The average American eats out between four and five times a week. You might look at that statistic and immediately think about how its impact on your budget, but a celiac patient is thinking about the impact on his or her health. For people with celiac disease, eating out is a potentially dangerous event, and yet it is a big part of our culture as a means of socializing or getting a night off from cooking. For celiac patients, how do you manage your illness while enjoying a night out with friends?
Do Your Research
The reality is that many restaurants do not have the knowledge or capacity to accommodate special dietary needs. This is especially true of chain restaurants where the food is often not made onsite, and the cooks are not usually trained chefs who understand the ins and outs of different food preparation techniques. In choosing a restaurant, you are better off going somewhere local where the chef is likely in charge of ordering and preparing all the food or somewhere high-end with a trained culinary staff. If the restaurant has a gluten-free menu or items on the menu that can easily be made gluten-free, like non-breaded chicken or fish or hamburgers that can be served without the bun, these might be ideal meal options. No matter which restaurant options you choose to investigate further, you need to do exactly that—investigate further.
The next step is to call the restaurant and ask the manager some key questions about the menu and the preparation of the food. This is important because just having gluten-free food does not mean there are gluten-free processes in place for cooking the food, and cross-contamination could be a problem. To assess this potential risk, ask questions about how items are made: Do you have gluten-free options? Do you have a special preparation area/utensils/pans/fryers for gluten-free items? Do your cooks wear gloves while preparing gluten-free food? Some other things you might ask are whether the staff has undergone a gluten-free training program, details about specific ingredients of certain dishes, including garnishes and marinades, and what their cleaning practices are. In asking these questions, you are trying to gather information about the restaurant while also gauging the feel of the restaurant (i.e. do they seem to know what they are doing, and do they care for your wellbeing?).
Even after a conversation with the manager, you will still want to reiterate your needs to the server when you order so that he or she can be sure to get the message to the chef. It is a good idea to let the server know you’ve already spoken with a manager and your understanding is that they can accommodate your dietary needs. In all of your conversations be respectful and polite, because this will go a long way in helping the restaurant staff be interested in treating you well and taking care with your food.
Remember The Goal
It seems like a lot of work just to go out to eat and it's maybe not worth the trouble! The important thing to remember when you have an illness like celiac disease is to not let the illness become the focus. This is hard when you are doing so much to accommodate the illness, but the bigger picture is the reason you want to go out to eat. Maybe you want to spend time with your friends or family, or maybe you want a night off from cooking and doing dishes—let that be the focus and the food be secondary, and you will enjoy your night all the more. If after your research and conversations you are still not confident that your food will be safe, you can pre-eat in case you are not able to make menu options work or bring a small meal with you to eat and order drinks at the restaurant. You will still get to participate in the outing and not have to worry that you will regret the food choices later.
If you need more information about celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or if you would like to understand the gluten-free diet better, make an appointment with GI Associates today. We would be glad to assess your personal needs and help you make a plan for eating, both in and out of your home.