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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    Take Charge of Your Meal When Eating Out

    This article originally appeared in the Autumn 2002 edition of Celiac.com's Journal of Gluten-Sensitivity.

    The results of my latest Celiac.com survey indicate that 71 percent of 983 respondents dine out less often now than before they went on a gluten-free diet.  Further, 74 percent of those who do eat out are now more nervous and uncomfortable during their dining experience, and 50 percent of them felt this way because it is either too much trouble to explain their diet, or because they felt that restaurant employees are in too big of a hurry to worry about their special needs.  As a resident of San Francisco, a city that supposedly has enough table space in its restaurants to seat everyone in the city at once, these results disappoint me.  Not because I eat out less due to my gluten-restricted diet, or am uncomfortable when I do so, but because I don’t believe that anyone with celiac disease who is armed with the proper knowledge needs to fear or avoid eating out.

    In order to eat out safely the first thing that you must check before going into a restaurant is your attitude.  If you are the type of person who is too embarrassed to send your meal back because they didn’t follow your instructions or if you are the opposite type and are so demanding that you often annoy the staff—you will need to find some middle ground.  It took me a while to reach this point, but I can now go into a restaurant with confidence and look at getting a good gluten-free meal there as a personal challenge that begins when I walk through their door. 

    Upon entering a restaurant the first thing that you need to notice is how busy the place is, including how stressed out the workers seem to be—the more stressed out they are, the more tactful you will need to be to get what you want—a safe meal.  One rule that has served me well in all situations is to keep it simple—both your order and how you place it.  I never try to give a scientific discourse on celiac disease to restaurant workers, as I have found that it only serves to frustrate or confuse them.  Tell them only what they need to know—that you have an allergy to wheat (using the term gluten will typically lead back into long explanations) and need to make sure that your dish is wheat-free.  I wouldn’t tell them that you’ll get violently ill if ANY wheat ends up in your meal, as some people recommend, because they probably won’t want to serve you.  I also wouldn’t go into detail about hidden ingredients that contain wheat—it will take too long to explain and you will again run the risk of scaring them into not serving you. 

    I usually don’t approach the chef unless it’s very slow because he is probably the busiest person in a restaurant.  When it’s busy I always ask the waiter to give the chef special order instructions, both verbally and in writing on the order ticket.  Rather than try to educate the staff and make them experts on gluten, it’s far more efficient if you are the one who becomes more educated with regard to the dishes you like to eat so that you can order them in a manner that will ensure your safety.  I strongly believe that your diet is ultimately your responsibility and not a restaurant’s (with the exception of any mistakes that they might make).

    The key to ordering a gluten-free meal is your beforehand knowledge of its ingredients and how it is prepared.  Most people who have cooked have a basic understanding of how certain dishes are prepared, and how they could contain gluten.  Even if you aren’t a cook you might have had the meal you want to order enough times to know something about its ingredients and preparation methods.  You need only to know enough about the meal to ask the right questions so that you can alter any preparation methods that might cause it to contain gluten.  For example, whenever I order a salad I always tell them no croutons, and to bring me olive oil and vinegar for dressing.  If I order fried rice in a Chinese restaurant I order it without soy sauce, or I give them my own bottle to cook with.  If you order something properly and it arrives incorrectly, send it back!  I recently ordered Chinese food with my family and did everything right—I told them about my wheat allergy, gave them my bottle of soy sauce, and told the waitress that I wanted to make sure that there was no wheat flour in or on anything that I ordered (but that corn starch is fine—if you don’t clarify this point it might unnecessarily eliminate or alter many Chinese dishes).  When our food arrived the chicken I ordered was breaded.  After inquiring about it I found out that they used wheat flour so I sent it back, the waitress apologized, and it was no big deal.

    I recommend that you purchase and read basic cookbooks for the types of foods that you like to eat so that you can place your order with confidence.  For example, I own several cookbooks for my favorite cuisines, including ones that cover Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, Indian and American foods.  I typically look over the relevant cookbook before I go to a particular restaurant so that I can get an idea of what I want to order and how to order it.  The more up-front knowledge you have about how the dishes you like are prepared, the easier it will be for you to order them in a manner that ensures that they are safe.  Having these books around is also great should you begin to cook more at home, which 65 percent of my survey respondents already do, and this is something that I also highly recommend.

