A gluten-free diet often seems anything but convenient. Fast food restaurants feature predominantly gluten-heavy menus. However, thanks to the growing popularity of the gluten-free lifestyle, that’s quickly changing. Fast Food is often viewed as synonymous with burgers and fries. As a result, it’s no surprise that several of the burger behemoths have joined the gluten-free movement with gluten-free menu offerings.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t include McDonald’s®. At this time, they do not offer a gluten-free menu, nor do they promote any of their US menu items as being gluten-free.
Burger King® has been touting their flame-grilled burgers since 1954, but they aren’t letting tradition get in the way of their effort to be progressive with their menu. They offer a limited range of foods and ingredients that do not contain wheat, barley, rye or oats. However, they stress that these items are not intended for people with Celiac disease. These offerings include the WHOPPER® & WHOPPER JR® patties, the TENDERGRILL® Chicken Filet, BK® Fresh Apple Slices, the Garden-Fresh Salad with TENDERGRILL® Chicken and several shakes and sundaes. Although their fries are gluten-free, they may have hidden sources of gluten, as they are sometimes prepared with gluten-containing foods.
Wendy’s® is a popular choice among fast food traditionalists with gluten-free requirements. Their chocolate and vanilla Frosties, baked potatoes, chili, and side salads (without croutons) are gluten-free. Additionally, the Apple Pecan Chicken, Power Mediterranean, BBQ Ranch Chicken, Spicy Chicken and Taco Salads are all gluten-free. However, they do recommend skipping the grilled chicken because they use the same cutting board as the breaded chicken, so cross-contamination may occur.
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In-N-Out Burger® deserves a mention for their legendary “protein-style” bunless burgers wrapped in lettuce. It’s such a popular item for gluten-free dieters and Atkins devotees that it has earned a spot on their “secret menu.”
The new guy on the burger block is the much lauded Five Guys®. If you choose lettuce in lieu of the burger bun, there are endless gluten-free toppings available to construct the lettuce burger of your dreams. Additionally, their fresh cut fries and most milkshake combinations (limited availability) are gluten-free.
In the battle of fast food chicken, Chick Fil-A® rules the gluten-free roost. Their offerings include the grilled chicken sandwich on a gluten-free bun, grilled chicken nuggets, fruit cup, frosted lemonade, grilled Market salad, Spicy Southwest Salad, yogurt parfait, and the Icedream® cup dessert. Additionally, their breakfast hash browns and signature waffle fries are cooked in a dedicated gluten-free fryer. Just be sure to let them know of your special dietary needs when ordering.
Boston Market® boasts an impressive selection of gluten-free options. These include the Southwest Sante Fe salad, several Market Bowls, prime rib, rotisserie chicken, chicken marsala, roasted turkey breast, steamed vegetables, and mashed potatoes.
Jason’s Deli® may not be able to guarantee food free from cross-contamination, but they have a thorough process in place to handle all special dietary orders. They offer an extensive variety of gluten-free meats, toppings, spreads, dressings and regional items to choose from.
Chipotle Mexican Grill® is a phenomenal choice for gluten-free dining. Essentially their entire menu is gluten-free, aside from the flour tortillas. However, the corn tortillas could prove problematic if you are sensitive to trace gluten.
Not wanting to be left behind in the Mexican category, Taco Bell® now offers chicken, steak or veggie Power Bowls and several sides as gluten-free options.
Nevertheless, remaining gluten-free when you’re eating out can be a daunting challenge. GlutenEase™ and GlutenEase™ Extra Strength have special enzymes that break down gluten and casein proteins. They give you an extra layer of protection in the event of cross-contamination or accidental consumption, although they are not meant to replace a gluten-free diet for those with Celiac disease.
It’s important to proceed with caution, as the risk of cross-contamination in fast food restaurants is greater than in a more controlled environment. And with employee turnover rates in the industry, it’s unlikely that the people behind the counter are extensively trained in mitigating it. The best advice is to keep it simple, give clear instructions and temper your expectations.