When we published our last article on how to make gluten-free diners feel safe, we got a lot of love for it from the gluten-free community. The misunderstanding about going gluten-free as a fad diet, versus a means to combat a serious disease is a major roadblock for sufferers of Celiac Disease.
In order to push the movement even further, I asked Amanda Mahoney, a gluten-free blogger who suffers from Celiac disease to come back for some additional insights. For example, what are the first steps to creating a truly gluten-free menu? Here’s what she had to say.
People with Celiac Disease love to eat a variety of foods, just like everyone else. They like high-end, creative, gourmet dishes just as much as they like pizza or a burger. And they’re sick of going into a restaurant and getting these same tired, overdone menu options:
- Basic salad
- Any type of burger in a “lettuce wrap” instead of a bun.
- Plain, grilled chicken with steamed veggies. (Healthy, but uninteresting!)
- A list of options, with what NOT to include (e.g. burger, no bun. Salad, no croutons or dressing). Hey, thanks for pointing out we can’t eat anything!
They’re choosing to dine at your restaurant, so create your gluten-free menu with that in mind.
Many restaurants offer a paltry selection of gluten-free options, so by creating a creative and comprehensive menu, your restaurant will stand out.
Gluten Free Menu Ideas to Start
To start, you can often select many items off the regular menu and easily make them gluten-free. Almost anything can be made gluten-free, but much of what you’re offering on your menu is probably naturally gluten-free: think of your salads (no croutons, made from scratch), think of your chicken, seafood or steak dishes and think of all your sides.
From there, you can supplement with some gluten-free desserts, beers or appetizers. Once you come up with ideas of what to add to your gluten-free menu, ensure that you’re not using ingredients during preparation that may have hidden gluten. Many seemingly benign foods are actually sources of gluten and can cause a reaction in individuals who have Celiac Disease.
A few of those ingredients are:
- broths and pre-made soups
- soy sauce
- condiments, sauces and marinades
- processed meats
This is not a comprehensive list; almost anything can contain gluten!
Here is a great source of information on where gluten can hide in foods. And while these items may not have gluten in them, many times they do.
In order to ensure a safe meal for your customers, you must ensure that ALL of your ingredients going into a gluten-free meal are gluten free. That may mean calling the manufacturer of your ingredients to make sure they are gluten free, or only buying certified gluten-free ingredients. Nowadays, there are gluten-free versions available of almost everything.
Keeping Things Gluten-Free
Once you know your ingredients and have decided what to put on your menu, come up with a way to make sure your products are safe for people with Celiac Disease – the people who need gluten-free products.
That means not just having gluten-free ingredients, but also making sure their meal stays gluten-free during preparation.
Cross-contamination is when an allergen inadvertently comes in contact with an otherwise safe meal by being prepared on the same surface, being touched by someone who was just preparing pizza or pasta with their hands, or using the same utensils on a gluten-free product that were used on regular products.
Here are a few suggestions on how to keep your meals gluten-free and keep your Celiac customers healthy and safe:
- Have a dedicated gluten-free part of the kitchen. This isn’t feasible for some restaurants, but it is ideal, in absence of an entire gluten-free facility.
- Train your entire staff on allergies, Celiac Disease and cross-contamination before they learn anything else.
- Keep color-coded pots and pans, cutting boards, prep utensils, colanders, etc. and make sure the ones dedicated for gluten-free prep are not used for anything else.
- If all of that is still too much, have one person responsible for thoroughly cleaning the prep and cooking surfaces with soap and hot water. Have that same person prepare the meal.
After you’re taking ALL these steps, talk about it! Whatever it is you do to ensure a safe gluten-free meal, write about it in a sentence or two on the menu. After you’ve gone through all that work and preparation, make sure your patrons know about it. Whether it’s something simple about safe preparation methods or something more detailed that speaks to your restaurant’s passion about providing gluten-free choices, it will be much appreciated by gluten-free customers.
How Local Restaurants Are Already Doing It
A local restaurant’s menu, which really stands out is Pane e Vino in Providence, Rhode Island. Their gluten-free menu spans two pages and has a variety of inspired and interesting dishes, including pasta, salads, meats and even a couple desserts. Their gluten-free menu has the same number of options as their regular menu, which is sure to please those who feel left out by their dining choices. The bottom of the menu clearly notes that while they do not have a dedicated gluten-free facility, the chef will prepare the food on clean contact surfaces and they will make all efforts to ensure your meal is safe.
A favorite Worcester, Massachusetts seafood restaurant, The Sole Proprietor, also gets it right with their fantastic gluten-free menu. They have it all, from gluten-free beer to a dessert menu with not just one dessert, but six for those gluten-free diners fed up with flourless chocolate cakes (if that’s your cup of tea, they have that too!). Their gluten-free menu is nearly identical to their regular menu as almost all their selections can be made gluten-free.
Another popular Worcester restaurant, EVO, handles their gluten-free menu in a different, but equally valid way. It’s all one menu, with many items from each section marked with GF to indicate that it can be prepared gluten-free. While they also don’t write about their preparation methods, one Yelper notes that, “Evo IS Mecca for those with food allergies: vegetarians, vegans, lactose intolerants, celiacs, peanut allergies.” Another reviewer acknowledges that “there are few places you can go that can cater explicitly to folks with Celiac Disease or are gluten intolerant. [EVO] very much excel[s] here.”
You know you’ve done it right when you get rave reviews from the vegan, gluten-free and allergic folks. Diagnoses of Celiac Disease are on the rise, so this is not going away. Take note of what these fabulous restaurants are doing with their gluten-free menus and start your own!