Gluten-Free Diet: Eating At Home vs. Away

  • Young men's version of this guide


There are two basic ways to make gluten–free foods at home. Some families choose to make their kitchen completely gluten–free by throwing out all gluten containing foods and sanitizing or purchasing new cooking equipment and utensils.

Other families choose to keep gluten containing products in their kitchen but they have strict rules about storing and cooking foods that are gluten–free. If you and your family decide to keep foods with gluten in the kitchen, make sure you take actions to lower the risk of gluten cross–contamination.

Here are some tips to lower the chances of gluten cross–contamination in your home kitchen:

  • Keep gluten–free products in a separate cabinet
  • Store gluten–free foods in airtight containers
  • Store gluten–free flours and baking mixes in airtight containers in the freezer
  • Buy separate butter, peanut butter, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and other spreads (to prevent contamination with wheat bread crumbs)
  • Use separate colanders, sponges, strainers, toasters, toaster ovens, bread machines, towels, dish rags, and wooden cutting boards and utensils for gluten–free cooking
  • Clean counter tops, cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons, the microwave, pot holders, and baking pans well and often
  • Wash all shared utensils before and after each use

Eating Gluten-Free Away From Home

The best way to stay gluten-free when away from home is by planning meals and snacks ahead of time. That may sound hard, but following these tips can make it easier.

Eating at school or on–the–go:

  • Eat breakfast at home or pack a gluten–free breakfast to eat at school or on–the–go.
  • Work with your parents, nutritionist, or school nurse to find gluten–free foods on the school breakfast and lunch menus.
  • Pack your lunch in an insulated bag to eat at school or on–the–go.
  • Keep gluten–free snacks such as fruit, cheese sticks, trail mix, snack bars, crackers, or nuts in your backpack for times when you need a quick snack.

Eating at a restaurant:

If you’re planning on eating at a restaurant, go to one that has a gluten-free menu or talk with the restaurant manager to find gluten-free menu items before ordering. Remember to tell the manager or chef that both the meal AND its preparation must be gluten-free. More and more restaurants are becoming gluten-free friendly and making it known on the menu. However, because “gluten-free” in some instances is seen as a trend rather than a medical necessity, it is important to tell the server or manager your level of sensitivity rather than just ordering something labeled gluten-free.

Some restaurants are easily able to make modifications to meals even if they do not have a separate gluten-free menu. When in doubt, always ask, even if the meal appears to be gluten free on the menu; usually not all ingredients or preparation methods are listed on the menu.

Hidden sources of cross-contamination at restaurants include using the same pans and utensils to bake gluten-free bread, using the water from boiling wheat pasta to steam vegetables or to cook gluten-free pasta, using soy sauce as a flavoring agent, and adding bread or flour to thicken soups, sauces, or gravies.

 Eating at someone else’s house:

It can be tough advocating for yourself in someone else’s home, but remember that eating gluten-free is medically necessary, just like taking medication. If you are able to, talk to the person in the home you will be visiting to find out if the food and kitchen environment will be safe for you to eat. If it’s easier, you can ask your parent or guardian to speak to the person on your behalf. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions about ingredients and preparation methods. As a guest in someone else’s home, your host would likely prefer you to feel safe and not get sick. Remember that it is likely that the peanut butter, cream cheese, and other spreads could already be contaminated with wheat and that your host likely won’t have thought of things like that. It might be helpful to offer to bring a dish or ingredients with you, order food from a restaurant you know is gluten-free, or provide suggestions of foods or meals that are often safe for you to eat.