How to Eat Out Safely When You Have Coeliac Disease

Life changes when you are diagnosed with coeliac disease. All the eating habits you’ve developed throughout your life have to change because you must cut out gluten completely. Gluten has to disappear but, in some ways, so does spontaneity because you can’t just nip into the local cafe for a bite of lunch or grab a fish supper on the way home. Sometimes it feels impossible to eat away from home safely thanks to coeliac disease.

Coeliac Disease: Can We Ever Eat Away From Home Safely?

Obviously, it’s essential to remove all gluten from your diet when you are diagnosed with coeliac disease. But spontaneity? Really, do we need to lose that too?

After I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, I learned how to eat safely at home very quickly. I have safe food in my house which I cook without worry of cross-contamination. I even have safe treats stashed away in a cupboard so that I never feel as though I am missing out.

But outside the house is another matter. It’s so much more difficult.

I Sometimes Miss Spontaneity

Going out for the day and grabbing a sandwich or something from the hot food counter in a supermarket proved almost impossible. If there were any gluten-free options, the choice was limited. Burger vans? Forget it. A cone from an ice-cream van? Forget it.

Most restaurants and cafes serve gluten-free food. But normally, there is a long menu with an abundance of choices for other people and only a couple of gluten-free options. And then there’s the cross-contamination worry. Sometimes their knowledge isn’t up to scratch, so can a coeliac even eat there safely?

When visiting family or friends, I tried to plan and prepare some food in advance because I didn’t expect them to provide me with coeliac safe food. Going to an event like a wedding or a funeral also meant thinking about food. Even a hospital stay could mean planning food beforehand.

Spontaneity went out of the window and planning ahead had to begin.

Planning Ahead when you have coeliac disease. A white place is sitting on a wooden worktop. A sad face is made on the plate with two slices of kiwi fruit, a strawberry and a banana

Plan Ahead So You Can Eat Safely With Coeliac Disease

Initially, I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to eat outside my own home safely thanks to coeliac. But then I realised that with a bit of planning, I’d manage. The following suggestions will hopefully help other people.

Make Sure You Don’t Go Hungry

Several times throughout this post, I write, “take your own food” or “take snacks”. This is because, very often, there is little or no choice for coeliacs. There’s nothing worse than having an empty plate especially if you’re watching other people eat.

Snacks

Get into the habit of always carrying snacks like fruit, crackers, biscuits, popcorn or protein bars when you’re out. If you can’t find safe food, you won’t have to go hungry.

Packed Lunches

Whether you’re visiting relatives, out sightseeing or going to work, it’s often a good idea to take a packed lunch. You don’t need to have sandwiches – have exciting salads, quiches, wraps or roasted veg. And you don’t need to stick with cold food. You could put hot soup, pasta or a casserole into a flask. (The Sho food flask below states that it should keep food hot for up to ten hours).

Socialising

We shouldn’t stop socialising because we have coeliac disease but we normally need to think about and plan food beforehand.

Visiting Friends or Family

Explain the basics of coeliac disease to your friends and family and don’t forget to tell them about the dangers of ‘may contains’ and cross-contamination. Many people will try to accommodate you but they will have to learn how to read food labels. However, if you are concerned, you could take your own food. It’s your health, so don’t feel guilty about that. Tell them that you don’t want to put them to the bother or expense of catering for you.

Barbecues

If you’re invited to a BBQ, the safest thing to do is to take your own burgers or sausages in a foil BBQ tray. Don’t put your food onto the main BBQ if normal food has been cooked on it.

Parties and Celebrations

It’s too easy for food to become contaminated, especially if the hosts have made a help-yourself-buffet. You could go early to help set up and make a plate with the food that you know is definitely safe then cover it for later. However, the safest option is probably to take your own food.

Eating Out and Takeaways

Eating out or getting a takeaway can be difficult when you have coeliac disease but not impossible if you plan ahead. You have to find out if gluten-free food is served and you have to ask about their procedures to prevent cross-contamination. Don’t be nervous or embarrassed to ask about their procedures. Ask them about cross-contamination prevention measures like using separate utensils, breadboards and gluten-free fryers. It’s often a good idea to email or phone them before going.

Some restaurants advertise that they sell gluten-free food but don’t understand cross-contamination. Some places might tell you not to worry because gluten burns off in the cooking process. They’re wrong…it doesn’t.

Myths About Coeliac Disease

Disclaimers on Menus

Unless it’s a 100% gluten free restaurant (there are few), they will normally have a disclaimer at the bottom of their menu to say that their food is prepared in a kitchen containing normal ingredients, so there may be a risk of contamination. This is why it’s important to ask about their procedures. If they tell you that they do their utmost to prevent cross-contamination, it will most likely be safe. But if you have doubts after speaking to them, don’t eat there.

