What should I order when gluten-free?

For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, dining out can be challenging. With so many meal options containing gluten, it can be difficult to find safe menu choices. However, with the right questions and some careful selections, those avoiding gluten can enjoy restaurant meals too.

Understanding Gluten

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a glue that holds food together and affects the elasticity and workability of dough. For most people, consuming gluten is not a problem. But for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an abnormal immune response that damages the small intestine.

Even small amounts of gluten can cause issues, so following a strict gluten-free diet is important. This means avoiding foods and ingredients containing wheat, barley, rye, and derivatives like malt. Oats are naturally gluten-free but are often contaminated with gluten during processing.

Choosing Gluten-Free Menu Items

When dining out gluten-free, look for naturally gluten-free whole foods like fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, fish, rice, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and legumes. Be cautious of sauces, dressings, batter, breading, thickening agents, and cross-contamination.

Here are some menu items that are typically safe gluten-free choices:

  • Salads with gluten-free dressing
  • Grilled, baked, broiled, or poached meat, fish, or poultry
  • Stir fries and curries with rice or quinoa instead of noodles
  • Tacos on corn tortillas
  • Vegetable pizzas on gluten-free crust
  • Soup broth-based without croutons or noodles

Asking Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask your server plenty of questions to ensure your meal is safe. Inquire about:

  • Ingredients in sauces, dressings, and batter
  • Whether fryers or surfaces are used only for gluten-free food
  • If they can substitute gluten-free pasta, buns, or bread
  • How they prevent cross-contamination

Polite persistence pays off. You know your dietary needs best. Don’t feel pressured into ordering something if you still have concerns.

Being Clear with Your Order

When ordering, clearly communicate your gluten-free needs. Try saying:

  • “I have celiac disease and need to eat 100% gluten-free. Can you help guide my order?”
  • “I’m gluten-intolerant. Can I get that grilled chicken without the sauce?”
  • “I need a gluten-free bun for my burger.”

Having an open dialogue with staff shows you take your diet seriously. They’ll be extra attentive to your restrictions.

Suggesting Gluten-Free Substitutions

Many dishes can be easily modified to be gluten-free. Polite suggestions like these may open up more choices:

  • “Can I get fries instead of the potato gratin?”
  • “May I substitute a side salad for the pasta?”
  • “Instead of the breaded chicken, can I get a grilled chicken breast?”
  • “Can I get my burger without the bun?”

Small tweaks often make menu items safe. Don’t feel like you’re being difficult—most kitchens are happy to accommodate.

Bringing Your Own Food

If a restaurant doesn’t offer any safe options, bringing your own gluten-free meal is perfectly acceptable. Some gluten-free diners pack food like:

  • Sandwiches on gluten-free bread
  • Salads in to-go containers
  • Gluten-free pasta or rice dishes
  • Leftovers in storage containers

Just be sure your meal doesn’t require on-site preparation. Enjoy your food while others eat theirs.

Being Prepared

Advance preparation makes dining out more enjoyable. Before going to a restaurant:

  • Check online menus and reviews for gluten-free options
  • Eat beforehand if worried about limited choices
  • Pack backup gluten-free snacks or meals
  • Brush up on gluten-free lingo and substitution ideas
  • Print out a gluten-free info card to share with staff

Planning takes the stress out of eating away from home with dietary limitations.

Enjoying the Experience

Eating gluten-free outside the home may seem tricky, but with some simple guidelines, you can find safe menu picks. Focus on all the delicious gluten-free cuisine you can order. Dining out should be fun—don’t let your diet get in the way.


Avoiding gluten while dining out just takes some preparation and asking the right questions. With an understanding of ingredients, thoughtful ordering, and open communication with staff, those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can navigate restaurant menus successfully. There are plenty of tasty gluten-free options to enjoy. By being proactive, gluten-free diners can have great eating experiences.

Gluten-Containing Grains Gluten-Free Grains
Wheat Rice
Barley Quinoa
Rye Corn
Malt Buckwheat

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