Being gluten free can be a struggle when it comes not only to your home life, but to your social life as well. It doesn’t have to be! When you first start out on your gluten free venture you quickly learn the way of things. Reading blog articles and following gluten free people online is a helpful way of learning how to avoid the pitfalls that can come with your food intolerance. I’ve decided to write an article that I hope can help people out there when it comes to eating out. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way:
If they don’t do gluten free, don’t give them your money.
This is just sound advice. If you had a fish allergy and you went to a restaurant that put fish in everything and wouldn’t accommodate you, you wouldn’t eat there. The same thing goes with being gluten intolerant. In the early days I would “suffer through” if I went to a restaurant that couldn’t provide me with a safe meal. I would just sit politely, smile and eat the only salad I could. Then I would pay a fortune for it. This was especially hard when it came to being abroad and not speaking the language. Now with some experience under my belt, if a restaurant can’t accommodate me, I simply don’t give them my money.
If the menu claims they can accommodate for your gluten intolerance, don’t take it at face value. Always ask.
This is a tip I still struggle with. I see “food allergies can be accommodated for, ask your waiter,” and my mind just instantly thinks I can order whatever I want because I magically become a gourmet chef and know all of the ingredients in every dish. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago at a Chinese restaurant. I ordered a starter I thought was gluten free, and it came with a light batter. The menu didn’t state that there was a light batter to the meal, and so I took it for granted. The meal came, I couldn’t eat it, and I had to pay for it. Stupidity is not cool people, especially when it comes to your food intolerance. Always ask.
Beware of cross contamination
Cross contamination is the biggest threat when it comes to eating out. It will be a worry at the back for your mind forever. The worry will decrease in size over time and eventually you’ll hardly worry at all, but a little niggling voice will always be knocking around in your head somewhere. This links to the previous point of always asking. If you’re going for a take away, for example, you need to make sure you tackle this problem. You can’t just assume that a chip shop fries their chips in different oil to the battered sausages. Likewise, you can’t assume this of restaurants. I got fish and chips at a restaurant once that claimed it was gluten free. The batter certainly was but it had been fried in the same oil as the regular batter fish and I was intensely ill because of it. Always ask.
Ask for a gluten free menu.
A lot of restaurants still don’t have specific gluten free menus, and this is okay! I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but more and more restaurants I go to nowadays have their own gluten free menu. My heart and stomach jump for joy any time I’m handed one. Don’t think for one second though that this menu will be as long as the regular menu, that is just impossible, give the restaurant some credit. Don’t be shocked too if you’re handed a huge allergen folder. You’ll need to get your dietician head on to read it, but they are useful, if not completely cumbersome.
Do your research.
This is very important. The internet is your friend, and a majority of restaurants will have their menus available online. This will allow you to check beforehand what the gluten free availability is like, and if you’re really going to have a lot of choice. If you’re on holiday, this is especially important to do. If you’re in a country that doesn’t speak your native language, the website can be translated for you, and you’ll know what to expect. Doing your research also helps when it comes to socialising with your friends, which brings me on to my next point.
Educate friends and family.
A slow burner tip but excellent when it all finally kicks in. At the beginning of your gluten free journey don’t expect everyone around you to know immediately how to work with your needs. Most, if not all, of them will not be familiar with the gluten free diet and will need to learn themselves. Don’t be angry when your friends or family book a restaurant for a night out that doesn’t fully cater for your needs. They didn’t do it out of malice, trust me. Just use some of the above tips and work with it. Once the people you love have gotten into the groove of your non-gluten eating ways, they will automatically think of you when booking somewhere to eat. This has been my experience anyway.
I hope these tips have been helpful, and I hope it will be of some benefit to someone out there. Starting a gluten free diet is a hard task and for a long time you may think that eating out and your social life is over. This is not the case. Just be prepared and you will find that your social life and eating out habits will continue on as normal. The only person holding you back from enjoying a good meal at a restaurant is you. For coeliac awareness week, gain the confidence and go out there and eat to your heart is content!