Managing Social Eating

Managing social eating while gluten-free

As your child grows older, they will become more independent, especially about food choices and eating out. As they move away from relying on your support, discuss best practices for gluten-free eating at restaurants, friends’ homes, school, sporting events, trips, and more.

These suggestions below apply to any activity your child will be engaged in that may involve food, like going to a friend’s house or sporting event.

  • It is OK to speak up for your child. Be assertive but courteous. Your child will learn from the behaviors you model. If your child is older, encourage them to be a strong advocate for themselves.
  • It can feel uncomfortable at first to ask about the gluten-free status of foods when eating outside of the home. With time, practice, and confidence, this gets easier.
  • Speak to the parents of your child’s friends and encourage your child to do the same. Make them aware of the gluten-free restrictions for any social gatherings, birthday parties, and more.
  • Research local food options online.
  • Discuss school breakfasts and lunches with the food service staff and school nurse.
  • Talk to the coach or club leader so that they are aware of your child’s needs.
  • Always supply your child with backup snacks and meals, just in case.

Eating out at a restaurant

The Celiac Disease Foundation makes five recommendations for eating out:

  1. Understand the gluten-free diet.
  2. Research restaurants.
  3. Call ahead and ask questions.
  4. Let your child know ahead of time that they may not be able to order their first choice on the menu.
  5. Always bring a backup snack.

It is also best to call the restaurant in advance. Many restaurants offer gluten-free choices on their menus. Also ask how they’ve prepared the food and about specific ingredients they used.

Some specific questions to ask:

  • Do you have a gluten-free menu? If not, what menu items can you make gluten free?
  • Has the food been marinated? Does the marinade have flour, soy, or teriyaki sauce as an ingredient?
  • Are there croutons, wontons, or crispy noodles on the salad?
  • Do you use separate cookware and utensils for gluten-free food preparation? Do you change your gloves and wipe down cooking surfaces before preparing a gluten-free dish?
  • Is your kitchen staff knowledgeable about gluten cross contact and able to keep my child’s meal safe?

Eating at school

Keeping your child on a gluten-free diet at home can take a lot of work, and maintaining that while they’re off at school can feel like a daunting process. From kindergartens to colleges, schools are increasing their accommodations for children with celiac disease. Certain schools are also required by law to provide gluten-free meals for your child. We advise that you talk to your child about which foods are safe to share and inform your child’s teacher about your child’s needs.

One effective way to inform school staff is through a 504 Plan. This is a plan for specific ways the school can support your child. For example, the school can keep gluten-free snacks on hand in the teacher’s lounge, allow extra bathroom privileges, and more. For questions or concerns about your child at school, please reach out to a member of your celiac disease care team.