A Celiac’s Guide to Gluten-Free Dining

Dining at restaurants or social gatherings can be overwhelming for someone with celiac disease, but you don’t have to miss out on the experience. Of course there are always risks involved when someone else is preparing your food, but you just have to understand common ingredients and know the right questions to ask. Doing this will minimize your chances of accidentally eating gluten.

A Celiac's Guide to Gluten-Free Dining

TIPS FOR DINING OUT WITH CELIAC DISEASE ->

  • KNOW THE GLUTEN-FREE DIET INSIDE AND OUT – You need to really understand all of the common ingredients that could potentially make you sick, and the rules behind cross-contamination within a GF diet. Reading books about Celiac Disease will help you with this.
  • RESEARCH RESTAURANTS – Do your research on restaurants ahead of time to make sure that they even have gluten-free options available.
    • Do they have a gluten-free menu?
    • DO they have items that can be made gluten-free?
    • Do they even talk about gluten on their website at all? If not, call ahead of time to get some peace of mind.
  • INFORM BEFORE ORDERING – Make sure you lead with telling the waiter that you have celiac disease before you even order. Starting with this lets them know that it is important, and that you are about to elaborate on it.
  • BE ASSERTIVE – This one took me a long time to master. At the beginning of my celiac journey, I was way too passive about it because I didn’t want to be a burden. I always let them know, but I wasn’t assertive enough, and I didn’t stress to them how serious my food restrictions were. This lead to me getting sick a few times from cross-contamination. You can still be assertive, while also being kind.
  • SPEAK TO THE MANAGER OR CHEF – If the waiter seems confused or hesitant in any way, don’t be afraid to ask to speak to the manager or chef. You can do this politely, but I have done it when I felt like the waiter didn’t know how to answer my questions confidently. Sometimes the waiter will actually bring the manager to you without you asking because they don’t want to mess anything up.
  • ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS – There are a number of questions that you can ask in order to make sure your order comes out correctly. You have to know what to look for, and make substitutions accordingly.
    • Are there flour or thickeners in the sauce or salad dressing?
    • Is it marinated? There are many marinades that contain soy sauce or certain spice mixes that are not GF.
    • Are the french fries cooked in a fryer that is shared with breaded things?
    • Are the french fries dusted with flour?
    • Is the item breaded with flour?
    • Are the items dusted with flour before sautéing?
    • Are there croutons, crispy noodles, or fried onions that come on top of the dish as a garnish?
    • Does the soup have flour thickeners or barley?
    • If it is a vegetarian dish, is there a meat substitute. Some can contain gluten, specifically some vegetarian sausages or imitation crab meat.
    • Does bread come with the dish? Some dishes come with a side of bread, just have them leave it off.
    • Do they clean the grill before preparing gluten-free dishes?
    • Do they use separate utensils and cutting boards to prepare gluten-free dishes?
    • Do they have a separate gluten-free area all together?
  • BE PREPARED TO NOT GET YOUR FIRST CHOICE – I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten excited about a certain dish, only to find that they can’t confidently make it gluten-free. So then I end up having to go with a salad or something easier. At the very least, I don’t get sick. But it can definitely be a bummer sometimes.
  • DON’T BE AFRAID TO SEND THINGS BACK – I know it is frustrating, and no one wants to be that person, but you can’t be afraid to send things back if your order doesn’t come out right. I would rather send it back than get sick. Just be super polite and let them know what isn’t correct, and they will take it back and fix it.
  • BRING SNACKS TO RESTAURANTS – If you are with a group and aren’t able to leave to go somewhere else if they can’t make something safe for you, then have snacks on hand so you don’t go hungry.
  • BRING YOUR OWN DISH – If you are eating at someone’s house, then come prepared with your own dish. At least that way, you will know that there is something that you can safely eat, and you contributed to the meal. I never expect a host to completely accommodate my needs, so I just offer to bring something.
  • HOLIDAY GATHERINGS – The same thing goes for holiday gatherings. It doesn’t have to be completely stressful, you can easily bring a few dishes that are safe for you so that you can enjoy the meal with everyone else. Don’t even make a big deal out of it, just let everyone know that you brought some things for everyone to share. Just make sure they don’t mix the utensils from the non-GF dishes!
  • TEACH YOUR FAMILY ABOUT CROSS-CONTAMINATION – I’m sure that your family and friends would be happy to learn about how to keep you safe when they are cooking. No one wants you to be sick, and people are always willing to accommodate to help others.
  • BE KIND AND POLITE – As much as we wish everyone was educated on this, they just aren’t. And that’s okay, we probably weren’t educated on it before we were diagnosed either. Just be as polite as possible when dining out, while also being assertive about your needs. Just remember that restaurants generally do not want to make you sick. They want to take care of their customers so they they become repeat customers. Your kindness will go a long way with the waiter.
  • GIVE CREDIT WHEN THEY DO A GOOD JOB – If the waiter, chef, or manager did a great job at taking care of you and your needs, then reward them for it. Tip well if possible, leave good online reviews, spread the word about their great service, and be a repeat customer. And most of all, THANK THEM and tell them that you really appreciate their efforts.

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*Disclaimer: this post is not meant to be medical advice. It is just a resource to help you better understand how to dine out safely with celiac disease. Always talk to your doctor about any personal medical concerns you may have.