This post is so timely. If I'm 100% honest, I'm having a bit of a panic attack about Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe you are too. We've been invited to two cookouts, one of which all the food is supplied. While that may seem like a gracious thing, when you live in a household with multiple food intolerances, it requires extra planning and a list of questions that feel like you're interrogating someone. It makes you feel like celebrating alone in the comfort of your own four walls.
But we live in the "land of the free and the home of the brave." Don't let this disease make you feel like a prisoner of war. True, eating out gets a lot more complicated, but it can be done. Here are a few tips to help ease the anxiety and help you have a successful dining experience.
Eating Outside of Your Home
Let's face it.There are times that the last thing you want to do is cook. You long for the days of picking up a Hot-N-Ready pizza from Little Casear's and no dirty dishes in the sink. (Or is that just me?) Unfortunately your genetic makeup has decided that isn't possible. We need to not only stay away from foods that contain gluten, but also be wary of how things are prepared.
Gluten-Free pizza at Buon Gusto in Brighton, Michigan
It's always best to call a restaurant before going out to dinner. Don't call 5 minutes before you walk out the door. Call during their slowest time, usually between 2 and 4 pm. Ask to speak with the head chef or whoever is primarily in charge of the kitchen. You can blatantly ask them if they know what gluten is, and have them explain it to you. Ask them if there staff has completed a gluten-free training program.
Ask about how they prevent cross-contact. Cross-contact, as it pertains to food allergies, happens when one food protein comes in contact with another. For example, when your gluten-free pizza crust gets prepared on top of regular wheat-based flour, it has now been cross-contacted and that pizza is no longer Celiac-safe. Here are some questions to ask your server.
- Do that have a dedicated space where they prepare all gluten-free food?
- Do they have a dedicated fryer? (If not, fried items at that location are OFF LIMITS due to cross-contact.)
- Do they prepare their gluten-free pasta with fresh water and in a completely clean pot?
- Do they have a dedicated griddle for their pancakes, or waffle iron?
- Do they have dedicated utensils for serving?
- Do they serve gluten-free items in distinguishable plates and bowls?
And remember, if you feel unsafe eating at a restaurant, you have every right to walk out. I've had to do it once myself, after they managed to mess up not only my meal, but my husband's as well. You are the consumer and your health is in your hands.
There are some organizations and apps that have helped make this situation easier. Beyond Celiac, Gluten Intolerance Group and the Celiac Support Association all have restaurant training programs that they are connected to. Seeing their certification seals and logos is a huge help. Some hospitals have even been trained by these organizations, which is absolutely necessary. Believe it or not, I feel that hospitals are the worst in accommodating Celiac Disease needs. I therefore ALWAYS recommend that you always have another person present, who is knowledgeable about gluten-free needs, when ordering food during your hospital stay.
My favorite gluten-free dining website and smartphone app is Find Me Gluten Free. I feel it is an essential resource for everyone. The app uses the GPS location on your smartphone and alerts you to restaurants in the area that (may) have safe gluten-free options. (You can also search by address if you're researching cities you plan to visit.) This is a user supported system, meaning that restaurant listings and reviews are placed on the site by consumers. I tell people to ALWAYS read reviews of any restaurant that you are considering, as there might be tell tale issues listed in the comments. Also, reviews can be left by people who are avoiding gluten by choice, not because they have Celiac Disease. There is a way to denote if a restaurant is "Celiac Friendly" as well as if t is a 100% dedicated gluten-free restaurant or bakery.
See what I did there? Now you want one of these #glutenfree cinnamon rolls!
Speaking of bakeries, have did you know that there are over 20 dedicated gluten-free bakeries in Michigan? Check out the listing on my site and use the interactive map to find one near you!
What about when you're dining in someone else's home? All the same cross-contact issues still apply. Always GRACIOUSLY talk to the hostess ahead of time and explain your needs. Offer to bring dishes as well as offer to prep food at their home. Always feel free to BYOB- Bring Your Own Bun. Gluten Free Living magazine has an article with more tips on this situation.
