“Convenience” probably isn’t a word you’re used to. In fact, you could probably drive past dozens of casual restaurants and fast food
chains before you found a place where you felt it was safe to eat a gluten-free meal or snack.
While nobody should eat fast food very often, many of us unfortunately find ourselves in situations where we need to eat quickly and inexpensively, and we need to attempt a gluten-free meal at a fast food restaurant.
If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can be tempted to lower your guard at these restaurants. Allergen information can be tough to find and the staff may not be much help either.
Well, we’ve decided to help you out by shedding some light on just how gluten-free friendly (or, in most cases, unfriendly) some of these restaurants are. In fact, we researched the gluten-free options at 50 of the most popular fast food chains in the United States and we’ll be sharing those findings with you over the next few weeks.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that we certainly don’t recommend going out and eating fast food all the time (or even regularly). Eating a balanced gluten-free diet that targets key vitamins, minerals and fiber is crucial to everyone on a gluten-free diet.
In this first installment, we’ll explore the gluten-free options at Subway, Starbucks, Five Guys, Quizno’s, In-N-Out Burger, Church’s, Papa John’s, and Captain D’s.
Subway thoughtfully offers a common allergen chart which lists all of their regular, non-specialty items. The chart lists 12 different problematic ingredients, and which products contain them – one of these ingredients is gluten. Nearly all of Subway’s salads are gluten-free except for the meatball marinara, seafood sensation and sweet onion chicken teriyaki. Surprisingly, all of the salad dressings look gluten-free as well. Obviously, hold the croutons, and don’t even think about dessert. Not only do all of the cookies contain gluten, but so does the yogurt parfait! Just like other places, they too caution that items may come in contact during preparation and to be safe, you should always notify the server of your allergy or sensitivity.
Of course, you could be lucky enough to visit one of the few Subways that is testing a gluten-free bread and even has a gluten-free brownie. However, these tests have been going on for some time now, and it doesn’t look like things are picking up very quickly. According to the GlutenFreeAndFull blog, there are Subways with gluten-free bread in Duluth, Minnesota; Dallas / Fort Worth and Tyler, Texas; Gig Harbor / Tacoma, Washington; and Portland, Oregon.
If you don’t live in one of those areas, click here to view Subway’s full allergen information on their products sold at every location.
For a moment, it appeared as if Starbucks was really ahead of its time when it launched a gluten-free almond orange cake in 2009. However, after quickly discontinuing the gluten-free pastry, Starbucks doesn’t appear to make any accommodations for the gluten-free dieter.
Starbucks is now infamous for making no comments or promises of any kind regarding their prepared beverages. Various celiacs (including myself) who frequent Starbucks, however, report having no reaction to brewed coffee or espresso. Milk-based drinks such as Frappuccinos and lattes are another story. Starbucks makes it very difficult to find the full ingredient list for many of their syrups. For this reason, they’ve caused a good deal of frustration in the gluten-free community. The crummy part about that, is that even if you order a drink without syrup (e.g. a soy latte), you need to be cautious since the steaming wand could be contaminated from a previous drink that used a syrup. There are, however, bottled versions of Starbucks’ Frappuccino and various other beverages that are labeled gluten-free.
For food options, stick to the packaged goods like Food Should Taste Good chips, KIND snack bars and Lucy’s cookies. They do serve prepared salads but make no effort to guarantee their safety for the gluten-free.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries does not list specific allergens in their food items, except to say that all of their buns have gluten in them. As their menu is fairly well limited to – as their name implies – burgers and fries, they do not offer chicken, breaded or otherwise, or onion rings, so there is little danger of gluten cross-contamination in the cooking oil. Safe items therefore would be bunless burgers and hot dogs, and fries. Sorry, no chili at this place.
All breads and wraps at Quiznos have gluten, and like most other restaurants, all food is prepared in common areas with risk of gluten cross-contamination. That said, relatively safe bets are the harvest chicken, honey mustard chicken, cobb, peppercorn caesar with chicken or Mediterranean chicken salads. Any of the dressings are fine except the creamy bacon, Alfredo and Pan Asian. Also avoid the rice noodles, and the soups, including the chili, as well as all desserts except the yogurt parfait with mixed berries.
While In-N-Out Burger does not publish an allergen guide, they control their burger-making process from beginning to end, starting with high quality premium beef chuck, prepared and ground in-house by butchers at their patty-making facilities in California and Texas. Burger patties are made with 100% pure beef, free from additives or fillers, and shipped fresh, not frozen, to their restaurants.
In-N-Out Burger only offers burgers, fries and drinks, so the fries, made from fresh potatoes and cooked in 100% pure, cholesterol-free vegetable oil, are in no danger of cross-contamination from breaded chicken products or onion rings. And In-N-Out Burger’s “not-so-secret” menu finally reveals offerings that fans have been ordering for years, including the “protein style” – your favorite burger wrapped in hand-leafed lettuce instead of a bun.
Like other chicken places, Church’s yummy fried chicken is all breaded in wheat products. The only items listed on their allergen guide as not containing gluten are the corn, jalapeno peppers, coleslaw, collard greens, green beans, cajun rice, red beans and rice, gravies, sauces, condiments and beverages. The French fries don’t contain gluten, but check whether they have a dedicated fryer before trying them.
Papa John’s does not offer a gluten-free pizza. All of their crusts – thin, hand-tossed and original – are made from wheat. With no salads on the menu, the only gluten-free item is the roasted chicken wings. All of the dipping sauces are gluten-free, however, as are, of course, the beverages. But don’t even think about dessert!
Captain D’s no longer publishes their allergen guide, but a previous version from 2011 lists items that don’t contain wheat or gluten as the broiled catfish, wild Alaskan salmon, seasoned tilapia, shrimp scampi, shrimp skewers, wild Alaskan salmon salad, baked potato, side salad, roasted red potatoes, coleslaw, corn on the cob, green beans, broccoli, all dressings and sauces except the ginger Teriyaki sauce, and of course, all of the beverages on the menu. Hopefully, they will have an updated allergen guide available soon.
So there you have it. Hopefully, you’ll find this information helpful when you need to find something safe to eat in a pinch.
And, as always, remember to be vigilant about suspicious ingredients, hidden gluten and cross contamination whenever you eat out.
Written by Max Librach