    Generally speaking I try to avoid large chain restaurants as much as possible because many of their items are highly processed and contain a huge number of ingredients.  Their employees typically have no idea what’s in their foods.  I think that many of the survey respondents are with me on this, as 70 percent of them also eat less processed and junk foods due to their gluten-free diets.  I only eat at chain restaurants if I am able to check their Web sites in advance for safe items, and if I can’t do this I am extra careful about what I order.  I try to eat at smaller, family-owned establishments because they usually know the ingredients and preparation methods for all of their dishes.  Additionally, authentic ethnic foods such as Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean typically use little wheat, so I lean more towards these types of foods when I eat out. 

    The transition to a gluten-free diet isn’t easy—74 percent of survey respondents thought it was difficult or very difficult.  Like many things in life, it took some up-front work on your part to be able to make the successful transition to a gluten-free diet, and the same is true for eating out.  I like to think that what you put into it, you will get out of it—the more you learn about cuisine and its various methods of preparation, the more pleasant and care-free your dining experiences will be, and the more likely you will be to get a safe meal.  Life’s too short to not enjoy the basic pleasure of eating out, so the next time you get the urge, do your homework first, then take charge of your meal at the restaurant!



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    Guest Dolores Eilers

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    Very good advice. It is hard to get through to some waiters when you try to explain our problems. Thank you for such good information.

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    Of course you can recognize breading and croutons! But how do you know if the chefs used YOUR soy sauce, or if there is cross-contamination in the kitchen despite your best efforts. There are a myriad of ways to be glutenous in a restaurant that this article does not address. It's not this simple and formulaic.

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    Be careful with Chinese food. It's often thickened with 'wheaten' cornflour, which is cheaper for the restaurant...at least in Australia.

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    Sorry but I don't agree with this article. For those extremely sensitive celiacs, this doesn't work. Cross contamination is a major problem and you haven't addressed it.

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    Good article. I recently went to a chain restaurant and asked if they had a gluten free menu. The waitress wasn't sure so I asked for the manager. he manager came to our table and assured me that they have gluten free food. I asked what they have and he said "chicken wings". I love chicken wings so I asked him if the wings are cooked separately or in the same fryer as everything else. He looked at me with glazed eyes and said, "with everything else". I wound up having a glass of water and eating my gluten free energy bar. Ask, ask, and then ask again. It sure beats getting sick.

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    Of course you can recognize breading and croutons! But how do you know if the chefs used YOUR soy sauce, or if there is cross-contamination in the kitchen despite your best efforts. There are a myriad of ways to be glutenous in a restaurant that this article does not address. It's not this simple and formulaic.

    If you have no trust in your fellow human being this approach will not work for you--this article does require some level of trust in other people's competence levels, combined with some skill on your part in being able to communicate well and understand how to order things. If you don't have the trust or the understanding you'd better stay home...

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    Sorry but I don't agree with this article. For those extremely sensitive celiacs, this doesn't work. Cross contamination is a major problem and you haven't addressed it.

    You either choose to eat out or you choose not to--I can't make that choice for you (but it sounds like you don't eat out). I do, and this is how I've been doing it successfully for 15+ years with very few issues, so I thought I'd share it to be helpful. How is criticizing my successful approach helpful to anyone--why not share with us some tips that are helpful, like how you eat out successfully (oh, I forgot, you probably don't eat out)?

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    Well written and practical article. Thanks. We love to go out to eat and it has been more of a challenge since our youngest daughter (5 yrs. old) was diagnosed with celiac. But one we have tackled by applying the same principles that helped us at home and at friends' houses to go gluten free by using common sense, educating ourselves on options, trying new things, and politely communicating our needs to others. I like your suggestions and your attitude. People are much more likely to accommodate you when you have a good attitude.

