Welcome to my new Eggainst The Grain’s advice series about living with dietary conditions. My main focus will be as a parent with kids with coeliac disease but there will be many things that will relate to anyone with multiple allergies or gluten intolerance.
The series will look at eating out, visiting friends and family, traveling and sourcing food. If there is something that you would like to know more about or to have included in the series, please get in touch. I’d love to focus this on what you would need to know.
Part 1: Eating Out
Eating out can be a massive deal when you or your kids have coeliac disease. We didn’t eat out anywhere except Pizza Express for years, we also didn’t visit anyone for ages and rarely travelled abroad. It’s terrifying! I still get really nervous when we eat out somewhere new with the kids – what if they get contaminated, what if there is nothing they can eat, what if they don’t like the small option that is offered to them, what if the kitchen don’t really understand what coeliac disease is or anything about cross contamination. All these thoughts whizz around my head, and most of the time I have a little gluten free sandwich tucked away in my bag just in case.
Now though, I’m much more confident, and that has developed through time and also helped by the huge growth in the free from and gluten free industries. Each year Coeliac UK accredits more and more establishments, which is amazing. So many more safe places are popping up everywhere, or taking it seriously. It’s certainly looking like a more exciting place to live and eat in the coming future.
Where to eat:
We have some reviews on the blog and this will grow in time. There are so many bloggers talking about their experiences of places to eat and how safe they are including Gluten Free Travellers and Forever Free From which includes a handy map. There is also a great app called Eat Safe, which you can add in your dietary preferences. It’s just for London at the moment, but hopefully they will expand soon. Also the Free From Eating Out Awards has another great map of awards winning places to eat around the UK.
Do your research – so if you are going to a different part of the UK, or another country try and find places before you go that have been reviewed and are known to be safe. or phone up and book and chat in advance. I often join a local Coeliacs Facebook group temporarily before we go somewhere to ask the locals where are good places to eat.
There is also Coeliac UK’s list of places that have been accredited.
These include some independent restaurants if you scroll down enough as well as many great chains. The accreditation takes all staff through training specifically about cross contamination with gluten and the establishment then is watched by mystery diners to check that everything is as it should be. I am actually a Coeliac UK campaigner so if you are a cafe or restaurant and are interested in becoming accredited, please get in touch and I’m happy to talk you through it.
I’ll cover travelling abroad tips on another post otherwise there would be too much to post here.
What to check:
Always check before you book that a place caters for your needs. You can often tell if someone understands or doesn’t. Good things to ask are:
- explain you have coeliac disease not just want gluten free food, and that includes wheat, barley, rye and oats (oats for some people).
- what they have on their menu that is gluten free and would be free from cross contamination.
- if they prep gluten free food in a separate environment
- take a snack or gf sandwich with you just in case
If you are a little worried, then it is worth checking the ingredients (they should by law have a list of allergens in each dish) also how they are cooking it. If they understand, they will be accommodating and what you see should put your mind at ease. We’ve had to walk out of a couple of places in the past and that is fine – better to find somewhere that you feel safe at. One occasion was at a Wahaca street stall, where they apparently have different policies from the bigger Wahaca restaurants. We sat down to eat and after a brief chat it was revealed that they could scrape away the wheat on the grill to grill our corn tortillas separately. This was obviously a huge cross contamination risk so had to leave. Another time a pizza place assured me that they wipe everything down before prepping the gluten free pizza, then when the chef was ready, he just wiped the gluten flour to the edge of the preparation table, he had flour up his arms and all over him, so we explained that we couldn’t risk it and got our money back swiftly.
One thing that often happens to us is that they bring an ice cream with a big wafer in at the end – they often forget at that point (it’s even happened in Pizza Express!) . Check that they give you a completely new ice cream rather than just take the wafer out.
If they don’t accommodate you then you may be able to bring in your own food, or even better -if you live in a town or city where there is plenty of choice, call for a take away from another place and have it delivered there if you are with lots of friends who have already settled down to eat.
The recommendations from the links above are so important, as these are tried and tested by other people with coeliac disease. Fortunately with the 2014 allergy legislation there is much more understanding and awareness and gluten free places to eat are looking to be on the rise. Great news for us, and it makes it a very exciting time to be eating out!
Enjoy your food, and please feed back. I’d love to know about your favourite dining experiences, and also any stories you have. It’s great to share the knowledge and experiences. Please leave a comment below.