For those with a disorder that prevents them from eating gluten, such as an allergy or celiac disease, eating out can be a struggle. Luckily, gluten awareness has hit the US hard, and finding gluten-free foods has become much easier even in the last 10 years. However, the transition is far from perfect.
In the fast food industry, it can still be very dicey trying to figure out which menu options are safe. Finding gluten free fast food is getting easier, but there is still a long way to go. However, as long as you pay attention and ask the right questions, it should be possible to dine gluten free at most fast food restaurants.
The best way to find gluten free fast food, though it takes a little extra effort, is just to plan ahead. If you know what restaurant you are going to ahead of time, it is usually very easy to find a list of gluten free menu items online. This means that you can get straight to ordering, and won’t have to spend time grilling the employee behind the counter about whether their chicken breading contains wheat.
If you are caught by surprise at a fast food restaurant, you may need to ask some questions. There are some standbys that are usually safe, like a “protein burger” that wraps a sandwich in lettuce instead of a bun. Salads without croutons, vegetable sides, soups, and rice bowls are often safe bets as well. At some restaurants with a focus on bread, gluten-free options like pizza crusts and flatbreads are becoming more common.
Regardless of the situation, if a menu item is not listed as gluten-free, you should always ask. Flour makes its way into strange dishes sometimes, usually as a thickening agent. Popeyes has a green bean dish that contains gluten! Some hamburger recipes also include grains as filler. Stay alert, and notify the person taking your order that you are gluten intolerant so that they can let you know about any potential problems.
While this is a pain at first, luckily the legwork you do learning what meals are safe can carry over to your next visit. One smart idea is to keep a list of fast food gluten notes on your phone, separated by restaurant. Then, when you pull into a fast food place, you can pull up the relevant file and see what you were able to order last time, as well as relevant information like dishes containing gluten that were surprising to you. After a few visits to the same restaurant, you should feel pretty confident with their menu.
Getting fast food on a gluten free diet is not the easiest thing, but it is not impossible either. With the rise of gluten free menu options, more and more restaurants are offering things like tortillas, bread, and pizza completely free of gluten. In the mean time, keep a watchful eye out, and make sure to ask about anything that is not specifically labeled as gluten free.