Now that your home is a safe haven for your new gluten-free life, you need to be prepared for when you step outside your front door. There will be times when you are out and about and will need to find a safe place to eat outside of your home. This can easily be a trip down anxiety lane, but it doesn’t have to be as long as you’ve done a little homework beforehand.
As I’ve said many times before, the internet is your friend. Use Google to search “gluten free restaurants in atlanta, georgia” for example to find suitable places to dine. Glutenfreeregistry.com is an online database of gluten free restaurants and also has apps for your iPhone/iPad/Android. So very nice. Plus they also have a section for restaurant reviews where you can read about others’ experiences. Websites like Urbanspoon.com let you search by city for gluten-free places as well. “That’s great for big cities, but what about my small town?” you might be thinking. This is true: there will be less variety in smaller towns than there are in larger cities. But don’t lose hope. Many national chain restaurants also have gluten-free items on their menu. One example is Outback Steakhouse, which I have frequented many times and have never had a problem. They even have a dedicated gluten-free menu. Ruby Tuesday’s also has an “Allergen-Sensitivity Menu Guide” that gives you some ideas on what you can order. I have eaten quite a few times off of P.F.Chang’s gluten-free menu without any ill effect (their lettuce wraps are amazing). I was pleasantly surprised when I went to visit my grandmother in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and found that the local Eat n’ Park had a Celiac menu too.
When ordering from a gluten free menu, be sure to clearly tell the server that you want the “Gluten Free Baked Cod” and make eye contact with her to make sure she understands. I always hold up the menu and point to the special section as well, just for emphasis. As long as you are pleasant about your request your server should not mind at all.
I would be wary of fast food options like McDonalds or Burger King. In my opinion, the risk of cross contamination is too high and I would just avoid them altogether. If you really are in a pinch while commuting and haven’t packed some safe snacks, Wendy’s has a “Living Without Gluten” guide which shows for example that you could eat a baked potato with chili. Red Robin has gotten a lot of approval over at the Celiac.com forum, though I haven’t been there personally. Chik-fil-a also had a list of allergen information that is helpful. But honestly, I would try to cut fast food out of your life as part of the larger overall plan of getting healthy.
Another place I would be careful is a diner. Personally, I do not feel safe eating at diners and feel that there is just too much of a risk of cross-contamination. I’m not confident that the griddle they make an omelet on isn’t the same one they just used to make a pancake, for example.
If there is a restaurant you would like to try but you are uncertain if it is safe, don’t hesitate to call them and ask.
Hi, my name is _______ and was thinking of booking a reservation at ______ o’clock on Saturday. But first I need to make sure it’s safe for me to eat. I have Celiac Disease which means I cannot eat anything that has gluten in it, or may have touched gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. Do you think there’d be any options for me on the menu?
It’s better to be safe than sorry – if their answer doesn’t satisfy you then you might want to consider other options. If they sound like they have no clue what you’re saying and simply suggest picking croutons off their salad, move on. Don’t forget to tell them while you’re on the phone or later in a letter why you cannot dine there. Let them know that they are losing potential customers by not meeting the needs of those with food sensitivities. Likewise, if they do a great job with providing you safe food and good service, let them know how much you enjoyed it and spread the word! The more awareness we can get out there, the better.
The most important part of this step that you should take away is that being prepared is key. You don’t want to be stuck in a restaurant and feel helpless and unsure of what you can safely eat while your stomach is rumbling. If you know of at least a small number of safe places ahead of time, then eating out and having to decide on the spot should be a snap.
Traveling and don’t know the language? This website has gluten-free restaurant cards in all sorts of languages that you can print out for free: http://www.celiactravel.com/cards/
Have you been able to find safe restaurants? Have any tips you’d like to share? Comment below!