So I did say this was going to be a five-post series, didn’t I? Well the response has been so positive, we’re onto part six! After discussing some basic tips, shopping, cooking grains and easy substitutions I think it’s about time we talked about approaching eating gluten free outside the home.
Any sort of large dietary change takes a level of adjustment. I have experienced this many times over the years, first when I was a vegetarian (in Italy, no less!) , then when I went dairy-free, and now being cows dairy-and gluten-free. Having to explain yourself, request options and do your research like never before can be intimidating. But I promise, it will get better over time.
After living with stomach problems for so long I no longer fear requesting substitutions and enjoy finding places to suit my needs- eating something unexpected is never fun. You’ll soon find yourself researching restaurants, calling ahead and carrying your own tamari in your purse to go out for sushi (hey, I like my fish seasoned!).
Here are a few things I have learned about eating gluten-free outside the home:
1. Assume most people do not understand what “gluten-free” means. The term is becoming more and more prevalent nowadays, but that doesn’t mean people understand exactly what it means. You may need to explain yourself, or check twice to make sure- that’s fine, this is your health we’re talking about. Don’t be afraid to speak up. A simple, “I’m gluten-free (or I have celiac disease) which means I am allergic to anything that contains wheat, barley, rye or oats- could you check with the chef to see what items are available for me to eat?”. They should be accommodating- if they want you to come back. If they’re not, I’d think twice about going back to a restaurant who doesn’t take their customers’ needs seriously.
[Note: I find using the term “allergic” creates more of a sense of urgency to your request- most people don’t even know what “intolerance” means, but when you say “allergy” they tend to take it more seriously. Unfortunately, this is the way it is. ]
2. Check online, or call ahead. Many restaurants are featuring “gluten-free” lists online, or even separate gluten-free menus. Check online, and if you don’t find anything, call ahead- find out your options and decide from there whether it’s worth it, or your plan of action. If they have no suitable options, maybe search out another place- if you already have plans, worst comes to worst you can always eat before or after.
3. Make your own meal. No entrée options? Why not choose from the appetizers, or the sides? Find out what you can eat and make your own meal- most restaurants won’t have a huge problem with this, you’re still giving them business. A bonus is often being able to try many different items from the same menu!
4. BYO. Call me crazy, but I do like to carry a bottle of tamari in my purse. And Im not afraid of bringing gluten-free bread with me to enjoy with my soup. Because I love going out to sushi restaurants, where there are options a plenty- without the shoyu. And sometimes it’s nice to have a little soup-dipper. Maybe people will look at you like you have three heads- so what? You’re enjoying your meal and living life to the fullest g-free and that’s what matters.
5. Kill them with kindness. Do your best to be as nice as possible with the waitstaff helping you find your gluten-free options. Sometimes if might be frustrating, I know. But simply smiling and saying “please” and “thank you” frequently can go a long way. The nicer you are, the more willing they will be to help you. There’s no need to stress over the situation, chances are they’re doing their best to help you as well.
6. Show your Thanks. If a restaurant does accommodate you, please- thank them again, and give them a good tip! Yes, a restaurant should do their best to help you, it is the service industry- but they are also going out of their way. Show that you appreciate it!
Of course, eating at a restaurant is not the only time you may be in a situation where being gluten-free can be a challenge.
At a friend’s house…
Call your friend, and explain your situation. If they’re a good friend they’ll understand and work with you to figure out a solution.
Offer to bring a side that you can eat, or help cook the meal- assuring it is gluten-free and it doesn’t feel like a burden to your friend.
Bring a gluten-free sweet treat to wow your hostess. A lot of times people are intimidated by the term “gluten-free” and still associate it with “bland cardboard”. Prove them wrong!
At a potluck…
Bring an item that you can eat and can serve as your entire meal, if need be. Bring a stew or chili, or maybe a big gluten-free grain salad, or else you may be stuck eating brown rice cookies all night! Then you have your main meal and you can assess the situation when you get there, maybe there will be more options than you thought- but it’s nice to be prepared.
Don’t be afraid to ask others what’s in their dish. They won’t be offended if you explain why you’re asking!
At a work meeting…
If it’s a breakfast meeting or an after-lunch kind of deal, eat breakfast before, make sure you fill up at lunch, or bring your own snack or smoothie if you get hungry.
Let your co-workers know (if you want) so they won’t wonder why you’re not eating the muffins or pressure you to try one of the bakery’s famous croissants.
If it’s a meal-meeting and you must eat (as in, it’s not possible to eat before or after), let your boss know and see if there is any way you can order a gluten-free option. If not, bring your own lunch so you won’t feel left out when everyone else is eating. If you’ve already discussed it with your boss there shouldn’t be an issue.
My best advice? Pack snacks. If you’re going on an airplane, call ahead to find out if there is an option for your meal. If not, bring enough snacks to keep you full through your flight (I love larabars for this!) and grab something when you arrive or bring your own meal if you’re not flying overseas.
If you’re traveling by car or train, try and bring as much of your own stuff as possible. Check ahead for restaurants on the way that might have options for you- chains can actually be good for this- Chipotle, for example, has a lot of gluten-free options.