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    Good article. I recently went to a chain restaurant and asked if they had a gluten free menu. The waitress wasn't sure so I asked for the manager. he manager came to our table and assured me that they have gluten free food. I asked what they have and he said "chicken wings". I love chicken wings so I asked him if the wings are cooked separately or in the same fryer as everything else. He looked at me with glazed eyes and said, "with everything else". I wound up having a glass of water and eating my gluten free energy bar. Ask, ask, and then ask again. It sure beats getting sick.

    I have been going out to eat since my diagnosis a few years ago, and I have not had many problems. I do always stay away from chain restaurants (unless they have a gluten free menu). When I do go out I always say I'm highly allergic to wheat which includes Flour, Sauce, Stock, and Breading's. This usually works. I did go back to a restaurant recently to get their steak I had about a year ago that I loved. Thank god the waitress had a friend that was gluten free, because she told me it was marinated in soy sauce. I had it while I was following my gluten free diet. So always ask about Marinades as well.

     

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    Thanks for the article! I have recently been diagnosed and probably have a more mild case. Luckily, most of my favorite restaurants have gluten free menus. The only problem is that I am also a vegetarian and most gluten free menus are meat based. I have learned that I can go into many places and describe a dish to make and they are happy to make me an 'off the menu' meal as long as it is simple. I usually ask for them to take a little of every vegetable they have, grill it and throw on some feta cheese. It is a wonderful, satisfying dish and I can enjoy an evening out.

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    Thanks, Scott, for another thought provoking article. We are on a trip right now & had just eaten at a Caberra's in Florida where they have a limited gluten free menu. My husband thinks I do a good job at explaining, but it still upsets me when no one knows what's in the garlic mashed potatoes. It always ends up that you can eat a broiled chicken breast, baked potato, steamed broccoli---but that's too boring and I can make those better at home. So I try something less ordinary on the gluten free menu, no matter how limited the choices. Usually balsamic vinaigrette is gluten free and tonight I had sun-dried tomato/basil inaigrette. I get really tired of vinegar and oil, which I used to love. If it's a decent salad to begin with vinegar will bring out the flavor. In a Cuban restaurant earlier this week, they were confident they had safe food for me. Then the waiter accidentally threw a slice of bread on my salad---he had checked out the dressing, but brought me a new salad apologetically.

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  • About Me

    In 1994 I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which led me to create Celiac.com in 1995. I created this site for a single purpose: To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives. Celiac.com was the first site on the Internet dedicated solely to celiac disease. In 1998 I founded The Gluten-Free Mall, Your Special Diet Superstore!, and I am the co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

