You used to eat anything and not worry about it. Pizza, hoagies, pasta, hamburgers were all part of your daily life. Oh and don’t forget garlic bread and bagels. When you found out that you couldn’t eat gluten any more, you were numb.
Going to a restaurant used to be pleasurable, but now you find it stressful. Your goal is to not get “glutened”. And, you worry about causing a scene.
Some of your friends are embarrassed to dine with you. They tell you that you have become like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally when she orders the salad and the pie a la mode. You remember the scene in the movie, the waitress’ eye roll and thinking that you’d never do anything like that.
Yet, here you are.
So, how do you enjoy eating again? Learn how to avoid these four mistakes.
Mistake #1 – Not Getting the Waiter on Your Side and Using the Allergy Word
If you’re like most people, you order your meal specifying gluten-free and hope for the best. You’re making a mistake though by not fully engaging your waiter.
Try this new approach:
First, discreetly call the waiter to your side and quietly take them into your confidence by explaining your allergy. You can try this opener… “I’m sorry but I am going to be your worst nightmare today – I’m the dreaded gluten-free nut”. This starts to build a rapport. A scan of their face will let you know where you stand.
Then, assess their desire to be helpful. Body language is very important–looking away, eye rolls are not good while leaning in is good. Some might even start rattling off which items are safe and which can be made to order. If you get the blank stare or the “well, the such-and-such should be okay because it doesn’t have any oil or sugar” then you know you’re in trouble.
At this point, you move into the pleading stage. Try this line. “Is there any way, you could ask the chef if…..” and ensure that they know you’ll be very grateful for keeping you safe.
Always say you have a gluten allergy instead of saying gluten-free, so you are not confused with people who are simply trying to cut back. If you become ill in some way from eating gluten, then you have the right to say gluten allergy. It gets more attention because there’s a liability involved.
So, avoid mistake #1. Befriend the waiter and use the words “gluten allergy” when ordering.
Mistake #2 – Not Checking Out The Restaurant In Advance
Check out the restaurant in advance. Just showing up and hoping that the restaurant can or wants to deal with you is a mistake. Start with their website. See what they have to say about being gluten-free friendly. When you call to make a reservation, you should advise about your gluten allergy.
Using OpenTable to make reservations is a great way to get good gluten-free service. Fill out the special request section when making a reservation, and your allergy information will automatically transfer to any subsequent reservation. You’ll love this service. When you show up at the restaurant, the host/hostess acknowledges that you have a diner with allergies, and the waiter also has the same information.
What could be better? Everyone is forewarned and you’ll be cared for.
Mistake #3 – Not Being Strategic About Your Order
Many restaurants offer gluten-free menu options where regular items can be made gluten-free. Some of these menu items should be avoided. If you order something that needs to be “adjusted” in the kitchen, then you’ll have to rely on the kitchen to get it right. That’s A LOT of trust to put in people who are busy trying to feed other people.
To be smart about what you order, think about whether you’ll be able to tell if the kitchen got the substitutions right.
A gluten-free bun is pretty easy to spot, but could you tell if your fish was breaded in rice flour or wheat flour? Didn’t think so.
So, order strategically. Think about whether you can be sure your meal is safe.
Mistake #4 – Not Knowing “The List”
The List is all the stuff that has gluten in it that you would never expect. You’ll make fewer mistakes once you’ve mastered the list. Many are surprising and some are just downright disappointing.
But, hey, it’s better to know, right?
Here’s The List:
- Bacon – It can be cured in gluten. Very distressing.
- Wasabi – Apparently, some Japanese restaurants use powdered wasabi that has gluten.
- Miso Soup – Traditional miso soup does not contain gluten, but some Japanese restaurants are putting soy sauce in the miso soup so don’t eat it.
- Tortilla Chips – There are two issues here. Some can be dusted with flour or corn tortillas can be cooked in oil that has been contaminated with wheat flour. Either way, it’s bad.
- Licorice – You can find gluten-free licorice but what you find in the stores you can’t eat.
- Oatmeal – A lively internet debate is occurring about oats and oatmeal. Do yourself a favor, don’t eat it unless the package says certified gluten-free.
- Cocktail Sauce – So, you may have thought that shrimp cocktail was safe, but somehow, somebody was able to sneak gluten into some sauces. You have to be careful with prepared horseradish sauces. Be sure to buy the ones that are labeled gluten-free.
- Shrimp (or any seafood) Steamed in Beer – If you order shrimp, ensure that they were steamed without beer or use GF beer.
- Marinated Meat – Avoid marinated meat unless you can be sure of the marinade ingredients. Marinated meat is typically not gluten-free.
- BBQ Sauce – Many sauces contain soy sauce which is no good.
- Deli Meats, Sausages, Hot Dogs – Unless it’s labeled gluten-free, avoid these meats.
- Wild Rice Mix – Some contain gluten, so while rice is okay, it’s the mix ingredients you need to evaluate.
- Cooking Spray – Yes, your cooking spray could contain gluten. Check it out.
- Flavored Tea – It might contain barley malt flavoring.
Other helpful tips:
1. Use “Find Me Gluten Free” App – Available for iPhone and Android phones. You’ll love this app. Simply put in your location and find restaurants with gluten-free menus, gluten-free options and honest reviews by people like you, so you’ll know which restaurants to avoid.
This App has made travel SO much easier.
2. Gluten Digest Supplement – The supplement doesn’t allow you to eat gluten with impunity, but it does lessen the impact. Try Pure Encapsulations Gluten/Dairy Digest. You’ll need to find a professional supplement store because this isn’t available at your local grocer.
This is not medical advice.
3. Travel with Celiac Travel Cards – If you’re travelling abroad and your second language is not up to the task of explaining your allergies, print out cards with the information and hand them out to the wait staff. You’ll discover that using these cards is an entirely different experience from explaining it in the States.
The card is taken seriously.
Many (befriended) waiters will take the card back to the kitchen to share with the chef. Carry several copies in your wallet or handbag. They are even available in Greek. Check out Celiac Travel Cards.
What are your tips for eating gluten-free?