For most people. going out to dinner is the easiest thing in the world.
For people with celiac, it’s a bit harder, especially if you’re going to a restaurant that serves anything with gluten….
…Which is like 95% of all restaurants anywhere.
So, suddenly, the thing that is supposed to save your sanity on nights when you’re tired and don’t want to deal with dishes is the thing that can cause a lot more stress than is necessary. It can get kind of depressing when you go out to eat to find out all you can choose from are salads and even those are sometimes questionable.
Admittedly, we still go out to dinner and we still order take out (albeit maybe a little more than we should, but we’re also in that end of the school year struggle bus life, so don’t judge us) despite my dietary restrictions. Does that mean we’re going to 100% gluten-free restaurants?
Considering there is all of one in the Baltimore area…I’m gonna go with no.
We still eat in a lot of the same restaurants we’ve always eaten in; it just requires a little work on my part before we go somewhere, especially if it’s somewhere we’ve either never been to or someplace we haven’t visited in a long time.
Do your research before heading out. Pull up the menus on their website or app and see if they have a gluten-free or “Celiac friendly” menu. While some have dedicated menus for this, some just have all of their offerings on one menu with an indicator for gluten-free items. There are also a ton of blogs and websites dedicated to sharing gluten-free options at most chain restaurants for people with celiac (such as Find Me Gluten Free). These sites are great especially if you’re going to a restaurant that has an enormous menu or just want to immediately narrow down to foods that are safe for you.
Call the restaurant before heading out. If you hate talking on the phone like I do, you’ll likely hate this one. But this is great if you’re going to a local place that might not have a menu online or if you want to know from an employee before you head in how they handle gluten and possible cross-contamination for people with Celiac. It’s usually best to speak with a manager in these cases as they are usually the most knowledgeable and ask them how to let your server know that you have Celiac. Managers will usually be fairly honest in the event that they can’t prevent cross-contamination, in which case you should either consider dining elsewhere or take the risk.
Talk to your server before ordering. Even if you’ve called ahead and looked at the menu, it’s a great idea to let the server know that you have Celiac so that they can talk to the kitchen staff about taking precautions with cooking. I’ve even had some servers ask me when I’m ordering something gluten-free if it’s just a preference or if it’s an allergy, which I appreciate, it usually speaks to how hard they try to not cross-contaminate for those who have gluten issues.
Check your food over before you eat it. Yes, I realize that makes you look like a “finicky” person, but if you’re truly trying to stay away from gluten then you need to look your order over before you eat it. I have sent things back a couple of times because I know it wasn’t the gluten-free version (you can tell after awhile), it’s okay. Most good establishments won’t be upset by it and won’t make you feel bad for it either. Worst case scenario, you talk to the manager of the restaurant if the server isn’t helpful.
Even in just the couple of years (not even that long) that I’ve had Celiac, I’ve noticed such a shift in restaurants to offer more gluten-free and Celiac friendly meals and food options. It’s actually really amazing to see. Obviously, if you’re going to a major restaurant chain that is offering a gluten-free menu, you do have to be cautious of cross-contamination, but as stated above, if you mention that you have Celiac, most of these restaurants will do all they can to prepare your food separate of other meals.
Some restaurants are still better than others, so it can still be a risk to eat out, especially at some of the larger chain restaurants. But, I have had really good experiences at:
Chick-Fil-A They’re grilled chicken is really good and you can sub almost any of their fried chicken dishes for grilled. They also have a gluten-free bun for all of their sandwiches (that comes separately wrapped to not cross-contaminate) and typically make their fries in a separate fryer from their chicken. Also, if you tell them that you have Celiac, they will have the food prep people change gloves and handle your food appropriately.
Five Guys Another really good fast food option for people with Celiac. They offer lettuce wraps or bowl options for all of their sandwiches, which is great, and their fryers are dedicated just to french fries. They also typically ask me, when I order a bowl or a lettuce wrap, if I’m doing it because of an allergy. When I say yes, they add an alert to my order which prompts the employees to change gloves before handling my food to try and prevent as much cross-contamination as possible.
Chipotle One of the best gluten-free restaurants, in my opinion. Pretty much all of their products are gluten free except for the flour tortillas, which you can get corn in place of them or just get a burrito bowl (which is my personal favorite). Most Mexican restaurants are pretty safe for celiac people, but this one is a definite favorite for me.
California Pizza Kitchen They have a special menu (that you have to ask for) for people with Celiac and ordering from that menu means that your pizza is being prepared in area away from the gluten-versions and that it is being handled safely. They do have gluten-free options on their regular menu, but they can’t guarantee that regular menu items will be handled in their certified gluten-free area, so it’s best to ask for the menu and go with one of those selections.
Seasons 52. Devon and I like going here when we’re feeling a little fancy. They have a special separate menu for people with celiac (that includes gluten-free pasta) and they take cross-contamination very seriously. Just make sure your server knows that you have Celiac and they will do everything they can to make sure your food is safe for you to eat.
Obviously, there are more that are really good for people with celiac, these are just some of the best I’ve encountered. A lot of times small, local restaurants will also be amazing for people who have Celiac, so it’s worth checking out the small cafe in your area, as well. I also eat at places that maybe aren’t the best when it comes to being gluten-free (like we at Texas Roadhouse…A LOT). It really boils down to being honest with your server and letting them know what your issues are and how they are able to help.
I know for a lot of people with celiac, the thought of going out for a meal is pretty overwhelming; knowing that you can’t go out and just eat whatever you want, knowing that you may not be able to find anything that you can eat, knowing that you have to do research and hope for a good experience when you’re going somewhere new. It’s a lot and you miss the days where you didn’t have to do all of this in order to not have to cook one night. It almost feels like it’s easier to just stay at home and eat there every meal of your life.
If you are someone with celiac who just prefers the safety of eating at home, I’m not knocking your choices at all. I’m one of those people who fully believes in the sentiment of, “you do you”. I also understand that some people’s intolerance is so strong that even a crumb of gluten can send them into extreme pain for a week. I support the choices that everyone makes in terms of their health and fully respect the fact that some people need to do everything in their power to not come in contact with gluten in any way.
But, if you are someone who suffers from this and is still looking to enjoy a meal out every so often; it is possible. Yes, it requires a little bit more of your time and effort in preparation, but sometimes it’s worth it. Whether it’s getting the chance to spend time with family and friends or just finding that place that you can get a meal that you enjoy that you don’t have to clean up later.
Or…if you’re like my household that has two very tired and growing wearier by the day educators who are desperately longing for the end of the school year so they can get some sleep and potentially regain some of their sanity and the only way to be able to get sustenance is to have someone else cook your dinner for you and, usually, deliver it to your home….
I feel you….Solidarity, my friend.