Going out to eat was one of our favorite pastimes and always will be! Whether we’re going to brunch, grabbing a quick lunch or sitting down to a celebratory supper we need to be careful. Yes, this takes some of the fun and freedom away from dining out but don’t be overwhelmed! Think of it as a challenge and an exercise in thinking outside the box. You can explore new foods and preparation styles!
Sometimes it is hard or disruptive to the party or conversation to grab the server’s attention and ask the necessary gluten-free questions (i.e. first dates or business lunches… the GF conversation is definitely an ice-breaker!). You can work around this by calling the restaurant ahead of time or searching on GFG.com for friendly restaurants! Although, Celiacs, gluten-intolerants and those who plainly just don’t eat gluten all have different sensitivity levels; the following questions are things that should be asked in an attempt to have a truly GF meal. Remember, international food governing organizations and the medical industry established the only foods safe for Celiacs are items containing less than 20 parts per million, yikes.
After doing a once over on the menu, we pick what we hope is a gluten-free option. Then the questions begin! Ask the server if they’ve heard of gluten, a safe starting point. We usually say we’re allergic (no need to get into the nitty-gritty of an allergy versus an auto-immune disease with an innocent bystander). If they haven’t heard of gluten, breathe. Ask them to speak with the chef. This is important: ask if the chef is familiar with cross-contamination or allergen precautions (the spoon stirring the pasta then stirring your GF sautéing vegetables or the bowl and tongs that tossed a salad with croutons is then used to toss your crouton-less, gluten-free salad). If they are looking at you like you have 10 heads, use an example cited above!
There are some hidden gluten items on a menu we need to be on the lookout for; even if the wait staff assures you “no bread will come near your meal”.
Marinades: Most domestic soy sauces have wheat. Ask if the marinade contains soy sauce. When ordering any meat or tofu ask if it is marinated, never assume the chicken or beef hasn’t been marinated. Ask the server if your protein can be cooked in a fresh, clean pan or on a part of the grill away from the gluten-containing marinated meats or veggie burgers.
Sauce and Gravy: Ask if a sauce is thickened with flour or a roux (flour and butter mixture).
BBQ Sauce: A lot of restaurants add soy sauce to their BBQ sauce. Ask for the ingredients.
Salad dressing: If the salad dressings aren’t homemade and you can’t get your hands on an ingredient list, stick with olive oil and vinegar.
Croutons: Always ask if the salad you’re ordering contains croutons. You should also request your salad to be prepared in fresh, clean bowl with clean tongs. You don’t want any crouton crumbs in your salad!
Stock: Ask if the chicken, beef, vegetable or fish stock is homemade. Many commercial, canned stocks contain gluten. You should ask about stock if you order soup, risotto or any dish that is prepared with an au jus (some restaurants skimp and add stock to meats’ natural juices).
French Fries and Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips: Ask if they are fried in designated fryers. Translation: if any gluten containing product (i.e. calamari) is fried in the same fryer as a gluten-free food, we can’t eat the gluten-free food because of cross-contamination… It is a HUGE treat when we find gluten-free French fries and chips.
Polenta: Soft polenta is often safe, but ask to confirm. Firm polenta is sometimes dusted with flour then pan fried. Ask your server how your meal will be prepared.
Flourless cakes: The cakes themselves are indeed flourless but some bakers dust or coat a pan or dish with flour to prevent the cake from sticking after baking.
GF Bread: A growing number of restaurants are adding gluten-free bread to their menus. This is absolutely fantastic news! We love seeing the gluten-free awareness and the effort made by local establishments to cater to all of their diners. Warning: be careful of cross-contamination. If a restaurant offers GF bread, they should have designated GF toasters or clean oven pans. Your sandwich should be prepared with separate knifes, etc. You must ask what steps they take to prepare your bread away from the regular breads’ crumb. Rest assured, many places offering GF breads are doing so for a loved one and they already take the extra steps. Still we need to ask. It is always better to be safe than sorry!
GF Pasta: If a restaurant serves gluten-free pasta (yay!) ask if they cook our pasta in separate water from the regular pasta. Cooking GF pasta in the same bowling water as regular pasta negates the point of eating gluten-free pasta. Unfortunately, the gluten protein isn’t something that can be killed or destroyed at high cooking temperatures.
Mistakes: Last but not least, if your meal is “contaminated” with a gluten product or crumb it is no longer gluten-free. Simply removing the crouton, stray noodle, crostini, or piece of bread will not keep you from getting sick. You should explain this to your server and ask for a new meal. Yes, this is an uncomfortable situation but your health comes first. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness describes it best; a restaurant should view cross-contamination like food poisoning. They wouldn’t continue to serve a plate if it came in contact with food poisonous bacteria. Instead they would toss the meal and start over. Again, everyone has a unique tolerance level but international organizations recognize “gluten-free” as foods containing less than 20 parts per million of gluten. We must do our best to keep gluten out of our meals and our bodies healthy!
It can be cumbersome and even awkward at times to ask all of these questions but remember, it is for your health! If you don’t feel comfortable stalling the meal with the laundry list of gluten-free questions, order something basic and naturally GF like seasonal vegetables and fresh fish or plain chicken. We love ordering a cheese plate but substituting apple slices in place of the bread. Be kind to the servers and kitchens that help make our dining experiences a safe one, reiterating your gratitude will always be appreciated and tip generously!!!
Eating out when you have dietary restrictions is a risk each of us takes. We need to do what is best for our health and our individual tolerance of gluten. We know some Celiacs truly don’t feel healthy unless they eat in a designated gluten-free kitchen. If you’re still nervous or uncomfortable eating outside your home, eat a snack before you go out and enjoy the company of your fellow diners while you sip on a glass of wine!
For more information on dining out gluten-free check out some of our favorite resources on cross-contamination prevention.
Gluten Free Passport
Gluten Intolerant Group