A lot of my clients come to me well aware that they need to cut gluten out of their diets. For some it is because they know their body reacts badly to it – they can feel it with bloating and cramps (read gluten intolerance symptoms HERE). Some may have been given a diagnosis of Celiac’s disease (an autoimmune where gluten triggers the body to attack the gut), other autoimmune diseases, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or have irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowl disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s.
Going Gluten Free isn’t a cure-all and it isn’t going to help everyone, but for many people in the above groups, it is definitely worth a try to see if symptoms diminish.
I am gluten-free because gluten causes my thyroid disease to flare-up. My husband and son are also gluten free, and therefore, by default, so is my daughter. I’m also dairy, egg and soy-free (as these also caused adverse reactions, common for those with Hashimoto’s).
So, eating out can turn into a whole lot of aggravation and not a lot of pleasure. This is particularly the case with gluten-free kids. They want to have a good time and I don’t want to deprive them, but most kids menus have ZERO vegetables, or if they do it’s a token portion of grey peas with fish and chips. Everything on a kids menu comes with chips (which OK are technically gluten free…), and/or in batter or in a bun. I have to admit, this does annoy me – what example are we setting our kids about healthy eating? Anyway, that’s not what this post is about…
I have noticed recently that more restaurants are onboard with gluten free eating. I think this is probably because of a change in legislation surrounding food allergies.
My biggest gripes about eating out with intolerances/allergies are:
- The lack on information on menus – if the chicken comes with a cream sauce, write it on the menu! If the kids sorbet comes on a bed of biscuit crumbs (even when you have told the staff he is gluten-free), write it on the menu!
- Being handed a ring-binder folder of spreadsheets documenting all possible allergens that may be in the kitchen, which doesn’t correspond to the meals on the menu, is not helpful. I didn’t come out to study.
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It’s true, while others are getting drinks and catching-up with old friends, I am usually scanning the various menus and spreadsheets for something to feed my family. Do I get irritated every now and then when something turns up coated in breadcrumbs or slathered in butter, when I have spent half of my evening discussing gluten-containing ingredients with staff? Well yes. And for that I am sorry.
But, is being gluten free worth this hassle? YES, absolutely.
So, my Top Tips for eating out Gluten-Free:
- Announce your intolerances when you book the table or at least upon arrival. I still don’t enjoy doing this. Sometimes I just want to be “normal” and to not have the wait staff surreptitiously pointing at me and talking. BUT, it can save you a lot of hassle at the restaurant. Some places like you to choose your meal ahead of time. This slightly takes the spontaneity out of the event, but could save you from being ill – it’s a trade off (as ever).
- Be prepared to be flexible. There may be one dish on the menu that they can adapt for you. It probably won’t be your first or even second choice, but try to go with it.
- Be aware of menu misinformation. Thinking I can get away with not announcing my intolerances has got me into gluten-trouble many times. I have fallen into the trap of ordering what reads on the menu as a simple chicken and vegetables or nut roast with seasonal veg. This usually comes with some hidden allergen, like breadcrumbs in the nut roast or vegetables cooked in butter – see point 1, it’s best to announce your intolerances.
- Know your allergens/gluten-containing foods. Even though wait staff and chefs are now supposed to be trained in this, do not rely on them. On many an occasion I have been offered a “gluten-free” meal, which contains barely or rye or even breadcrumbs! Sausages, unless specifically stated, will contain gluten. Crisps/chips with flavouring usually contain gluten. Most sauces and gravies also contain gluten, though some are thickened with cornflour. If you are in any doubt then avoid it.
- You can usually get an extra side of vegetables – ask! I have noticed that once over the shock and fear of having to deal with someone with an intolerance/allergy, restaurant staff are keen to make a good impression (especially if they have handed you a folder and asked you to piece together your own meal). I often ask if I can swap things, such as a a side of garlic bread for an extra portion of vegetables. This is also often the case if they have to take something gluten-containing out of the main meal.
- As a last resort, if you are very worried that there won’t be anything you can have, then eat a small meal before you go out. Then order a starter or salad.
It can be hard, and challenging and frustrating, but sticking to your gluten-free diet when eating out is really important for your health. If in doubt, don’t have it.