When you or your employees are gluten-free, few things can be trickier than ordering lunch at work. Thankfully, ordering gluten-free meals doesn’t have to be a nightmare. With a little planning, employees and employers can have peace of mind that lunch will be tasty and safe. Read on for tips to order delicious, gluten-free fare to the office.
1. Get inspired by gluten-free cuisines from around the world
To start your gluten-free search, look beyond typical lunch items such as sandwiches and salads. Many different cuisines offer great gluten-free options.
- Italian: Believe it or not, Italian food isn’t all gluten-filled bread and pasta dishes. Spiralized vegetable noodles can be substituted for wheat-based pasta, while rice-based risotto and corn-based polenta make for flavorful yet traditional entrees. Many restaurants offer gluten-free noodles, too.
- Greek and Middle Eastern: With a focus on simply grilled proteins and vegetable, served with rice and chickpeas, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines include plenty of naturally gluten-free dishes like stews.
- Latin American: From Mexican to Peruvian, rice, corn, and spices dominate many of these cuisines —just be on the lookout for flour tortillas, which you can often ask to swap for corn tortillas). Some South American-based cuisines may also use tapioca as a base for cheese bread or other dishes. Pure tapioca is naturally gluten-free, but it’s a good idea to ask if it’s mixed or processed with gluten-containing foods.
- Thai: Thai food uses fish sauce more than the wheat-containing soy sauce commonly found in other Asian cuisines. Rice is a Thai staple used in curries, noodle dishes, and wrappers.
- Indian: Ordering from an Indian restaurant may require a little more due diligence as cuisines from wheat-producing northern India are more likely to include glutinous breads or other wheat-based foods. Southern Indian meals, on the other hand, use lentils, rice, and chickpeas.
2. Try to avoid the lunch rush
When ordering lunch or going out to eat, try to order outside of the lunch rush. This will help everyone, including the wait and kitchen staff, address any gluten concerns. While you may shift the meal to more of an early or later lunch, everyone is more likely to have the right meal prepared to their dietary needs.
While restaurant staff wants to work with their customers to make sure everyone has a safe and pleasant dining experience, that can be harder during high-volume, stressful rush periods such as prime lunch hours. When the kitchen staff isn’t hurrying from order ticket to order ticket, there’s less likelihood of cross-contamination or a gluten-free substitution accidentally getting missed.
3. Call ahead
Whether you plan to eat at the restaurant or order delivery for the office, call ahead as early as possible to ensure gluten-free needs are communicated and understood. Talk with a manager to discuss Celiac disease or any other gluten intolerances or allergies. Here are some questions to ask:
- Are wait and kitchen staff trained on the needs of gluten-free customers?
- How does the kitchen avoid gluten cross-contamination?
- Are gluten-free items prepared and cooked with separate utensils and other equipment?
- Is the eatery listed in directories such as the National Celiac Association’s Directory?
No restaurant wants customers to get sick or have a bad experience. A quick discussion can help ensure everyone has a great lunch.
4. App-source gluten-free restaurants
Whether in your hometown or while traveling for business, sourcing gluten-free restaurants, food carts, and cafes can be as simple as grabbing your smartphone. There are plenty of apps for iOS and Android devices that help diners find gluten-free restaurants. Here are a few:
5. Get the menu in advance
It’s common for restaurants, cafés, food carts, and other eateries to post their menu online. Take advantage of these listings by looking over the menu well before lunchtime. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Is there a specific gluten-free menu or menu section?
- Does the menu list anything specific about gluten sensitivities, gluten-free substitutions, or other considerations for diners eating gluten-free?
- Do specific food listings address any cross-contamination or gluten-containing ingredient concerns?
Keep a list of gluten-free menus so it’s easy to pick a gluten-free-friendly lunch spot. It’ll help make ordering lunch easier next time.
6. Suggest creative (and reasonable) substitutions
At the most basic level, gluten-free eating means avoiding barley, rye, or wheat, which can include anything from breading to sauces.
7. Never assume something is gluten free
From spice blends to ice cream, gluten has a way of showing up in all sorts of foods you might not expect. Breading, croutons, and sauces are just some of the potential obvious and non-obvious ways gluten can wind up on your plate (all items that can leave a gluten-free eater uncomfortable and/or very sick). No one—your boss or the restaurant staff—wants that. Unless you are familiar with the vendor, never assume foods are gluten free or that they have been prepared with gluten-safe procedures.
That doesn’t mean you can’t trust anyone, but it does mean you need to be cautious.
Since menus don’t necessarily go into detail on ingredients and procedures, always be willing to talk with servers and managers about gluten-free needs. Restaurant staff will often take the time to talk and work with you.
8. Tip well, give good reviews and come back
When a restaurant accommodates the gluten-free needs of diners, it’s nice to tip well and leave a good review online. Of course, a restaurant should make sure it meets the health needs of customers. But restaurant workers are people too, and taking a moment to give a shout-out to their diligence and professionalism regarding gluten-free foods can help the staff not only feel good but also continue this service with future customers.
When a restaurant or other eatery does a great job working with gluten-free needs, come back again. Have them become one of your workplace’s regular lunch spots, and spread the word online that this is a good place to eat, whether or not you need a gluten-free meal.
Even when dining gluten-free, a good meal may need some advance work on your part—but it will be worthwhile. With these tips, you can be confident about ordering a tasty gluten-free lunch at the office.