I love eating out – a little too much.
When I was diagnosed with allergies to yeast, gluten, wheat and cow milk, I had to do some serious bag lunches.
I had to give up Chinese twice a week. (Okay, three times a week – but who’s counting?!) I had to stop getting those deliciously bad $5 lunches at DQ. And no more multigrain breakfast sandwiches at Chick Fil A. (That one hurt. Bad.)
Cutting down on eating out certainly helps my diet – and my budget. But some days, I just do not want to cook. Anything. I want to go and sit at a nice restaurant, and enjoy my food without thinking about it. Sometimes, I just want out of the house, while other times I’m just uninspired in the kitchen. (I know. It happens, even a crazy throw-it-together cook like me!)
So, I slowly started eating out again. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve been on this diet for a year now and have learned some things that make it not as overwhelming.
10 tips for gluten-free dining
I cannot stress this enough. Before you go out, research. If you know where you are going, look up the food allergy menu on the company’s website. (Chipotle is the gold standard. The menu is extremely easy to find and read.) You will be shocked at the items listed for food allergies. If you cannot find the food allergy menu on the web, ask for it at the restaurant. For me, if I don’t find it online, I don’t bother to go.
2. Call ahead
If you cannot find what you are looking for online, call the restaurant. Ask about the menu. See if they work with people with food allergies. Don’t just talk to anyone. Talk to a manager. You can also ask about possible cross contamination. You can easily judge by their attitude if it’s worth eating there.
3. Ask for help
On Twitter, Facebook and G+, use the #glutenfree hashtag to ask for restaurant recommendations. Let them know if you want fast food, casual or formal dining. That makes a huge difference. Also, ask folks at your local health food or bulk store. They usually have recommendations from customers.
4. Talk to the waiter
If you don’t have time to research, and just drop in a restaurant, talk to your waiter about options. I got a pleasant surprise at a locally-owned Chinese restaurant, which caters to gluten-free diners. (Score!) All I had to do was ask about gluten-free. They were prepared. The food is also prepared on its own grill, so no cross contamination. No other Chinese restaurant in my area offer gluten-free options.
5. Ask for ingredients
I’ve found most waiters or managers are great about sharing general ingredients for dishes. I’m allergic to yeast, so pizza is pretty much out at any restaurant. Gluten-free crusts always have yeast in them. Every time I’ve asked a pizza restaurant about the yeast, they have literally pulled the ingredient list off the package and brought it out to me. No problems.
6. Make a friend
Your waiter is your friend. I have a limited number of restaurants where I can eat. I try to stick with the same waiters each time, because they know my food allergies and specifications. It saves time and errors.
7. Be specific
One of my favorite local haunts goes out of its way to make my salad just right. I’m extremely specific about the ingredients that I can have. The cook says to just have them put “Angela” on the bottom of the ticket and she’ll know how to make it. The restaurant is extremely accommodating and I couldn’t appreciate that more. It’s good for their business, too. I keep coming back for my “Angela” salad.
8. Be nice
Don’t go in with an attitude. Be nice. I know it can be tough – especially when you talk to someone who doesn’t understand food allergies – but your attitude goes a long way to making sure you have the best gluten-free dining experience. Plus, restaurants are more likely to be accommodating if you are nice.
9. Eat at home
This seems really silly, but trust me on this one. It ties in with Tip No. 10. If you are going out with friends who insist on eating somewhere you cannot, eat at home, then just have coffee or tea at the restaurant. Depending on your food allergies, you might be able to sneak in dessert and skip the gluten-laden meal. This can be a lifesaver for business dinners where you don’t have a lot of choice.
10. Just say no
There are going to be times when you simply cannot eat out. This happens when you are meeting a group of people who insist on dining at a restaurant that isn’t friendly to food allergies or gluten-free living. Just tell them you cannot make it and tell them why. Some people will call you a Debbie Downer. Those people don’t respect your lifestyle and aren’t very good friends, anyway.
In my area, I’ve found locally-owned restaurants are the most accommodating for gluten-free dining. Chipotle is AMAZING for a fast food restaurant. Employees go out of their way to make sure you have no cross contamination with your meal.
What is the more difficult part of gluten-free dining for you?0