us everything would be fine. Not exactly – when we ordered, the waiter assured us he had accommodated this diet many times before, only to come back and ask if butter had gluten in it because he could not get an answer out of the kitchen because no one spoke English.
We were also glutenized at a local restaurant that serves gluten free pasta when they cooked our pasta in the same water they cook wheat pasta in.
Where to Eat Gluten FreeWhen we are with the kids, we generally stick with restaurants that we know have a gluten free menu or at least gluten free options. This list is ever expanding and there are numerous Internet resources to track these types of restaurants down. Try some of the following:
Gluten Free Mom Travel/Dining Out Page Our own reviews of some of our favorite restaurants in Seattle, New York City.
Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program (GFRAP) State by state listing of restaurants that welcome gluten free diners.
GlutenFreeTravelSite State by state restaurant reviews.
The Essential Gluten-Free Restaurant Guide, 3rd Edition Including over 4,700 restaurants nation wide.
Most High-End Restaurants: Most high end restaurants are also great at accommodating the gluten free diet. Just follow the steps below and you should be able to order a safe and tasty meal.
How to Dine Out Gluten Free:
- Unless you have eaten at the restaurant before, call ahead and make sure they can accommodate your diet and find out exactly what they can make for you. Do not rely on the hostess – ask to speak directly to the Chef. If he is not available, then the kitchen manager. Insist on knowing what they can prepare safely – don’t stop at a "rest assured we can cook for you."
- · When you are seated, ask for the Chef or the kitchen manager. Don’t rely on the waiter. It is not the waiter who is making your food. It is the kitchen staff that will be preparing your food.
- · Be as polite and congenial as possible. You will be surprised how well they react to a customer who is happy and actually appreciates good service.
- · Hand them a copy of the following letter which sets forth explicit steps to be followed in preparing your food. Don’t be intimidated, this is your good health you are protecting. Most Chefs are actually very happy to help you out.
- · When in doubt, go without. If you are not getting a good feeling and are unsure about something, just leave.
- · If the Chef goes out of his way to make you a safe and good meal, send your compliments. Thank them profusely for the service and help. You will be doing the next gluten free customer a favor by leaving a good impression.
Copy the following and print it on card stock. Ours is printed on a 4 x 6 note card with the first half on the front of the card and the number directions on the back. Then laminate it, fold in half and carry it in your purse. Use this card whenever you eat out. Don’t assume that because a restaurant has gluten free food, they will necessarily follow all of the precautions listed below.
The following directions also come in handy for friends and family who want to cook for you. Send them with your gluten free kid on sleepovers, to summer camp, to other parents in the class who may be preparing snacks.
I have an illness called Celiac Disease and have to follow a strict Gluten Free Diet. I will become very ill if I eat even a crumb of gluten, so please read the following carefully.
Gluten is found in many food items, but most commonly in flours and grains of wheat (durum, semolina, kamut, spelt), rye, barley and some oats.
Foods that may contain gluten include soy sauce, blue cheese, breading, imitation bacon, marinades, processed meats, soup bases, thickeners, broth, croutons, gravies, imitation seafood, pastas, stuffings, salad preservatives etc.
Foods that are safe include unseasoned and marinated meats, fruit, veggies, eggs, cheese, milk, rice, corn, soy, potato, bean, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff and nut flours,
In addition to being aware of the above ingredients, please take care to make sure my food is not contaminated by other food containing gluten by doing the following:
1. Prepare my food in a clean area on a clean surface.
2. Wash your hands and wear clean gloves while preparing my food.
3. Use only clean utensils including strainers, tongs, knifes, spoons.
4. Use only clean water and oil in clean dishes when preparing my food – do not use water that has cooked wheat pasta and do not use oil that has had wheat food fried in it such as breaded chicken fingers.
5. Do not cut my food on a cutting board that has had bread on it.
6. Do not wash my fruit or drain my pasta in a strainer that has been used to drain pasta.
7. If grilling food, thoroughly clean the grill with a metal brush before placing my food on the grill. Marinades often contain gluten.
8. If you accidentally add croutons to my salad, please do not just remove them from the salad. I can still get sick from the contamination of the salad by the croutons. Please prepare me a new salad.
9. Only use new clean tubs of condiments such as butter, mayo, mustard and ice cream. Previously used tubs may have been contaminated by a utensil that had gluten on it – such as a butter knife or ice cream scooper that was used for a flavor containing a gluten ingredient.
10. Do not season my food unless we have discussed the seasonings – use only salt and pepper and no garnish on my plate unless it is fresh and has no sauce.
Most importantly, when in doubt go without!! If you are unsure about something, please do not serve it to me without asking.
Hope these suggestions will help you avoid some of the mistakes we have made. My biggest concern here is protecting the Gluten Free Kid so please send me any comments and suggestions. I am curious to know how you have handled dining out.