Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Guest Post – Gluten Free on the Road



Hello, fellow gf-ers. I’m from Gluten Free Jesus Freak (!). I’m a 28-year old hospital chaplain and, like many of you, I suffered a frustrating diagnostic process where I was misdiagnosed over a period of three years. Due to a friend’s advice, I finally decided to try going gluten-free. Within three days of giving up gluten most of my symptoms, from fatigue to digestive problems, disappeared. Throughout the past year of gluten-freedom the rest of my symptoms (weakened tooth enamel, anemia, migraines, etc.) have disappeared as well. It’s glorious.

I’ve recently discovered the gluten-free blogosphere, and I’ve fallen in love with the supportive community in this network. Through all of you I learn about new products, discover new recipes, and find support for my questions and concerns. Thank you for being wonderful!

My top five favorite gluten-free products:

  1. Pamela’s Baking and Pancake Mix
  2. Whole Foods Cherry Almond Streusel Muffins
  3. Enjoy Life English Muffins
  4. Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Pasta
  5. Udi’s Sandwich Bread

My husband of nearly four years and I spent last year living a long-distance marriage. It’s a long story, but for several reasons he ended up living in the south while I continued my seminary program in New Jersey. I don’t recommend this for several thousand reasons, but it was the best thing for our academic lives and our careers at the time, and it was only for the academic year, so we bit the bullet and went ahead with it. We said goodbye in August, and in September I discovered that I was gluten-intolerant.


I soon adapted to cooking gluten-free for myself, eating lots of gf pasta, making my own stir-fry sauce, and learning to bake again with gf mixes and flours. It wasn’t so bad, all things considered (though I’d still kill for a piece of naan bread…).

What was bad was trying to travel gluten-free. Every other weekend I was on a plane headed to my hubby. Over the course of the year I traveled to California (a wedding), Wisconsin (family), Minnesota (more family), Illinois (meetings), Mexico (vacation), back to Illinois (more meetings), and did a 40+hour drive from the mid-south to Los Angeles (long story that one). I was in a car or on a plane often, and because I was so new to the gf lifestyle, I often ended up nibbling on a scant bag of almonds, getting sugared up on Skittles, or just simply going hungry.

I’m a patient person in most areas of life (heck, I lived in a different state than my husband for nearly a year!), but when it comes to being hungry I turn into a cranky five-year old. Often my husband would pick me up at the airport and find that his wife had turned into an angry and bedraggled grizzly bear.

“GRARRRR. I’m starving. You do have something gf at home, right? Please tell me that you do. I haven’t eaten anything but a piece of string cheese since yesterday when I got stranded in Cincinnati.”

He’d usually look a little bit crestfallen, prompting me to continue quickly with, “Oh, right, and I missed you.”

I soon discovered that there is almost nothing edible for a gf road-weary traveler. Airports are a disaster, fast food is scary to navigate, and it can be difficult to pack enough food for a long trip unless you’re a real whiz and can sweet-talk airport security into letting you keep your hummus (apparently that qualifies as a “liquid or gel”).

The possibility of gluten free fast food seems like a no-go at first. Though many dining establishments are getting more allergen-savvy by the day, fast food tends to lag behind. One particular chain fast-food restaurant’s website illustrates what I mean—it lists all of their myriad of gluten-free products: Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi, hot sauce, and lettuce. Try having that for dinner.

However, after days and days and days on the road and in the air in various parts of the country, I learned a bit about gluten-free fast-food survival. There are some great options if you know where to look. Since Marlow is so good at listing healthy options (hope you’re having a great honeymoon, girl!), I thought I’d share some fast food (aka, unhealthy-ish) restaurant options for those who go a-lookin’ for a quick bite.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. As always, be sure to double-check items if you’re super-sensitive, as menu ingredients can change.

1. In n’ Out Burger: These are geographically limited to the southwestern part of the United States (southern Utah to California), but they are phenomenal and all of the ingredients are ultra-fresh. As an added bonus, they pay (and treat) their employees very well. My husband swears by them, and will drive dozens of miles out of his way for their “double-double with cheese.” The following is gluten-free:

Fries (fresh and delicious!)



Burger toppings (including lettuce, cheese, onion, tomato, ketchup, mustard, and “special sauce”)

All drinks, including pink lemonade and soft drinks

*To get a gf burger, order it “protein-style” (wrapped in lettuce), and ask specifically to have it made gluten-free. Employees are well-trained in allergens, and will change their gloves and grill the burger on a separate grill (away from the grilled buns).

2. Wendy’s: You can get a pretty decent meal at a Wendy’s, though the employees usually don’t know much about gluten-intolerance and you’ll have to speak up to stay gluten-free. If you’re creative in how you combine items, you can actually make a pretty tasty dinner. The following is gluten-free:

All frosties (yay!), without mix-ins

Salads (throw away any separate gluten-containing packets like wonton strips or croutons and double-check dressing ingredients), including salads with grilled chicken


Baked potatoes (including sour cream and butter toppings)

Mandarin oranges

3. McDonald’s: Sadly, the food at Mickey D’s that’s safe for us celiac-sufferers is few and far between. Still, there are a few tasty things that can provide a good snack in a pinch:

All milkshakes

Apple dippers (apples with caramel)

All sundaes

Side salads

Fruit smoothies

Fruit and yogurt parfait (leave off the granola)

4. Chipotle: Chipotle is by far my favorite on-the-road snack. What’s gluten-free at Chipotle? Everything but the flour tortillas and the medium salsa! Whoa, really? Yup. You’ll want to ask the employee making your food to change gloves (to avoid cross-contamination), and if you’re super-sensitive, you may want to avoid the lettuce and cheese, as they regularly come in contact with contaminated gloves. I’m very, very sensitive though, and I’ve never gotten sick at a Chipotle. Their chips and guacamole are definitely generous enough for a decent lunch.

5. Qdoba: I love Qdoba for the same reasons I love Chipotle. Quick, easy, tasty, and fresh (not to mention almost entirely gluten-free!). Steer clear of the medium salsa (may contain malt vinegar) and the flour tortillas, ask employees to change their gloves, and you’re in the clear.

6. Starbucks: Many Starbucks locations have started offering one gf breakfast menu item. It’s not much, but it’s certainly a welcome start!

7. Easy take-out restaurants that have gluten-free menus: Sometimes I can’t tolerate another bite of fast-food, but these chain restaurants offer easy take-out and gluten-free menus! Not all are advertised, so make sure you ask for them when you call or stop in for a bite:

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Macaroni Grill


Outback Steakhouse

Pei Wei

P.F. Changs

Red Robin


That’s all from my side of the blogosphere! Come by and see me at Gluten Free Jesus Freak, where I navigate the intimately connected cultures of Christianity and food, and don’t forget to wish Marlow a happy (and very, very gluten-free!) honeymoon!

Cheers, all,



& hubby :)