Gluten Free Dining Advice For Newly Diagnosed Celiacs

Eating at a restaurant

Eating out is the most difficult part of living with celiac disease. Once you have been diagnosed with this chronic illness, eating out is forever changed. It will never be the same as it once was. This is an, unfortunate, stark reality check for those living with celiac. It sounds harsh, I know. But, it is true. There is no spontaneity with eating out anymore.

But, this doesn’t mean that you can’t eat out. You just need to change your expectations and learn a new way to dine out. It can still be enjoyable (if you let it) but it will take effort to ensure it’s as safe as it can be.

The question to ask yourself is this “Are you going to let this bring you down or are you going to rise to the challenge?”

I have celiac disease and I can tell you, I have had my fair share of pitty parties. I’ve had GF food brought to me and, upon, extra questioning, it was indeed not GF and I was left to eat nothing while everyone else enjoyed their dinners. I’ve had to eat pretty close to burnt food when my food was left in the oven too long and there was nothing else to eat and I was starving.

Point being, celiac can suck sometimes. I know you guys get that. But, I try not to let it get the better of me. I know it can be hard. But, there are much worse conditions to have. Being able to mostly manage this disease with food is a blessing in disguise, as difficult as it can be at times (don’t scream at me for saying this!). That’s not to say that we don’t need additional treatments to help control celiac disease, as we most definitely do, but food will always play a starring role in managing our illness.

So, if you are at the place in your diagnosis where you feel you are at the place to venture outside your home to eat out, this post may have some helpful starting points for you.

Top 3 Tips For Eating Out at Restaurants:

  1. Download eating out resources. There are three great resources I recommend getting in Canada
  • Gluten Free Finder: This is the gluten free food program endorsed by the Canadian Celiac Association that teaches restaurants how to serve individuals with celiac disease appropriately. You can search for restaurants that have gone through the verification process by visiting the website.
  • Find Me Gluten Free: This is an iphone app that you can apply filters to, to find gluten free friendly restaurants for those with celiac disease.
  • I suggest using the filter for “Celiac” and then reading the reviews. I, typically, will only choose restaurants that have 95-100 percent reviews for those with celiac disease.

BC specific resources: Considering I am from BC, I had to include some great resources for BC.

  • Honeycomb app. You can input filters for this one as well that includes celiac safe protocols for food prep.
  • Celiac Scene.  This is a website which has many gluten free restaurant recommendations that would be safer choices for those with celiac disease.

2. Call the establishment you are thinking of eating at, at either 10am or 3pm to ensure it is not busy and they have the time to answer your questions, thoroughly. Ask to speak to the manager and ask the following:

  • “I have celiac disease and I am thinking of dining at your establishment. Do you have a gluten free menu?”
  • “What do you do to prevent cross contamination in the kitchen?”

Listen to your gut reaction here. You are looking for some of the following responses:

  • They use separate equipment or wash equipment before making a gluten free meal for someone with celiac disease
  • They use new ingredients from the back to prepare your meal
  • They have an allergen binder to make it easy for staff to identify allergens (gluten is often included in these, not just wheat)
  • They wash hands or change gloves prior to preparing a meal for someone with celiac disease
  • They make your order in a separate part of the kitchen
  • They have a 100 percent gluten free deep fryer
  • They have a separate gluten free toaster or toast GF bread on a clean pan or in the oven
  • They have a clean gluten free grill for grilling protein sources
  • They have a GF menu or can easily adapt some menu items to be GF

3. Go online and look at their menu. Choose what you think you may order and identify any potential gluten concerns and cross contamination concerns. Bring these concerns up by either calling ahead and talking to the chef to ensure they can accommodate.

The biggest tip I have: The GF menu is a STARTING point to narrow down your choices. It does not make the item inherently safe. Questions should still be asked to ensure the item does contain obvious sources of gluten and to reduce chance of cross contamination.

You can download a resource below where I describe the questions you want to ask to decrease the risk of cross contamination in 5 common dishes offered in restaurants.

Get the Handout “Questions to Ask To Reduce Risk of Cross Contamination in Common Menu Items”

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