  • Related Articles

    Melissa Blanco
    This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 edition of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.
    Celiac.com 12/11/2009 - I recently embarked on a quest for family-friendly restaurants that offered gluten-free selections.  I explained this vision to my husband and three children as we set the rules of our experiment: five family members to eat at five restaurants during a five week period.  The challenge - the children were to choose the restaurant, the chosen restaurant couldn’t sell Happy Meals or have a drive-thru window and the restaurant had to be a franchise rather than a local venue.  Additionally, the mom, me, and the only celiac in the family, had the option of not eating if it might compromise her small intestines.  Here is what we discovered:
    Restaurant # 1: Applebee’s
    My children chose to eat at Applebee’s on a Sunday afternoon for lunch.  The atmosphere was friendly and a plentiful kids’ menu was offered.  With over 1900 restaurants nationwide and in 15 other countries, according to the company website, it seems there is an Applebee’s almost everywhere.  Additionally, Applebee’s offers a Weight Watcher’s menu for restaurant patrons who are counting points, which led me to hope an allergy/gluten-free menu would also be provided.
    After we were seated, I perused the menu to read this statement, “To our guests with food sensitivities or allergies.  Applebee’s cannot ensure that menu items do not contain ingredients that might cause an allergic reaction.  Please consider this when ordering.”
    I spoke to a manager and asked if a gluten-free menu was available.  I was informed, “Applebee’s policy is not to guarantee allergy-free food.  Our company does not carry a gluten-free menu, but we can modify food.  For example, we can prepare grilled chicken breast strips for kids, rather than giving them breaded chicken fingers.  Again, we don’t guarantee the food will not come in contact with the allergen.”
    Restaurant #2: Red Robin
    The next stop on our restaurant expedition was Red Robin, which also offers an extensive children’s menu.  According to the company website, there are over 430 Red Robin restaurants, in North America.  After we were seated in our booth, I asked our server if a gluten-free menu was available.  She immediately went to the kitchen and returned with a printed Wheat/Gluten Allergen menu.  Printed on the top of the menu was the statement, “Red Robin relied on our suppliers’ statements of ingredients in deciding which products did not contain certain allergens.  Suppliers may change the ingredients in their products or the way they prepare their products, so please check this list to make sure that the menu item you like still meets your dietary requirements.  Red Robin cannot guarantee that any menu item will be prepared completely free of the allergen in question.”
    Gluten-free offerings were grouped in the following categories: salads; salad dressings; burgers; chicken burgers; entrees; and available side dishes.  The Kids’ menu offered a beef patty burger, turkey patty, and chicken-on-a-stick.  It stated: “Kids may also select from any items listed on the Wheat/Gluten menu as adult items to custom design a wheat/gluten free meal for your child.  This menu is current and valid until 10/1/09.”
    I was informed by our server that when a customer orders from the gluten-free menu, an allergy alert is put on their ticket and the area of food preparation is cleaned to avoid cross-contamination.  Additionally, the fries are prepared in oil specifically designated for fries, and those with a gluten allergy should avoid the fry seasoning.
    I ordered off of the Red Robin gluten-free menu and personally recommend the Crispy Chicken Tender Salad with grilled chicken rather than crispy, no garlic bread, and the honey mustard dressing.
    Restaurant #3: Garlic Jim’s Famous Gourmet Pizza
    It was a Friday evening and my children decided they really wanted to eat pizza for dinner.  This led us to almost break our fast food rule by ordering carryout from a pizza restaurant.  Ordering pizza is an extreme challenge for those suffering from gluten intolerance. Therefore, I had to do my research ahead of time.  I called Papa John’s, Domino’s, Papa Murphy’s and Pizza Hut to confirm that gluten-free pizza is not offered, at any of these pizza chains.  I did find a pizza franchise in my state, called Garlic Jim’s, which offers a gluten-free crust. 
    According to the chain website, “Garlic Jim’s is proud to be the first pizza chain accredited for gluten free food service by the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America.”  Garlic Jim’s Famous Gourmet Pizza is currently located in seven states including; Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Colorado, Tennessee, and Florida.
    I was informed at the restaurant that the gluten-free crust is covered with sauce in a separate area in order to avoid cross contamination although the toppings are put on in the same location where wheat-based crusts are prepared.  Different pans and utensils are used in the preparation of this gluten-free thin crust which costs three dollars more than their traditional pizzas.  The restaurant also posts a sign stating that although they do offer gluten-free pizza, they cannot guarantee the pizza will not come in contact with allergens.
    I recommend the gluten-free pepperoni pizza, and can attest that pizza has never tasted so good.
    Restaurant #4:  The Old Spaghetti Factory
    The Old Spaghetti Factory was established in 1969, and as of today, boasts 39 locations nationwide.  I was quite pleased to discover, when my children chose to eat at The Old Spaghetti Factory, that they offer gluten-free pasta.  Before being seated, I inquired at the hostess desk if a gluten-free menu was available and I was presented with a laminated copy. 
    Each entré includes complimentary salad, bread, and ice cream. Obviously, those with gluten intolerance need to give the bread a pass, but there are viable options available for the remainder of the meal.  Gluten-free salad dressings include pesto and vinaigrette—hold the croutons on the salad.  The main course is a rice pasta with the following sauce choices: marinara; meat; mushroom; mizithra cheese, and; brown butter.  Diners also have the option of adding gluten-free sausage and sliced chicken breast to their meal.  For dessert, a choice of spumoni or vanilla ice cream is offered. 
     I ordered the Manager’s Favorite pasta, which includes a combination of two sauces.  I chose gluten-free pasta topped with marinara sauce and mizithra cheese.  My dinner also included a salad with vinaigrette dressing and spumoni for dessert. 
    Restaurant #5: Outback Steakhouse
    Our final dining choice was the Outback Steakhouse which, according to the company’s website, is an Australian Steakhouse with over 950 locations worldwide.  I was offered a gluten-free menu that is nearly as large as the main menu.  Offerings included appetizers, steaks, chicken, seafood, salads, side dishes, and even a brownie dessert.  The entire gluten-free menu is available on the Outback Steakhouse website, www.outback.com .
    Our server was very knowledgeable of gluten intolerance. I ordered off of the gluten-free menu.  When ordering salads, it is recommended that you request that they be mixed separately to avoid cross contamination.  Overall, it was a very pleasant dining experience for my entire family, with a plentiful menu for me and an ample kids’ menu.
    I would certainly recommend what I ordered— Victoria’s Filet with a baked potato and a salad without croutons.  I passed on the bread which accompanies every meal.  It was a pleasant dining experience at what is quite possibly the restaurant that has set the current gold standard for gluten-free dining.
    Overall, our experiment was a great success with four of the five restaurants we visited offering gluten-free menus.  I advise diners to be cautious wherever they eat because even if a company offers gluten-free options you must also take into account the knowledge of the chef preparing your food and the server assisting you.  It is encouraging that major restaurant chains are acknowledging the need to modify their menus for those suffering from gluten intolerance.  Good luck and happy dining.


