How to Dine out With Your Celiac Child

Four Parts:Researching RestaurantsTalking to Staff in the RestaurantUnderstanding Celiac RequirementsHelping Your Child Enjoy Dining Out

Parents who have children who suffer from celiac disease may be hard pressed to find restaurants that offer healthy options for their children to safely consume. If a child with a gluten allergy consumes wheat, even in small doses, either intentionally or accidentally, it can cause serious health problems. If you want to eat out with your celiac child, there are some important steps you can follow to facilitate a safe and fun dining experience.

Part 1
Researching Restaurants

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    Look up restaurants online. The first step to dining out with your celiac child is to do some research on the restaurants in your area. The easiest and quickest way to do this is to look online. Search for local restaurants and look for ones that offer gluten-free items on the menu. Most restaurants will have their menu on their website, so you can scan through and look for suitable dishes.[1]
    • Some restaurants may emphasise their gluten-free options more than others, so be sure to look carefully at the website.
    • Look out for a “GF” logo on the menu.[2]
    • It is becoming easier to find gluten-free dishes, but you should still always check first to avoid disappointment.
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    Visit online forums. You may be able to use forums and websites maintained by people with celiac disease to find suitable restaurants. On these websites people note restaurants with gluten-free options, and can give ratings for how well the restaurants deal with gluten issues.[3]
    • There are a number of sites that enable you to search for gluten-free dining options by locality.[4][5]
    • If you have found a great restaurant with excellent gluten-free options, you can even submit it to these websites yourself.[6]
    • By doing this you will joining in and helping out other people with celiac disease.
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    Phone up first. Call a restaurant twice before you visit with your gluten sensitive child. Make the first call several days ahead to see if the restaurant is a viable choice for your family, and call once again on the day you will be dining at the restaurant. If the chef knows well in advance, they are more likely to be able to meet your child’s needs.
    • Notify the restaurant in advance about which day you will be eating out so that the management can be sure that gluten-free menu ingredients are available.
    • A chef may even offer to cook something especially that is gluten-free.[7]
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    Ask questions. When you call up the restaurant you should have some questions ready to ask that will help to determine whether or not the food is safe for your celiac child. You can ask these questions even if the person on the phone says that they have a gluten-free option, just to check that you are both on the same page. If you explain why you need to be certain, the staff will likely be sympathetic and answer you fully.[8]
    • Ask if they have a gluten-free menu.
    • Ask what items can be made gluten-free for your child.
    • Politely ask if they know what gluten-free is, and if so what it is.
    • You can also ask if staff in the restaurant have completed any gluten-free training.[9]

Part 2
Talking to Staff in the Restaurant

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    Inform the wait staff. When you arrive at the restaurant take a moment to inform the wait staff that your child has celiac disease, and cannot eat gluten. It’s best to make this clear at the start, but do it in a subtle and undemonstrative way. Don’t go in and loudly announce it to restaurant as this is more than likely to embarrass your child.[10]
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    Check your requirements are understood. Make sure that the staff in the restaurant understand what you mean when you say gluten-free. Explain why your child can’t eat gluten, and give the staff some detail on foods that your child can and can’t eat. Ask what items they have that are suitable, and remember that a restaurant has to tell you if an item has a cereal that contains gluten.
    • Be wary of soups, dishes with sauce, gravy, or stock cubes.[11]
    • The main part of the meal might be gluten-free, but the sauce that comes with it might not.
    • Be sure to double-check to clarify.
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    Be polite and patient. Make sure you are polite and patient when talking to the staff in the restaurant. Even if you think they are not being especially helpful, keep in mind the stresses of working in a busy restaurant and show some patience. You need to ask the key questions about gluten-free food, but being polite and friendly will create a better atmosphere and may make staff more happy to accommodate you.[12]
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    Be wary of potential cross-contact. You should be aware of the potential risks of cross-contact in the preparation of the food. Restaurants may not be as sharp on this as on other gluten issues, so be sure to ask about it. For example, look out for breaded and fried items on the menu. Things like fish and chicken are fine, but if they have been fried in the same pan as non-gluten free breaded items there is a danger of cross-contamination.
    • Ask the wait staff if they can use separate pans to ensure that there is no contamination.[13]
    • The surface the food is prepared on is another potential site for cross-contamination.[14]
    • Do not let your child share food off your plate as some of your food may be contaminated with gluten-containing food items.

