A Step-By-Step Guide to Safely Eating Gluten-Free in Restaurants

As you have probably noticed, we like to travel, eat out, and try new places. A lot of people ask me how I do this with Celiac disease. For me, the answer is simple: I don’t let Celiac disease rule my life. I’m willing to try to eat almost anywhere, but if I get sick, I won’t be going back.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how I approach eating out.

1. Do your research.

If possible, research the place you’re going to eat at before you go. Most restaurants post their menus online (either on their website or on Facebook), or you can call and ask about gluten-free options. Apps like Foursquare, Urban Spoon, and Yelp can give you reviews and suggestions, too. There are also a number of dedicated gluten-free apps (like Find Me Gluten-Free), which usually work best in major cities. Don’t forget about fellow Celiacs, friends, and family, who can also be a good source of information.

2. Have a backup plan.

If there’s any chance at all that you might encounter issues at the place you’re going to eat, have a backup plan. You might want to toss a trail mix bar in your pocket or scope out the closest McDonald’s for a French fry fix. Having another option makes me feel less anxious when eating out, especially if we’re trying somewhere new.

3. Be clear with your server.

When your server drops off menus, that’s the time to ask if they have a gluten-free menu or if there are gluten-free options that they would recommend. If they say they aren’t sure or that there are no options, ask them to double-check with the kitchen. (Most restaurants should be able to at least make you a salad. Grilled meats with no sauce and baked potatoes are another good option to ask about.)

In addition to asking about gluten-free dishes, make sure to ask about preparation methods to ensure that your food isn’t going to be contaminated. For example, I once ordered a salad at a very nice restaurant, only to be told that it was prepared in the same small space as their hand-tossed pizza dough and therefore highly contaminated with flour. Similarly, it’s easy for gluten-free pizzas to get contaminated in a pizza oven if they aren’t properly protected.

To help get the message across, I always tell the server when ordering, that I have a gluten allergy, rather than trying to explain what Celiac disease is. (I know this is a bone of contention with some people, as Celiac disease isn’t technically an allergy. However, it comes down to the same thing: we can’t tolerate any gluten at all.) Other people have created allergen cards like these travel cards and give them to the server to pass on to the kitchen. Do what you need to do to stay safe.

4. Check and re-check.

When your meal arrives, confirm that it is gluten-free, especially if someone other than your server brings your meal. If something doesn’t look right, don’t feel obligated to eat it. Otherwise, enjoy your meal and your gluten-free dining experience!

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