Eating Out when you are on a strict gluten free diet is definitely a challenge. Finding a restaurant with gluten free options is just the first hurdle. The most difficult part is finding a restaurant where they understand the serious threat of cross contamination and know how to prevent it.
Here are some of the things I do to avoid cross contamination when eating out. Please share your tips and ideas too. Since this topic is such a large and important one I decided to divide it into three sections. How to prevent cross contamination when cooking at home, eating out and travelling.
How to prevent cross contamination eating out
- Choose 100% gluten free. Obviously if possible a celiacs best bet is to eat at a 100% gluten free restaurant. Whilst these are few and far between I’ve come across more than I would have expected on my travels and I always feel so excited when I do find one. If a restaurant is truly entirely gluten free (whether due to them serving naturally gluten free food or because they have chosen to cater for celiacs) this makes dining out a much more relaxing and stress free experience.
- Ask questions. If a restaurant isn’t entirely gluten free but does offer gluten free options, asking questions is the best way to figure out whether or not it’s safe for you to eat there. This may sound really obvious but I know when I was first diagnosed I felt really uncomfortable questioning restaurant staff about their menu items and their preparation methods. Now however, it’s second nature to me and it’s stopped me from getting unnecessarily sick.
- Ask the right questions. Simply asking if something is gluten free isn’t enough. When you’re celiac you need to be sure that a restaurant really understands what this means. If they serve gluten free pasta for example but they cook this gluten free pasta in the same water or pot as wheat pasta then their pasta is not gluten free. If they serve gluten free pizza but they use the same utensils that they use for ordinary pizza to put on the toppings then their pizza is not gluten free. Ask about preparation methods, ask how they deal with cross contamination. Check out my post on Asking the right questions when eating out for more ideas.
- Choose where you eat. Wherever possible, when eating out as a group, be the one in charge of choosing the restaurant. Even if it means you find yourself going to the same places all the time, at least you will stay safe. Luckily my friends and family understand and always allow me to choose. This way I always feel comfortable eating out. If I find myself in a situation where I can’t choose, I generally eat before or after and just have a drink at the restaurant.
- Don’t eat anywhere you’re not completely sure about. We can’t always be in charge of where we go. When eating out as a group, especially if it’s a work thing or if it’s a friend or loved one’s birthday it can be a real challenge. If the group really want to go somewhere that doesn’t have anything safe for you to eat, go but make sure you eat before you go or take something with you to stop yourself from getting hungry. Don’t just eat there to fit in because you figure it will be fine. If you’re not sure about a restaurant, you don’t have to eat there. You can still enjoy the drinks and the conversation.
- Walking out is always an option. It can be hard to decide to get up and leave once you’re already sitting down at a restaurant. Don’t let the slight awkwardness of this type of situation keep you there, eating something that will make you sick. Not 100% sure? Not 100% comfortable? Not 100% happy? Leave.
What do you do to ensure you don’t get contaminated when eating out? Perhaps you just don’t eat out because you feel that the risk is too high? Share your thoughts in the comments below..