Part 3
Understanding Celiac Requirements

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    Know what your child can eat. When you are in the restaurant, it will be helpful if you identify the dishes which are typically gluten-free. Some of the foods and ingredients that a person with celiac disease can eat safely include:
    • Foods made from flours of corn, rice, buckwheat, sorghum, arrowroot, chickpeas, quinoa, tapioca, teff, and potato.
    • Plain meats, fish, legumes, nuts, oils, milk, cheese, eggs, fruits are vegetables are also fine.[15]
    • As long as there has been no cross-contamination, your child can still eat a wide variety of foods.
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    Identify things to avoid. It is equally helpful to have knowledge of the foods that your child will need to avoid. A person with celiac disease should steer clear of anything that has wheat, barley, rye or most oats. This includes anything with plain flour, breading, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and any other seasoning that might include flour.
    • Remember that if you order a salad, your child won’t be able to have croutons or any topping made with bread that is not gluten-free.[16]
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    Help your child cope. It can be difficult for your child to eat out, knowing that the requirements are very important. She might feel a little awkward with attention being drawn to her. Try to stay relaxed and patient to help put your child at ease. Of course it’s vital that you are 100% confident that your child will not be eating anything that could make her sick, but you should try to ask questions in a calm way.
    • If someone on the phone told you that there were gluten-free options, but when you get there they have run out, don’t make a scene.
    • Your child probably just wants to be treated like everybody else, so be subtle when you are in the restaurant.
    • Over time you and your child will get used to the requirements of a gluten-free diet, and get to know how to eat well.
    • Strong family support is essential, so don’t make your child feel singled out or unable to live a normal life.
    • Eating out is a good way to show that having celiac disease doesn’t have to have a big impact on your life.[17]

Part 4
Helping Your Child Enjoy Dining Out

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    Help your child choose appropriate dishes. An important part of raising a child with celiac disease, is to help him learn what he can and can’t eat. You should try to do this in as positive a way as possible, and eating out is a great occasion to do this. Take him through the menu and always emphasize the things he can eat rather than the things he can’t.
    • Highlight the choices available, and encourage your child to learn about what’s good to eat.
    • Your child may want to make some menu cards with information on appropriate dishes in restaurants that you go to often.
    • Encourage your child to ask questions and to move towards being independent, and able to choose a meal without Mum or Dad.[18]
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    Explain why your child can’t eaten certain things. Your child may get frustrated or annoyed when you tell her that she can’t eat what she might want to, or what somebody else is having. It’s important that you are able to explain why, and help your child understand her condition. Explain that your child can’t eat gluten because it hurts her body, and makes it tougher for her to grow strong and healthy.[19] Tailor your explanation to your child's age and level of understanding.
    • You can use online games and videos to help explain celiac disease to your child.[20][21]
    • Explain that celiac is not an allergy like a seasonal allergy, but rather it is an autoimmune disorder that is triggered by gluten. Explain that doctors still do not fully understand the disorder, but they think that some people inherit the disease and are unable to digest gluten properly. If a person cannot digest it properly but stills eat it anyway, it can cause her body's immune system to attack the lining of the stomach and intestines.
    • Say that about 1 in every 133 people in the US has celiac disease and she is not alone.[22]
    • If your child understands her condition, dealing with it in a restaurant should be easier and less stressful. Remind her that avoiding gluten will decrease any symptoms (like bloating), will allow her body to absorb necessary vitamins and nutrients, and may decrease her risk for GI cancer later in life.[23]
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    Have fun in the restaurant. It’s important that when you eat out, you don’t get too stressed or frustrated. Try to keep the mood light, and make finding gluten-free food options part of the fun of eating out. Assuming you have called ahead and made sure that there are some suitable dishes for your child, you shouldn’t have to worry about him missing out.
    • Relaxing and having fun eating out is an important part of showing your child that having celiac disease doesn’t have to have a big impact on his lifestyle.
    • By getting more experience eating out and learning about diet, you will show your child that he can still participate in all the fun things, like parties and traveling.[24]
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    Deal with picky eaters. If your child is upset because she can’t eat something she wants to, try to sympathise and show understanding. It can be a difficult thing to get used to, but it’s important that you make sure your child is aware of the different substitutions and options available. Experiment with new things and look for ways to add as much variety as possible.[25]
    • Remember that eating is a multisensory experience, so your child may be put off by the sight or smell rather than the taste.
    • Try to introduce your child to a wide range of scents by using differences spices at home. This can make your child more open to trying things in a restaurant.
    • Introduce different textures, such as smooth, crunchy, and moist foods to broaden your child’s experiences of eating.
    • If your child is not convinced by a dish, encourage her to take a small bite to start with rather than pressuring her to eat the whole thing.
    • Be patient, understanding and persistent and you can help your child understand all the great variety of food options still available to them.[26]


  • Avoid cream sauces, cheese sauces, gravy, and all fried foods as these often contain flour which is used as a thickening agent or a crisp outer coating.

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Categories: Conditions and Treatments | Dining Etiquette