Eating out gluten-free with confidence: Navigating the menu

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Eating out can be a daunting experience for those with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. However, with the proper knowledge and preparation, it’s possible to navigate menus and enjoy a stress-free dining experience while eating out gluten-free.

A group of people eating out at a restaurant.
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Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye and is commonly used as a thickener or binder in many foods. This means that people who are gluten intolerant must be careful about what they eat when dining out.

Fortunately, there are many restaurants that offer gluten-free menus or can prepare gluten-free meals upon request. It is essential to communicate your dietary needs clearly to the server or chef and to ask questions about the ingredients and preparation methods of the dishes you are interested in.

A woman is reading a menu while eating out with a child in front of her.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.
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Identifying gluten in foods and dishes

When eating out gluten-free, it is important to be able to identify hidden gluten in foods and products. Look for dishes that are labeled gluten-free or ask the server if gluten-free options are available. Here are some ingredients and dishes that frequently contain gluten and should be assessed:

Wheat flour

Wheat flour is a common ingredient in many foods, including bread, pasta and baked goods. Look for products and dishes using alternative flours, such as almond or rice flour.


Pizza is typically made with wheat flour, but gluten-free options are becoming more widely available. Ask the server if gluten-free options are available and look for crusts such as cauliflower pizza crusts, which are typically gluten-free.

Soy sauce

Soy sauce is usually made with wheat, but gluten-free options are available. Be sure to ask the server if gluten-free soy sauce is available.

Sauces and dressings

Many sauces and dressings contain wheat as a thickener or flavoring agent. Ask the server if any of the sauces or dressings are made with gluten before ordering.


Many soups are made with a roux that contains wheat flour. Be certain to have the server clarify the soup options on the menu before ordering.

Cakes and baked goods

Cakes and baked goods are typically made with wheat flour. Ask the server if gluten-free options are available.


Malt is made from barley and is not gluten-free. Avoid drinks such as malted milkshakes or malted beer.


Oats are naturally gluten-free but can be a significant source of cross-contamination if processed in a facility that also processes wheat products. Ask the server if the oats used in gluten-free dishes are certified gluten-free.


Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are naturally gluten-free. However, some flavored dairy products may contain wheat as a thickener or flavoring agent. Look for menu items that are labeled as gluten-free or ask the server to make sure.

“I always look at the menu prior to going to the restaurant to see if they have a gluten-free menu. When ordering, I make sure the server knows I am gluten free. Lastly, I always take gluten-free snacks with me in case I have to eat somewhere that doesn’t have gluten-free food.”

 — Gena, Ginger Casa
A couple eating out at a restaurant.
Photo credit: Depositphotos.

Eating out gluten-free

Eating out gluten-free can be a challenge, but with the right approach, it is possible to enjoy a safe and delicious meal. Here are a few tips to help you navigate restaurants and menus:

Research ahead of time: Before heading out to a restaurant, it’s always a good idea to research their menu online. Many restaurants now offer gluten-free options or even have a separate gluten-free menu. Look for keywords like gluten-free, GF or celiac-friendly. Also, scan restaurant reviews for any tips from those who are on a gluten-free diet.

Communicate with your server:

  1. When you arrive at the restaurant, tell your server you need a gluten-free meal.
  2. Ask questions about the menu items and how they are prepared.
  3. Be bold, speak up and ask for modifications to a dish if necessary.

Avoid cross-contamination: Cross-contamination can occur when gluten-free foods come into contact with gluten-containing foods. Make sure to ask your server about the kitchen’s practices for preventing cross-contamination. For example, are the gluten-free items prepared in a separate area of the kitchen? Are different utensils used for gluten-free foods?

Stick to naturally gluten-free foods: When in doubt, stick to foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. Avoid foods that typically contain gluten, such as breaded items, pasta and baked goods.

Be careful with fried foods: French fries and other fried foods may seem safe, but they are often cooked in oil used to fry other gluten-containing foods. Ask your server if the fried items are cooked in a dedicated fryer or if they are gluten-free.

By following these tips, you can enjoy a safe and delicious gluten-free meal when eating out. Remember to always communicate with your server, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or make modifications to your meal.

In conclusion

Eating out gluten-free can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation and knowledge, it can be a stress-free and enjoyable experience. By communicating with restaurant staff, researching beforehand and being aware of potential cross-contamination, individuals with gluten intolerance or celiac disease can confidently navigate menus and enjoy delicious meals while dining out. With the increasing awareness of gluten-free diets, more and more restaurants are accommodating gluten-free options, making it easier than ever before to dine out with confidence.

Kristen Wood is a photographer, food writer and creator of MOON and spoon and yum and Schisandra & Bergamot. She is also the author of Vegetarian Family Cookbook, Fermented Hot Sauce Cookbook and Hot Sauce Cookbook for Beginners. Kristen is certified in functional nutrition. Her work has been featured in various online and print publications, including Elle, Martha Stewart, Yoga Journal and more.

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