Dining out can be a relaxing, enjoyable experience. However, parents of children with celiac disease may have a different perspective. Some families may not attempt to eat out at all, while others may do it but find it incredibly stressful.
When children have celiac disease they have to avoid all sources of gluten, including cross-contamination, because eating it can lead to damage of the small intestine. For reference, here’s a list of gluten-free and gluten-containing ingredients.
As a dietitian who works with these patients, I would like parents to realize that it is possible to dine out when your child has celiac disease. Here are some tips that we give to our patients to make it a little more manageable:
Before You Go
Planning is the key to making sure that you have a good experience. While often times you eat out because you’re in a rush, we encourage you to plan ahead as much as possible.
- Look at the restaurant’s website to see if they offer gluten-free menu items.
- Call to speak with someone about gluten-free menu options and food preparation before visiting.
- Be sure that the employee you speak to understands what you mean when you say “gluten free.” You may find it helpful to ask for the manager or chef.
- Plan to avoid the restaurant’s busiest hours. This will ensure they have time to prepare your food carefully and correctly.
- Pack reinforcements! Bring back-up food just in case you don’t feel comfortable with the restaurant’s answers. This way, your family can still enjoy the time away from home, but your child with celiac disease won’t go hungry. Helpful things to bring: gluten-free bread, crackers, salad dressings, and anything that could pair well with typically gluten-free items (when prepared with cross-contamination in mind), such as salad and grilled meats.
Once You’re There
Even if you’re not able to plan ahead of time, discussing your child’s food restrictions with the server, manager or chef before ordering can make for a more successful dining experience. Just because something is labeled gluten free on a menu, does not mean that the restaurant staff are following practices that will keep your child’s food gluten free. If the staff are aware there is a reason for your child’s restrictions, there is a higher chance they will make the effort to keep your child’s food safe for them to eat.
- Try to be polite and friendly when making your special requests. This will make employees more willing to work with you in the future.
- Explain your child’s restricted diet to your server, including which foods to avoid, such as wheat, barley, rye and so on. It may also be helpful to say phrases like “medically gluten free,” “gluten allergy,” or even “celiac disease,” to differentiate their medical necessities from preferences.
- Address hidden sources of gluten. Depending on what dish your child wants to eat, you’ll want to ask your server questions about these possible sources of gluten: marinades, croutons, bacon bits, salad dressings, seasonings, dips, fried foods, creamers, breaded meats, and condiments such as BBQ sauce, soy sauce or teriyaki sauce.
- Ask about cross-contamination. For example, do they fry their French fries in the same fryer as chicken tenders? Do they grill chicken on the same grill where they toast hamburger buns? Will the cooks change gloves and use a separate or cleaned prep area? Do they spread the same butter on both gluten-free and gluten-containing bread?
- Ensure their gluten-free foods are prepared on a clean surface separate from gluten-containing foods. Ask them to put a piece of foil down when cooking your meats or a clean tray, plate or other barrier when prepping your foods.
- Even if you have been to this restaurant before, it’s important to explain your child’s dietary restrictions each time. Different people may prepare your food at each visit, and sometimes the menu changes.
- When your order arrives, double check to make sure it’s correct.