After your child is diagnosed, you and your family might feel like you’ll never be able to socialize, travel or eat out normally ever again. As a parent, being responsible for keeping your child healthy and on a gluten-free diet is a stressful thing at first. There is definitely a learning curve in terms of making sure your child avoids gluten. It is totally normal to feel overwhelmed at first, and to feel safer at home where you are in complete control. But over time it gets easier. Really. With learning and experience, your family will be able to go to restaurants, parties, travel — do pretty much anything. It is very important to be sensible about the whole thing and to let your child socialize normally, so they won’t reject the diet at an older age.
Get out there!
Don’t feel like you can’t eat out. Thankfully, getting a GF meal in most restaurants is usually not that difficult. Staple choices include fruits, grilled meats, vegetables, salads, eggs, and potatoes.
Check out web resources to find restaurants with gluten-free menus. Some chains that we frequent are: Uno Chicago Grill, Bonefish Grill, Chilis, Chipotle and Outback Steakhouse. If you go to a restaurant that doesn’t have it’s own GF menu, stick to basics like grilled chicken over a salad, or a burger made without a bun. We sometimes bring our own salad dressings and extras like slivered almonds or GF croutons.
Beware the deep fryer
Generally, french fries and corn tortilla chips are NOT considered gluten-free at restaurants. In and of themselves they usually are GF, but unfortunately, they share a deep fryer with foods like chicken fingers, which are breaded. Therefore the french fries & tortilla chips become gluten-contaminated. Instead, let your child enjoy a treat of oven-baked french fries & nachos at home once in a while. Or, try to talk a local eatery into using a dedicated fryer for those items, and learning how to make gluten-free offerings. You might start a trend!
Check out the restaurant BEFORE you go there. See if they have an online menu or food allergen listings. Call and speak with the manager. Do your homework so you can enjoy the restaurant experience once you get there. When you tell the waitress your need for a G-F meal for your child, do it discreetly so the child doesn’t feel like she’s in the spotlight, and don’t make a huge deal out of it. You want your family to feel as normal as possible.
Prepare your g-free kid
Teach your child to become self-sufficient by helping him learn how to make wise menu choices. Try to focus on all the things that your child can have instead of crossing off all the things which he can’t have. Help your child come up with menu cards for frequently visited restaurants. Include the name of each restaurant and a list of a few good food choices for him to alternate between. Have him bring them along when he eats out, and this will give him a feeling of independence instead of feeling like he needs mom and dad to navigate the menu for him. Of course, this level of independence will take time and experience, but it is a good goal to strive for.
Here are some links that will help:
- Gluten-Free Restaurants: broken down by state
- Gluten Free Travel Site: GF restaurant menus and reviews
- Gluten Free Registry: Type in city and state for results
- Tips for Safe Gluten-Free Restaurant Meals
Wherever you end up, once all the questions are asked and the food is on its way, make sure you smile, breathe deep, relax and enjoy your time with your family. Soon you’ll be out and about all the time and it’ll all have become second nature to you. Have fun!