As many of you know, with the rising awareness of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, demand for gluten-free dining options has grown by leaps and bounds over the last several years. Everyone is jumping on board and offering gluten-free options to their guests. I mean why not…this is a huge market right now, especially with many celebrities going gluten-free (not all of which are for medical reasons). While this is a fad for some people, this is real life (and a real serious for that matter) for everyone who has celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
However, this does not mean that every restaurant out there that offers a gluten-free menu or gluten-free options is 100% gluten-free in their preparation of their menu items. There is always the risk of cross contact. Many restaurants are working on new and improved menus that include a wider selection for those following a strict gluten-free diet. In addition to the improved menu options, restaurants are working on training staff (both front of the house and back of the house) on preparing safe dishes and avoiding cross contact.
A great resource currently available to Chefs and those in the food service industry is the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness’ GREAT Kitchens program. This training program can be completed online, and includes 5 multimedia-learning modules and many downloadable resources. The GREAT Kitchens program emphasizes that while it is easy to put out a gluten-free menu there is much more to it. They go into detail about what celiac disease is, where gluten is found, how to prepare foods that are gluten-free safely, avoid cross contact, and discusses potential issues and solutions in both the back and front of the house. For more information about GREAT Kitchens please visit their website.
It is quite exciting to have so many places offering gluten-free options but for an individual who has celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity this can be tricky to navigate if the restaurant is following proper procedures in ensuring that the meal being served is actually gluten-free. Not only does the staff of a restaurant need to be educated and trained properly, the customer does as well. Knowing and understanding as much as you can about celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity is key to living a healthy and happy life.
Tips for eating out
- Know your stuff…there are so many great resources out there including websites, books, videos, etc. – utilize them.
- Have a handy list of what you can and cannot eat. Just remember having a list of what you CAN eat will help you feel more “normal”. I remember being diagnosed five years ago and only being told what I could not eat, but nothing of what I could eat. Knowledge is power.
- Dining Cards – I have awesome dining cards in 10 languages from Triumph Dining. These have helped me so much over the years and have given me the ability to eat at more places that I ever expected. When you hand a server or chef a card in their native language it makes all the difference in the world.
- Searching for a restaurant online can be a huge help. Use Google, Facebook, Yelp, Urbanspoon etc. to see if they have gluten-free options, a gluten-free menu, and to read reviews.
- Call the restaurant directly and ask as many questions as you can to ensure it is safe to eat there. Some may even have you speak directly with the chef!
- Ask them about any certifications the restaurant or chefs may have.
Be your biggest advocate
- You are your biggest advocate. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will. You know what you can and cannot have. If you are unsure about something or have questions – ask.
- Communicate with the hostess, servers, and the chefs about any concerns or questions you may have regarding the preparation of your meal and potential cross contact with gluten containing foods.
- While I do cook about 90% of our meals at home, I am always very thankful and grateful when I get to enjoy a nice meal out. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.
- Show your appreciation to the hostess, servers, and chefs. Thank them for any special requests, accommodation, and double-checking of ingredients, preparation methods, etc. I promise you, this appreciation goes a very long way.
For a list of restaurants that offer gluten-free menu options or menus please visit my Restaurants Page (continually being updated with more options).