Eating out is a survival tactic for families on the go, especially when they have small children who threaten to parish from starvation every time they see those golden arches! The minute your child is diagnosed with a gluten allergy, however, eating out stops being a convenience and quietly becomes its own special circle of Hell.
Have no fear. Dining out gluten free is not for the faint of heart, but with these five simple rules you can save yourself from a lifetime of peanut butter and jelly on tapioca and enjoy dining out exactly the way you used to.
- Ask for a gluten free or allergy menu. One in every 200 children has a gluten allergy or intolerance. Add to that the number of people living with milk allergies, soy allergies and often life-threatening peanut allergies and you have a large percentage of the population living with dietary restrictions every day of their lives. Printing and passing around allergy menus (menus that alert diners to dishes free of specific allergens) is just good business, and many restaurants are hopping onboard.
- Avoid anything cooked in a fryer. This is going to vary depending on how sensitive your child is. As a rule of thumb, however, fryers are community property. Unless the restaurant has a specific fryer dedicated to gluten free French fries, your food is probably getting dipped in the same oil they used to cook the breading on the chicken strips. If cross contamination is a potential problem, give those fryers a nice, wide berth.
- Don’t bring your own bread to grill or toast. Again, this is an issue of cross contamination. If you toast your gluten free bread in the toaster they’ve been making wheat toast in all morning, you’re not doing your child’s stomach any favors.
- Stick to appetizers, side dishes and refrigeratables. No, I’m not 100% sure that’s a word. That’s just what we call them at our house, and it refers to salads, fruits and other items that aren’t likely to come into contact with wheat along the way.
- If they’re very sensitive, bring your own. Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, the restaurant might complain. It’s far better to explain that your child has a severe food allergy and can’t eat ANYTHING on the menu, however, than to suffer the consequences of burgers being taken off buns and slapped on a plate. Or servers touching a sandwich before they pick up your child’s salad and getting crumbs on the leaves. Yes, it’s happened, and kids have gotten sick because of it. You don’t want that to happen to you.
With a little forethought and a whole lot of backbone (After already getting the thumbs-up from management, I once had to tell an employee at Chuck E. Cheese I was going to let my child throw up on their floor if they wouldn’t let her bring in a gluten free pizza to a birthday party we’d already paid for) dining out without gluten can be just as painless as it was before.