How to Exist and Resist when (Insert Gluten Food Here) Keeps Calling Your Name
For me it’s sweets. I absolutely LOVE pastries, cakes and pies. Not to mention anything with a savory crust like pizza. So negotiating my first restaurants when I decided to go Gluten-Free meant avoiding the dessert cart or menu and the pizza platform ENTIRELY. But eating out Gluten–Free goes WAY beyond that.
First of all, I’d suggest getting your feet wet first by eating at home. That way, you’ll figure out your best Gluten-Free choices and see what feels good in your tummy. When you eat out, seeking out similar choices will make it much easier. So what you want to do is:
1. Get to know Gluten foods. Gluten is the protein fraction of grains. All grains HAVE gluten but the most problematic … those that mostly cause reactions … are in wheat, oats, barley, and rye. That means that pasta, pastries, bread, cereals and lots of other things are suspect. As well as oatmeal … the most-eaten breakfast cereal outside of Lucky Charms (kidding… ). It also means that you’ll have to avoid stuff at work when they bring in the cake, Crispy Cremes and catered Italian lunches.
Take some time to figure out substitutions and Gluten-free options for your fave foods. Then choose similar options when you eat out. In other words, develop a mindset that only allows Gluten-Free foods into your life. It’ll make that life a whole lot easier.
2. Find restaurants with Gluten-Free options. There are lots out there … I give you tons of resources in my book, Gluten-Free in 5 Days. And you can find even more on the internet. Some restaurants are also dedicated Gluten-Free (GF), which means that they cook in a totally GF kitchen. Others have GF options in a glutenized world. But remember … if you have an intolerance, NOT Celiac disease, where you have to avoid ALL gluten … your choices will most likely be “close enough for government work” as it’s impossible to know what’s actually hidden in what you order. Hey … even GF communion wafers have a little gluten. My advice … park your anxiety at the door and do the best you can.
3. Ask a lot of Questions. Waitstaffers want to please you. So ask away. I also tell them, “I’m allergic to wheat (yadda, yadda)” as they’re more likely to give you what you want for fear of you gasping for air, breaking instantly out in a rash, or pulling out your Epi-pen. I do like to ask how the sauce is prepared, is there flour in (name of food), or if things are actually Gluten-Free. There are lots more questions in the book. But you want to go out with the idea that you’re going to speak up and make your dining experience as safe as possible for you.
4. Eat Plain. I know it sounds like a bore but the majority of restaurant gluten that’s not in pasta, pizza, and bread is found in sauces and breadings. Gluten-Free in 5 Days gives you a breakdown of most of these items in Day 5. You might also be surprised to know that the best GF restaurant choices are simple ones … grilled or broiled steak, seafood, or chicken, baked potato, salad and veggies. So if you’re into that kind of stuff, go at it! And if you like saucy, bready things, those are best done at home where you can control the ingredients.
5. Eat Ethnic. I’m a huge fan of Mexican food as most of it is GF. It also helps that I live in Southern California, which popularized it. Now I know that you can’t get a burrito in a corn tortilla, but lots of other things can go in there, including taco and fajita fillings. My fave … carne asada (or carnitas) tostada with rice instead of beans and tons of cheese, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo (gigantor-chunk salsa). Does it get any better than that? I also LOVE Indian food (without the bread) and Chinese (hold the brown soy-based sauces) as cornstarch is used as a thickener and rice is the starch. If you’re a soy-sauce fan, however, you might want to consider the following …
6. Carry a Restaurant Survival Kit. If you’re the shy, silent type, this idea may be incredibly foreign and intimidating to you. And yes, I do suggest that you carry things like Gluten-Free soy sauce and hamburger buns. And then ask that the cooks or chefs make your dish with these ingredients. I’m not proposing that you carry pasta or anything else that makes for a complicated preparation. But I AM suggesting that you carry quick substitutes. No one can grouse, for example, if they’re asked to grill up a GF bun instead of a wheat one for your burger. Or use your soy sauce instead of theirs in a Chinese dish. I’m even thinking of carting some GF muffins or ciabatta off to my favorite breakfast place as they DO offer GF bread but it’s unexciting kind and I never order it … they also charge more for it. UGH!
The good news is that places you go to all the time are a lot more likely to accommodate you … especially if they’re casual dining or slightly upscale establishments. And YOU’RE a lot more likely to ask if you know the waitstaff and are used to doing it all the time. Make the carrying container fun and/or pretty too … mine is purple!
Whatever you do when you’re dining out Gluten-Free, make sure that you enjoy the entire experience and leave concerns that you may unknowingly eat a bit of gluten in the parking lot. After all, that’s what we eat out for … community, comfort, and celebration. And a GRAND good time!
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