Dining out when you are gluten and dairy free

dining out gluten and dairy free
March 17, 2016

I received my very first suggestion topic from a local reader. I’m more than excited! As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions. My contact info can be found on my on this page. You may email me, send me a Facebook message, or simply leave a comment on a post. I love hearing from you!

I was asked to talk about how to dine out when you are avoiding gluten and dairy. I can see this being helpful on many fronts. Perhaps you are gluten or dairy free or perhaps you know someone with dietary restrictions. It can be challenging to find a restaurant that will satisfy all dining parties. Hopefully this post will give you some guidance on places to go, menu items to avoid, and items to choose. For simplicity’s sake, I am going to lump gluten and dairy together, rather than discuss them individually.

In my opinion, eating out when you have dietary limits is getting a bit easier. When I was vegan (in the late 90s) it was super difficult to dine out. Usually, I would be forced to order a plain baked potato and some steamed veggies – so satisfying, right? Nowadays, most restaurants understand that if they want to appeal to the majority of consumers they need to be able to accommodate a variety of diets and preferences.

As many of you know, I eat mostly gluten and dairy free. I am lactose intolerant, but I don’t have a dairy allergy. I have noticed some physical effects from eating gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley), but I don’t have a severe reaction to it nor do I have an autoimmune disease, like celiac. So, I don’t have to be as diligent as some people when I’m ordering. If you are strict vegan or have allergies and/or autoimmune issues, then you really need to do your homework before dining out. I imagine it can be quite challenging for some.

1. Do some work ahead of time

If you get to choose the restaurant, lucky you! Select a place that you enjoy going to and that can accommodate the people you are dining with. If you aren’t involved in the decision process then be sure to go online ahead of time to review the menu. I have called a restaurant in advance to ask if they are able to adjust an entree or if they have additional options that aren’t listed. It’s likely you are not the first person who has requested a special meal or changes to the menu. If you give them advance notice, they will likely be able to accommodate you.

Many restaurants will indicate on their menu if an item is gluten free or vegetarian. Some may even indicate if they are dairy free. When in doubt, just ask. Trust me, the wait staff is used to it and will appreciate you alerting them up front. I am always that person in the group who is asking questions or adjusting an order and there is nothing wrong with this. Dining out should be a pleasurable and worthwhile experience. You have every right to an enjoyable meal.

2. Avoid certain menu items

  • Cream sauce and soups: If I see that an item is served in a cream sauce, I won’t order it. It usually means it’s prepared with heavy cream or milk. Unless explicitly stated, many soups contain dairy and gluten (to thicken) so it’s better to stay away from these. If given the choice between soup or salad, it’s better to order the salad (just be sure to ask about toppings and dressings).
  • Cheese: Obviously, cheese has dairy and should be avoided. If I see that an item is topped with cheese, then I’ll ask if they can hold it. Unless a menu item is prepared with cheese – as in a sauce or base – then it’s fairly easy to just leave it off.
  • Bread: To be honest, I’d much rather fill up on other things than a bunch of bread. I’ve often ordered a sandwich or burger without the bread/bun. It’s fairly common and a lot of people choose to do this. Some places will even wrap the burger in lettuce so you can eat it with your hands. Additionally, I often tell the waiter not to bring bread to the table because I don’t want to be tempted and I don’t want my kids to eat it. Out of sight, out of mind.
  • Soy sauce: Soy sauce is a common ingredient in a lot of Chinese dishes. Many American restaurants use it, too. Soy sauce contains wheat (and is also super high in sodium) so I avoid it. Tamari sauce or coconut aminos are great alternatives if the restaurant carries them. Or you can BYO.

What about butter? It really depends. Since butter is mostly fat, it contains very little lactose. Often it won’t cause any issues with people who are sensitive to dairy. If you find that you don’t tolerate it well, you may want to ask the restaurant if they can serve your item with clarified butter (Ghee) which is essentially butter that has been slowly cooked to remove the milk solids.

3.  Choose protein and veggies

What do I order when I am dining out? Always protein and always veggies. If fish is on the menu, I usually choose that since I don’t eat red meat. Salmon, ahi tuna, and scallops are my favorites since we don’t often prepare these at home. Chicken is another great choice or similar meat. If I see that an entree comes with a side that contains gluten or dairy (like pasta) I will ask to sub this for another item. Great alternatives include: roasted or steamed veggies, salad, potatoes, or white rice. A lot of places are starting to offer gluten free pasta and other breads.

If you truly need to avoid gluten and dairy due to an allergy, you should keep your food choices simple and make sure to ask questions if you are unsure.

4. Try a variety of food

Sushi is a great choice since it’s mainly rice, seaweed, fish and veggies. Again, just avoid the soy sauce and any tempura items since those contain wheat.

Thai food is another good option. The main dishes are usually prepared and thickened with coconut milk which does not contain dairy. They also offer plain rice, (rice) noodles, and lots of veggies on the menu. Again, just ask if you are unsure of anything.

Traditional Mexican is a great selection. Quite possibly the best food ever. Am I right? Ask for corn tortillas instead of flour and hold the sour cream and cheese. Load up on the avocado and beans instead.

I hope this has been helpful for you. I may add to this post if I think of additional suggestions.

I’d love your feedback as well!

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