Going Out to Eat

Mama at The Liberated Kitchen

Mama with some home-canned goodness

If you have a special diet, going out to eat can seem overwhelming. But cooking for yourself all the time and never going out with friends gets old. Here are a few tips that can help you eat out safely!

Develop a Baseline
Get used to the way you feel when you are really sticking to your diet – this probably means a couple months or at least a few weeks of only eating food you cook yourself. If you skip this step it will be very difficult to tell whether eating out went well or not!

Prioritize the foods you are avoiding. What will you not risk cross-contamination from? What can you handle accidental exposure to? If you have serious allergies or autoimmune reactions to a certain food, you may want to make sure the restaurant doesn’t even serve those ingredients to other customers. However, you may be willing to risk symptoms from other ingredients which do not cause you lasting or severe damage. For example, our family is very strict about staying gluten-free and corn-free, but might decide a potato is ok, even though we don’t normally eat them on the GAPS diet.

The more you know about the way a dish is typically prepared, the better off you’ll be. The book, Let’s Eat Out with Celiac/Coeliac and Food Allergies! A Timeless Reference for Special Diets is a fantastic resource on this front. It explains a wide variety of cuisines along with which dishes typically contain which common allergens. It gives examples of what questions to ask when confronted with different kinds of dishes. Of course, this is a general guide and no substitute for finding out the facts about the restaurant you plan to visit.

Visit the restaurant’s website or pick up a menu to see if any of the dishes look like they fit into your diet. If it looks promising, make a note of what you might want to eat there. Call during the quiet hours to ask about the dishes you are considering. You may also want to ask some open-ended questions to give you a feel for the staff’s understanding of cross-contamination. Ask the cook things like:

  • Does this dish contain the ingredient I’m allergic to or avoiding?
  • Is the dish made with any pre-prepared ingredients, if so, what are they?
  • How do you protect customers with food sensitivities from cross-contamination?

If it does not seem to you that you will be able to get safe food from the restaurant, but you would still like to be able to join your friends for a meal there, you can even ask about bringing in your own food. So long as you are in a party of paying guests and give them fair warning, many restaurants will be happy to accommodate you.

Usually if I’m meeting friends someplace I can’t eat, I try to make it a mid-morning, happy hour, or late evening affair, eat beforehand, and just order a drink.

Test it Tentatively
When you show up, let the waitstaff know what accommodations you have arranged, or that you are ordering a particular dish because it seems to fit your dietary needs. Make sure that if an allergen is to be avoided, the waitstaff and cook both get the message!

Pay attention to what you are served. Make sure it looks like what you ordered before you dig in. Especially if it is someplace you haven’t been before or if you are ordering a dish you haven’t tried, don’t eat all of it. Be moderate, and take a bit home with you so that if you have a reaction you’ll have a better chance of figuring out what caused it.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! Having taken reasonable precautions, let yourself relax. Savor your meal out, and have a good time with your friends. That’s what it’s all about!

Give Feedback
If you get sick from their food, the management needs to know. Most restaurants are interested in providing a positive experience for all of their customers. If you don’t let them know where they are failing, they will continue to make the same mistakes!

If a restaurant does a great job of keeping you safe, let them know that, too! Happy, loyal customers encourage them to continue good practices.

Gluten-Free Restaurants In Portland
Here is an interactive map of restaurants with gluten-free options in the Portland, OR area. It was put together by Gluten Free PDX, but anyone can contribute. This list isn’t a substitute for doing your own research, but may be a good place to start for people looking to eat out gluten-free.

View GlutenFreePDX in a larger map

This post is part of Monday Mania and Simple Lives Thursday, Tasty Traditions.

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4 comments to Going Out to Eat

  • These are great tips that you offer!

    I used to love dining out. Then when we switched to a real/whole/traditional foods diet we cut down on our dining out. I didn’t have any food allergies/sensitivities that I knew of and always thought that we switched our eating because it made sense.
    However, after eating real foods prepared at home for awhile I found that dining out made me sick. Now I come to realize that I am sensitive to certain foods (boy, has that been a hard truth!) and dining out is a really hard thing. The area we live in doesn’t really have any specialty type restaurants and there are very few that I can eat at without feeling horrible afterwards-sometimes for days. When I do find a place that leaves me feeling good they get my repeat business.

    We used to live in Oregon. I lived in the Portland area for 18 years. Loved it. We moved to Wyoming 2.5 years ago. Way different! But now I love it here too.

    • Mama

      Isn’t that funny how we can think we’re perfectly healthy, then once we have a truly high quality diet for a while we uncover sensitivities?
      We are truly blessed with a number of restaurants that cater to special diets here in the Portland area. We still have to be very careful to make sure we communicate our needs and check that the restaurant can really deliver what they offer. Many don’t understand cross-contamination as well as we’d hope.

  • Just arrived here via Gluten-Free Ryan Gosling (love!) and really enjoyed this helpful article. Seeing the link to GlutenFreePDX was the vegan icing on the GF cake – how exciting – thank you!

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