If your a gluten free nube or a you've a long time coeliac, your undoubtedly going to be faced with eating dinner out at some time or another. If your a gluten-freer new to the game it can be majorly daunting, and also lets face its, a tad frightening (who would want to eat dinner if there was a chance of being poisoned?!).
Let me get straight to the crux of it. Not everywhere will cater to a G/F diet. There will be restaurants and people who aren't helpful and who will know nothing about coeliacs and will think gluten is a type of breakfast cereal (yes, that has happened to me!). As frustrating as this is, and as upsetting as this can be (I have cried quite a few times in restaurants out of frustration) its the truth. you may even be poisoned at some point or get a 'glutening' as Becky calls it. I know it sounds pessimistic but its the law of averages.
Never fear though!
There are some great places to eat, restaurateurs sympathetic to the coeliac plight and waiters so clued up on gluten that you'll be wondering if they're moonlighting as nutritionists.
While my tips are steadfast rules (I need to stress again, I am NOT a doctor, dietitian, nurse or health care professional), they're hints that will hopefully make dining out a far easier affair all round.
- Don't be embarrassed. You have a medical condition, that's the long and short of it, and you can't help it. You don't need to go into the ins and outs of what will happen should you eat gluten but you have to be prepared to explain to staff in restaurants, cafes or bars that you can't eat gluten and why.
- Ring in advance. This may sound obvious, and in reality it's not always possible to ring ahead to a restaurant, but if you can it's really worth doing to explain the situation. If they can cater to you it will give them time to prepare or buy food suitable for you. If they can't cater to you then it saves you turning up and drinking water while everyone tucks into food you can't eat. Not my idea of a good time.
- Be thorough. If you aren't able to ring in advance you need to be the Sgt Major of coeliacs and go through the menu with a fine tooth comb, checking every single dish. Avoid things like sauces, gravies and dressings. Ask the waiter, or better yet the chef what particular dishes contain. If they don't know, air on the side of caution, you don't want to risk it for a biscuit and eat a dish only to find out a few hours later that it had gluten in. It won't be the staff at the restaurant who will be up ill all night, it'll be you!
- Don't ever downplay coeliacs. Coeliacs is a serious disease which puts you at a higher risk of miscarriage, bowel cancer and osteoporosis. It is not a food allergy. It's an auto-immune disease which makes your body attack itself. I sometimes forget how serious coeliacs can be and I shouldn't and neither should you. If you eat gluten, short term you'll maybe be ill for a while, long term you could get anaemic, fatigued and all the time your eating gluten (accidentally or not) your putting yourself in a position where you more susceptible to the very nasty things coeliacs can entail. Express how serious coeliacs is to a waiter, if they know that they could potentially poison you if they're not careful they'll be a lot more vigilant. Nobody wants a phone call to the restaurant from a diner complaining of a gluten poisoning!
- Be doubly careful. So the restaurant has told you they can cater to you with a gluten free meal, fab, but then your chicken gets cooked in the same pan as a battered cod. Not so fab. It's all very well a restaurant serving you a safe meal, but you need to make them aware that food prep is vital, as contamination is a big issue for coeliacs, and the tiniest bit of gluten can make you ill.
- Don't sit back. It's very easy to let others do the dirty work, but if a restaurant doesn't serve gluten free food or aren't willing to the only thing for you to do is complain. While it's not illegal for a restaurant not to serve g/f meals, it's a pain in the arse, and down right ignorant. I've never been to a restaurant that doesn't serve vegetarian food, and while I'm a fair weather veggie, the last time I checked it wasn't a medical condition, yet it is widely catered for. It's a shame the same can't be said for coeliacs. My advice? Go high. Email the CEO of the chain restaurant that wouldn't cater to you, ring the manager of your local cafe who refused to offer g/f meals. There's nothing like a good guilt trip!
- Be Cynical. Always think the worst of a restaurant, this might seem a bit harsh, but to be cynical is to be vigilant in this case. Go into every restaurant situation with a mind that you will ONLY be happy when the staff have reassured you in every way possible that your meal will be completely gluten-free, the chef will be hyper vigilant in the prep of your food and every measure will be taken on your behalf so that you feel happy and safe.
- Think Twice. Don't presume that because you ate at a restaurant and it was fine, that it will be the next time, go through the routine of explaining to the waiter and staff about coeliacs every time you go, you may be aware that you have coeliacs, but as soon as you walked out of the door after your last visit, they forget who you are. Take the time to remind them.