If you feel unsure about dining any place outside of your home, we have a mantra - "When In Doubt, Go Without." Bring snacks in your purse or briefcase, eat prior to going, or stay a limited amount of time and pick up something on the way out. While not being able to eat with others can be stressful, it's helpful to try to find ways to focus on who you're with instead of what you're (not) eating.
Be prepared. Bring snacks.
A word about kiddos and being gluten-free at school. Helping a child remain gluten-free during the school day involves so much more than just lunch. There are snack times, classroom parties, crafts (did you know that Playdough contains wheat?) and so much more. It's important to have a good conversation, every year, with your child's teacher and school principal. I HIGHLY suggest that each child has a 504 plan in place. Read more about dealing with this issue on Beyond Celiac's site.
Other Celiac Disease Resources
With Celiac Disease, we never stop learning. New research is always out there, new books are always written and companies are always innovating. Whether you're new to Celiac Disease or you're a veteran like me, there are always new helps along the way. Here are some that I suggest:
Books to read - There are multiple books I would suggest, written both by professionals and lay people. I suggest books like Gluten Freedom and Mayo Clinic: Going Gluten Free, because I trust authors Dr Fasano and Dr. Murray, respectively. Other good reads include Beth Hillson's book The Complete Guide to Living Well Gluten Free, as well as Erica Dermer's book Celiac and The Beast.
There are also MANY gluten-free magazines that are worth subscribing to. Read my post that compares the magazines currently on the market.
Cookbooks- There are thousands of gluten-free cookbooks on the market. You probably think I'm exaggerating. An Amazon search for "gluten-free cookbook" returned over 7,000 results. So how do you find a good one? My first cookbooks at diagnosis were by Bette Hagman, and I still refer to them to this day. Other great cookbook authors include Jules Shepard, Cindy Gordon, America's Test Kitchen, Nicole Hunn, and Shauna James Ahern.
These bloggers are people you want to follow! Left to right:
Bloggers - There are so many gluten-free bloggers out there. We all write from our own life experiences, so there are lots of different choices. Some focus on food, others may focus on advocacy, and some highlight travel. The easiest way to share all my fellow bloggers would be to check my Gluten-Free-Bloggers Twitter List. There are over 90 listed.
Even though they are not solely focused on gluten-free dining, I also rely on the websites The Kitchn and All Recipes.com. The Kitchen (notice there's no "e" in the title) has many great posts about how to do basic kitchen things. All Recipes allows you to search for recipes by excluding ingredients that you don't want in your meal. Also, the recipes are easily modified, in case you want to make a half or double (or triple!) serving.
Apps - There are many smartphone apps that can make life easier. There is the aforementioned Find Me Gluten Free that helps you find restaurants. There's Now Find Gluten Free, a grocery shopping app that will help you find gluten-free groceries. Check out my Twitter GF Technology list for even more apps!
Awareness Groups - There are multiple awareness organizations that I suggest following. They all work to advocate for Celiac Disease in varying ways. They include Beyond Celiac, the Celiac Disease Foundation, the Celiac Support Association and the Gluten Intolerance Group. Many of them sponsor area support groups, especially CSA and GIG. While being part of a support group gives each of us a much needed resource, it's how we can be a resource to fellow members that offers the best reward.
Research Centers - There are many Celiac Disease centers across the country. My favorite is the one at University of Chicago. They offer FREE care packages to all who are newly diagnosed via biopsy. I'm constantly using their amazing, searchable FAQ section on their website that is a huge database of information. They hold a free screening each year for hundred of people each year, and are working on research for a cure for Celiac Disease. Sign up for their newsletter to stay up to date on the latest research and information.
There are so many more resources out there now for Celiac Disease than when I was diagnosed in 2001. That's why I write this blog - to pay it forward and be a resource for others. I'd love to hear what tips and tricks have helped you with your Celiac Disease diagnosis, and I'd like to know what else you'd like to learn more about. Please comment and ask questions below!
Other parts in this series -