    Destiny Stone
    Celiac.com 04/15/2010 - Mother's day is right around the corner, and what better way to tell your mom you love her, than to make her  a lovely gluten-free brunch. Even if your mom is a gluten eater, it is still a  perfect opportunity to try out some new gluten-free recipes. Many people with gluten sensitivities are also sensitive to foods other than gluten. That is why for this special day, I am including some gluten-free recipes that are also free of most common allergens.
    Making brunch for your mom on Mother's Day doesn't have to be expensive, and a gluten-free brunch isn't hard at all. If you have a recipe that you love, but you don't know how to make it gluten-free, do an Internet search for your favorite dish and add "gluten-free” to the beginning of your search. You will be amazed at how many recipes have already been converted to gluten-free, and are on the Internet to be shared by all.
    The following recipes are gluten-free, dairy/casein-free, egg-free, nut-free, corn free, and shell-fish free-actually free of all animal products. Even if you don't need to avoid other allergens, you might find that you like  these gluten free recipes better than you expect.  Although, the following recipes can also be modified to fit your taste buds. So if a recipe calls for non-dairy margarine for example, use butter, or coconut oil if you prefer. Don't hesitate to dig in and get creative!
    The following link is for a recipe that I can't wait to try. This basic recipe can be elaborated on, and you can top with the fruit of your choice. This is an excellent idea for brunch, or wrap them up and present them as a gift.

    Vegan Gluten Free Lemon Coconut Cream Scones  The wonderful thing about the following Tofu Benedict  recipe,  is that it can be modified to suit your taste buds. If you eat meat, you can add gluten-free meat to your Benedict, or anything that you think your mom would enjoy on her special day. It's also a very easy recipe and doesn't take long to prepare.
    Gluten-Free Tofu Benedict Recipe
    Ingredients:
    1 lb. extra firm tofu 1/4 cup distilled apple cider vinegar 1/4 tsp. Himalyan salt (or table salt) 1/4 cup olive oil 4 Tbsp. gluten-free nondairy butter substitute 8 oz. nondairy gluten-free sour cream 1 tsp. gluten-free paprika 1/2 tsp. gluten-free nutmeg Pinch of gluten-free cayenne 1 Tbsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice 4 gluten-free  English muffins, toasted (or 8 slices of toast) Gluten-Free English Muffins   8 slices  tomato Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Drain the tofu, cut it into 8 slices, and arrange it in a single layer in an oiled 9”x13” baking dish.
    In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and olive oil and pour the mixture over the tofu. Bake the tofu for 20 minutes, basting it occasionally and turning it over after 10 minutes. Pour off any excess liquid and bake the tofu for a few more minutes—until it is brown and crispy.
    To make the hollandaise sauce, melt the butter substitute  in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the nondairy sour cream, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne, and lemon juice. Make sure that the mixture is heated through but don’t allow it to boil.
    Top each English muffin half with a slice of tofu, tomato slice, and a generous spoonful of hollandaise sauce to taste.
    Serve immediately & Enjoy!
    Gluten-Free Gift Baskets
    Giving your mom a thoughtful Mother's Day gift doesn't have to be expensive. Gift baskets come in all shapes and sizes, so you don't have to spend a fortune to show your mom how much you love her.*Tip: To save money, make your own gluten-free gift basket. Purchase an inexpensive basket at your local craft store, fill it up with gluten-free goodies, wrap it with cellophane and a pretty bow and in no time, you have a customized gluten-free gift basket made especially for your mom.
    Fill your gluten-free gift basket up with gluten-free goodies; below are some ideas.

