In the last month or two, I’ve traveled out of town a few times. Being a gluten-free traveler adds a level of challenge beyond just making healthier choices. Plus, I’ve had a few conversations recently with friends and clients about these challenges as well. I hope these ideas about how to eat out safely when you’re gluten free will help you!
- Commit to making choices that are GF during your trip. It isn’t always easy to put your pain relief first but it will make a big difference in how you feel long-term. Believe me, I know it can make every choice more complicated. You’ll walk away from more food than you’ll eat. But staying as pain free as possible is even more important when you are out of your home environment.
- Don’t wait until you’re starving to start thinking about where to eat. Keep some GF snacks in your purse or backpack to be sure you are calm and centered when making a food-related decision. (Or maybe I’m the only one whose stress and hunger levels run parallel!)
- Use research to choose your restaurants. Start online before you go out—or look on your smart phone while you’re on the go. Many restaurants post GF information and menus on their web sites. One user-generated review site I particularly like is www.urbanspoon.com. Look for their “GF Friendly” feature, which helps narrow down your options especially if you like to support locally owned restaurants.
- Once you reach the restaurant (or if you can’t research online), ask for GF menus at the hostess stand. Take a minute to review the choices and be sure it suits you before you sit down and commit to that spot.
- It’s best to let your server know right away about your special diet needs. Asking questions and getting help is key to making the experience the best for everyone involved—especially you. It’s better to ask questions up front than to have to send something back or get gluten in your system. That is what the kitchen wants too!
- Pick one or possibly two menu items that seem to be essentially gluten free, and ask your server to verify with the chef. Be familiar with typical gluten-containing ingredients to ask about in sauces and marinade—like soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Many restaurants are quite familiar with which ingredients contain wheat and gluten. I’ve even had some kitchen staff bring out their questionable ingredients so I could help them answer my own question! This is a customer service world, and you’d be surprised how interested in providing great service people are.
- Be familiar with possible sources of cross-contamination sources. For example, you may ask if the French fries are breaded or battered. Even if they aren’t, they may be fried in the same oil as other items that are breaded. So you need to be sure to ask both questions—are they GF and are they prepared in a GF fryer (or other environment)?
- Sometimes I use the “pick my battles” strategy of GF ordering. If I’ve asked a ton of questions about the entrée, I will just ask for oil and vinegar in the bottle instead of ALSO asking about which dressings are GF.
- When in doubt ask for a completely plain protein. But be sure to specify “dry,” with absolutely no seasoning at all. This is hard for chefs to do because they want to make food they feel is tasty—but it is critical to your health so please insist. You can also ask for plain steamed vegetables—again ask for no seasonings and a lemon slice or two on the side. Lemon can add a nice flavor to chicken, fish, vegetables and since you add it yourself you know it is gluten free.
Let me know what questions you have in the comments section, and I’ll try to help as much as I can. Enjoy the experiences!
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