A major question that often arises after receiving a celiac disease diagnosis is: am I able to eat out?
The short answer is yes, but it involves being confident in knowing what you can eat and what questions to ask.
The safest way to eat out is to find a dedicated gluten free facility. Simple, right? Gluten free restaurants and bakeries are becoming more popular, but you may still need to travel a bit to find one. However, you may be able to eat somewhere closer to you after doing some research.
An easy first step is to check out the restaurant online and see if there’s a website with menu information. Then, check if there’s a specific gluten free section or if there’s any mention of the availability of gluten free food.
Next, it’s a good idea to call the place and ask to speak to a manager or chef, or you can also visit the place in person. (I personally prefer to go in person because I hate talking on the phone). It’s important to find out what gluten free protocols are in place and how the staff is trained. Is there a dedicated gluten free area of the kitchen? Are there safeguards in place to prevent the cross-contact of gluten-containing foods? Are the waiters and waitresses trained to request a gluten free order from the kitchen?
One important thing to clarify is that celiac disease is not a gluten allergy, but an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks itself when you eat gluten. However, most restaurants use the language “gluten allergy” and this is okay to use to ensure you are served a safe meal. To be honest, I often explain celiac disease as a “gluten allergy” when asked, unless the person is genuinely interested in understanding what celiac disease actually is. Being allergic to gluten is easily understood by people and you don’t have to worry about the eyes-glazing-over, half-listening look that may accompany trying to explain celiac disease, especially if the person first asks what gluten even is. This isn’t meant to minimize the severity of celiac disease, but to help people understand that it IS serious.
There are some restaurant chains that have proven to be safe for those with celiac disease, including: Chipotle, Red Robin, Five Guys, Chick-Fil-A, and P.F. Changs. However, it’s so important to ALWAYS check in with the particular place you go to. Some specific branches of the restaurant chain may not be as informed and have the same training as others. Also, it’s important to remember that unless you’re eating at a dedicated gluten free facility, there is always a chance of cross-contact, just like if you’re someone who lives in a household with a shared kitchen.
There are red flags to look out for. If the menu has no mention of gluten free food, or if the manager or chef can’t give you specific information, then those are red flags. Also, remember that if there’s a mistake, such as croutons on a salad, the gluten part can’t just simply be removed from your food. The gluten has come in contact with your food (cross-contact) and is no longer safe. The food would need to be sent back for a whole new plate.
Foods that are often safe to order include: plain meats, vegetables, and fruits (minus any seasonings or sauces). You could even pack a small amount of seasoning or salt and pepper with you to add to your food. You can also bring your own dressing or butter, as these items are often in shared containers. Be careful of ordering gluten free pasta, unless you’re specifically told that they use a separate pot to boil it. If they boil it in the same pot as the regular pasta, then it’s no longer gluten free.
All in all, dining out can be so overwhelming. I know it can be really uncomfortable, but one option you have is to simply pack your own food, so you can still enjoy the quality time with your family or friends. I’ve done this quite a bit. That way, I have piece of mind knowing that what I’m eating is safe!
“I may have celiac disease…but celiac disease does not have me.”