When you are first diagnosed with celiac disease the idea of eating outside your home can be uncomfortable or scary. And, in fact, it makes good sense to carefully prepare your gluten-free meals at home those first few months until you understand more about safe and unsafe ingredients, food labeling laws and how food is prepared in general.

Cross-contamination can occur any place where food is served, including restaurants, diners, buffet lines, vendor carts, salad bars, in stores that use open bins and in airline food. It can occur any place where a variety of different meals are made, different ingredients come together, or the same equipment is used for both gluten-free and gluten-containing foods. Before you dine out, learn everything you can about what restaurants can do to help avoid cross-contamination. This knowledge will help you ask the right questions.

Eating Away from Home: The Basics

The average American eats out 4.2 meals per week, and knowing just the basics of a gluten-free diet makes dining away from home easier, less stressful and healthier.

Family Dinner
  • A good understanding of safe and unsafe ingredients will help you choose food more safely at restaurants, catered events, picnics, friends' houses, and parties, etc.
  • Plan ahead and review a restaurant's menu for the safest choices.
  • ALWAYS identify yourself as someone who needs a special diet. Do not try to guess if the menu item is safe.
  • Ask your server, the manager or the chef clear questions about ingredients and the chance of cross-contamination. Cross-contamination can occur any place where food is served. Table with food
  • Send back any food that is not gluten-free (such as croutons on your salad). Clearly explain the problem to the waitstaff so that it can be corrected and you can enjoy a safe meal. You deserve it!
  • Bring along your own favorite gluten-free sauces or dressings to flavor your meal if needed.
  • There are many resources for dining out gluten-free, including Restaurant Guides and Dining Cards. Show them to waiters to help them understand your gluten-free diet.
  • Always travel with food so that you never go hungry!
  • Click here to download the gluten-free snacking list.
  • Don't let the gluten-free diet hold you back! A positive attitude and a game plan will help you dine out more safely.
  • ALWAYS identify yourself as someone who needs a special diet. Do not try to guess if the menu item is safe.
  • Learn about safe/unsafe ingredients and how food is prepared and cooked

Gluten-Free (GF) Food to Go:

  • Dried fruit/trail mix labeled GF
  • GF Muffins (in a container to avoid crumbling)
  • Fresh fruit, veggies
  • GF Cookies
  • Plain nuts and seeds
  • GF rice/corn cakes
  • Dried GF cereal in bags
  • GF Dried soups
  • Tuna in a pouch (check ingredients)
  • Packaged GF entrees
  • Freeze-dried GF food
  • Peanut butter
  • GF Energy bars
  • GF Chips
  • Pre-toasted GF bread
  • GF soy sauce, condiments
  • GF Pretzels
  • GF Protein powder (to mix with juice or milk)

Easy Menu Items to Begin:

  1. Simply cooked foods without added sauces
  2. Salad with added grilled chicken or salmon. Choose oil and vinegar dressing (not malt vinegar). Ask your server to avoid serving you croutons, crackers, or bread. You can ask for more vegetables instead.
  3. Simply cooked seafood dishes, such as grilled scallops or shrimp with lemon, garlic and butter. Broiled or baked fish cannot be marinated or topped with bread or cracker crumbs, or sauce. Poached fish cannot be held in a gluten-containing broth. Lobster cannot be cooked in beer.
  4. Poultry or meat dishes cooked simply without marinades. Meat cannot be marinated prior to cooking, held in broth, or served with a sauce that contains gluten.
Waitress

Speaking Up with Servers

Many people do not want to speak up for themselves or to draw attention to their special needs. They would rather try to make choices on what they think is safe vs. asking what is safe. The first step to safe dining is to identify yourself and ask questions. Remember that you are the one to pay the price if a mistake is made and you eat a gluten-containing food. It is your health and wellness that is at stake so do not hesitate to speak up.

  • Know the gluten-free diet and the questions to ask.
  • Do your homework before you go. Learn about the restaurant and what it offers. This can be done online or over the phone ahead of time.
  • Identify yourself to the wait staff as someone on a special diet. 
    Anxiety about speaking up about food allergies and intolerances is a very common reason why people have reactions to food when dining out.
  • Ask specific questions of your server or the chef (and ask again!) Be sure you are talking to someone who knows both the ingredients and how the food is prepared - this is generally the chef or the manager. See below (More Tips for Dining Out) for some helpful questions.
  • When in doubt, choose a very simple meal with only a few ingredients.
  • Do not accept mistakes. Send your food back if it is not gluten-free.
  • Try to go early or late when it is not as busy for the wait staff.
  • Say thank you and tip well!
  • Read this handout on Dining Out on American Cuisine

Revision Date: 10-8-13
Author: Melinda Dennis, MS, RD, LDN 
Editors: Pam Cureton, RD, LDN and Daniel Leffler, MD, MS

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