    Gluten-Free Desserts Gluten-Free Cookies Gluten-Free Crackers Gluten-Free Candy Gluten-Free Personal Care, Lotions etc. If your mom likes to cook, what better way to pamper her, than to give her the gift that keeps on giving. Below is a link of gluten-free cookbooks. Cookbooks also make a wonderful addition to your gift basket.
    Cookbooks Don't forget the chocolate! No gift basket is complete without chocolate and most moms enjoy a little chocolate on occasion. The following is a list of gluten-free chocolate treats. You will find everything from chocolate cakes and cookies, to chocolate mousse and chocolate chips. So even if you don't have time to bake her a cake, you can still give your mom some yummy gluten-free chocolate treats to enjoy on  Mother's Day.
    Gluten-Free Chocolate
    Keep your mom in style this Spring. Our celiac awareness shirts are a welcome addition to any gift basket or even by themselves.
    Celiac Awareness Shirts
    What do you get for the gluten-free mom that has everything? Try a giftvoucher for the Gluten Free Mall. Vouchers can accommodate any budgetand they also make an excellent last minute gift. So this year, thereis no excuse for not giving your mom something nice for  Mother's Day.
    Gluten-Free Gift Vouchers
    Mother's Day Ideas:
    Make gluten-free brunch Convert your favorite recipes to “gluten-free” Make your mom a gluten-free gift basket Happy Mother's Day!


    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 03/29/2013 - Parents of children with food allergies can take heart in recent developments at the federal level that are mandating changes in the ways colleges and universities address food-allergy issues in their students.
    A recent federal civil rights settlement between the Department of Justice and Lesley University that arose from Lesley's failure to provide gluten-free food shows that traditional one-style-fits-all dining options are no longer an ­option for our institutions of higher learning.
    The settlement requires Lesley to “continually provide” students with gluten-free dining options and pay $50,000 in damages to ensure the university is in compliance with a federal law that protects people with disabilities.
    As a result, more and more universities are scrambling to make safe food alternatives available to students with severe food allergies, including those with celiac disease, as required by the under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
    This adjustment includes gluten-free food offerings, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts are among the first to attempt the adjustment. Their approaches differ slightly, but the goal is to provide a safe, reliable dining experience to students with food allergies.
    The University of Massachusetts Boston and Boston University have created gluten-free zones in cafeterias and food courts, while others are taking a more individual approach. Tufts and Harvard University, for example, are having nutritionists and dining hall staff work with students to figure out what prepared foods can and cannot be eaten and ordering specialty items as necessary.
    Tufts' plan also includes establishing a dedicated freezer-refrigerator unit in its two dining halls that is stocked with gluten-free foods. The units are kept locked, and only students with special dietary needs are given keys
    UMass Amherst publishes dining hall menus online, and identifies gluten-free offerings with a special icon. The school also has an extensive handout on what foods to avoid and whom to contact if students need gluten-free food.
    About a year ago, UMass Boston created a gluten-free zone in its food court, with a dedicated refrigerator, microwave, and toaster to minimize the risk of contamination.
    Look for the trend to continue as more and more colleges deal with the new legal realities of feeding students who have food allergies.
    Sources:
    http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/01/16/college-dining-halls-latest-challenge-gluten-free/ZGWMFABp0ruPI87L8BV8wM/story.html http://www.dailynebraskan.com/news/article_32cd62de-6908-11e2-951f-0019bb30f31a.html

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