Coeliac UK Accreditation

Some eateries have been accredited by the Coeliac Association UK. This means that the owners and staff have learned about the safety aspects of providing gluten-free food.
Coeliac UK Venue Guide

Facebook Groups

Sometimes the best way to find somewhere safe to eat is by reading reviews from other coeliac sufferers. There are some groups on Facebook which you might find helpful.
Coeliacs Eat Out Too
Gluten Free Restaurants UK

There are also area-specific gluten-free groups on Facebook.

Fast Food

Unfortunately, fast food restaurant are often unsafe. Some chains like MacDonald’s might have a few gluten-free options (like a burger without a bun, fries and veggie dippers) but they can’t guarantee that there will be no cross-contamination. Always ask because each restaurant could work differently – some may take greater care than others.

Chinese Restaurants and Takeaways

There are some Chinese restaurant that offer a gluten-free menu but most don’t. Most Chinese food contains soy sauce which contains gluten and there is too big a risk of cross-contamination.

Gluten Free Chinese Restaurants and Takeaways

Indian Restaurants and Takeaways

Indian restaurants are often safe as there’s less chance of them using gluten ingredients in their sauces but you need to avoid things like naan bread and onion baajis. Every restaurant is different, so always ask.

Fish and Chip Shops

Unfortunately, fish and chip shops normally fry everything in the same oil so nothing is coeliac-safe. But, some are aware of coeliac disease and use a separate fryer for gluten-free food and some have a gluten-free day once a week. Ask your local fish and chip shop if they do this.

Gluten-Free Fish and Chips

Catered Events

Contact the caterer or organiser to ask if they will provide safe food for you. If you have any doubts, take your own food. You could ask about the food they’ll be providing so that you can then bring a similar gluten-free version.

Travelling With Coeliac Disease

Going on holiday, either in the UK or abroad, can throw up some concerns. But if we plan well, coeliac disease shouldn’t spoil our fun.

Self-catering accommodation is sometimes less worrying if you don’t mind cooking but most hotels in the UK and in many countries cater extremely well for people with coeliac disease. I haven’t travelled anywhere abroad since my diagnosis but I have read that Spain and Italy are both exceptionally good.

Booking Hotels

Before booking a hotel (either in the UK or abroad), contact them to check that they cater for people with coeliac disease.

Coeliac Disease Travel Cards

The website, Coeliac Sanctuary, sells credit card sized travel cards. These cards have information about your dietary needs in various languages. They will make life much easier if you are on holiday abroad. You can find the coeliac disease travel cards here.

Eating Abroad

If you use Facebook, you could join the group, Coeliacs Eat Abroad. Also, search on Facebook for groups or pages related to coeliac disease in the area you’ll be travelling to.

Flying

All airlines have different policies regarding supplying you with a gluten-free meal therefore you will need to check with the airline about this. You might have to book a gluten-free meal when booking your ticket. Check with them about a week before you fly to ensure it has been booked.

When boarding the plane, tell the cabin crew that you are the gluten-free passenger so they’ll take note of where you are sitting. When your food is served, double-check with the cabin crew that your meal is definitely gluten-free. You don’t want to be glutened mid-flight.

Always take snacks just in case your meal doesn’t appear. Unfortunately, mistakes can happen.

Some airlines give an extra baggage allowance if you need to take gluten-free food with you. Contact the airline prior to travelling for more information about that.

Hospital Stays

Some hospitals have an allergy kitchen so they should be able to cater for you. Some buy in special meals for patients with dietary needs. However, some are really bad at providing gluten-free meals.

If possible, phone your hospital prior to your admission to find out if they will cater for you. If your hospital doesn’t cater for you, you will have to take food or ask your family to bring food when visiting. And…if your hospital doesn’t provide gluten-free food, make a complaint to your local health authority because this needs to change.

How to eat out safely when you have coeliac disease is written in white text on a blackboard.

If Only it Was Easier to Eat Away From Home Safely With Coeliac Disease

If only…

There are a lot of ‘if onlys’ in the world but it would be good to just forget about coeliac disease and choose our favourite meal at a restaurant or pick up a Chinese takeaway now and again. But the reality is that we need to think about everything that we eat and drink. However, with a little planning, hopefully we can still enjoy life.

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2 thoughts on “How to Eat Out Safely When You Have Coeliac Disease

  1. What a brilliantly helpful post, Liz! I thought it was difficult for me to eat out in places because of my stoma, in addition to be a more “picky” eater with certain things. Choosing where to go and a safe-to-eat dish must be incredibly hard for those with coeliac disease. I don’t envy the job of figuring out where and what you can eat in different situations. The internet is a god-send for browsing eateries, looking at their menu, finding more info on them or contacting them to learn more, such as about their prep procedures.

    It’s a shame there aren’t more options for disclaimer-free places to go but I imagine it’d be a lot more time-intensive and costly to ensure as close to gluten-free as possible for them if they’re catering for a gluten menu as well.

    As more awareness comes about and there’s more appreciation for different dietary needs, I’d like to think there will be increasing options for gluten-free, lactose-free, customisability of dishes, vegan etc. Fab tips as always!

    xx

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