Chalk this one up to not following the first rule of GFCF dieting, which is to always read the labels.
I recently posted some GFCF diet tips where I talked about avoiding the fast food restaurants and taking GFCF snacks with you when you are out and about. Well, I have to admit that we didn't always do this. In fact, there are times when we would hit the drive thru ourselves. We would not get a full blown meal, mind you, but just a little snack for the kids - french fries.
Our restaurant of choice was Wendy's. We figured that this would be about the safest bet.
Boy, were we ever wrong!
I saw a recent post over at Gluten Free Celiac that provided a link to the Wendy's website where they list all their items that do not contain gluten. And french fries were not on the list.
Why, you may ask, is a gluten free staple like potatoes not on the list? Well, there are two possible reasons. One is that the oils they use for frying could contain a wheat derivative (more on that later). The second reason is that the fryers could also be used to fry other foods (such as breaded chicken) which would contaminate the fryer. Either way, our fast food french frying (say that 5 times fast) days are over.
In light of this, I started thinking about other fast food restaurants and the foods you may buy there that do not contain gluten. I found links to this information from several common fast food chains. I am listing the links below, with brief comments about each chain.
One thing to note, as Gluten Free Celiac did about Wendy's: there is a distinction between saying that items do not contain gluten and saying that items are gluten free. The reality is that cross contamination is probably common in the small cramped kitchens of a fast food restaurant, so there is always a chance that even an item such as a baked potato from Wendy's could have traces of gluten. It's the equivalent of getting an item at the store that does not contain gluten, but is manufactured in a facility that also manufactures gluten-containing products.
Oh, and as for the CF part, I think dairy products are pretty easy to identify at a fast food place - cheese, milk, parfaits, yogurts. The not so obvious place may be sauces and dressings. Or hot dogs, as you will see.
One final note: one could (presumably) walk into a fast food restaurant and order the meat without the bun (our kids don't use buns when we grill hamburgers). But you need to be careful - not all meats are GFCF. Grilled chicken, for example, is not considered GFCF at McDonalds - it contains gluten. So please be careful.
If you don't see a specific restaurant listed, please comment and let me know about it!
The world's largest fast food chain made lots of news a few years ago about whether or not their french fries contained gluten. My understanding then was that the french fries do not contain gluten. Now McDonald's has changed course and admits that the french fries are fried in vegetable oil that includes natural beef flavor, which contains wheat and milk. So, for the record, McDonald's french fries are NOT GFCF.
McDonalds actually does a good job of listing common allergens for individual foods - allergens are in ALL CAPS in the ingredient listings.
What can you have?
Side salad, anyone? That looks to be about your only choice. Oh, and the Asian salad without chicken. Everything else is not GFCF. Even the fruit and walnut mix is not GFCF.
So here's the interesting thing about Burger King: they actually have a dedicated fryer for the french fries! And the oils they use are free from gluten and casein!
Here's the bad news, at least based on the two Burger Kings we have in Missoula - the hopper where they keep the cooked fries is right next to the hopper for the onion rings, which of course have gluten in the batter. So, in my opinion, the possibility of cross contamination is higher.
What can you have? Once again the side salad is pretty much your only choice, only you want to chance the french fries. I mean, even the Motts strawberry applesauce treat contains gluten! And you need to stick with either the light italian or honey mustard dressing for your salad.
This is a listing of all Wendy's items that do not contain gluten, which is quite extensive. Factor in without casein, and the list lowers significantly. You can go to the following website to see a list of all allergens in Wendy's food:
What can you have? Well...how abut a mandarin chicken salad w/ noodles or dressing? Or (notice a pattern here?) a side salad? Fortunately at Wendy's, you have a lot more dressing choices - only the ranch and bleu cheese dressings are off limits. So you can have french, thousand island, honey dijon, or two different vinaigrettes.
You also can get some other sides, like a plain baked potato, a mandarin orange cup, and Wendy's chili? French fries, as is noted, can be cooked in the same oil as allergens, and thus should be avoided.
Unlike McDonald's and Burger King, the grilled chicken by itself does not contain any allergens, so getting a grilled chicken sandwich without the bun is an option.
Well... Arby's should pretty much be avoided. Yes, all the deli meat is GFCF, as is the grilled chicken, but all the salads contain cheese, and I don't think the way the sandwiches are made is conducive to just eliminating the roll.
What can you have? Well, the potato cakes are listed as allergen free...
Since people typically go to KFC for chicken, this is not a likely stop for the GFCF person. Yes, among those 11 herbs and spices there is wheat and milk as well.
What can you have? The KFC list in some ways is confusing. For example, the Ultimate cheese snacker is listed as having wheat but not gluten??? And cole slaw is not listed as having wheat or dairy, but does contain gluten??
But based on the list, you can have the following: house side salad (w/o dressing, only dressings offered are ranch), corn on the cob, green beans, and potato salad.
Ahh, many of my Southern friends live their lives at Chick- Fil -A. But can the GFCF dieter? The answer is that, based on their website, it is hard to tell. They have a section detailing which foods do not contain gluten, which is good. But unlike the other restaurants listed so far, they do not have an easy way to see which items contain milk or other dairy products. So, while I would like to recommend that you can get the carrot walnut salad or the cup of chicken salad, I can't since I don't know what is in the sauces used. Also, all salads (even the side salad) contain cheese.
What can you have? The waffle fries are fried in 100% peanut oil, and so are safe for GFCF (the breaded chicken is cooked in a different manner). You can also have a fruit cup...
Different restaurants with same ownership, so I am including them together. We'll tackle Hardee's first.
The big 'watch out" at Hardee's is the beef frank. Not listed and containing either wheat or dairy, it does contain sodium caseinate, so it is NOT CF. Same goes for the mushroom sauce.
As for Carl's Jr. , there's not much on the menu that does not contain wheat and/or dairy.
What can you have? Well, at Hardee's, French Fries? Grits? And even then, nothing states whether the french fries are cooked in a common fryer.
As for Carl's Jr., they actually have a low- carb Six-Dollar burger on the menu, with lettuce for a bun. Order it without the cheese and you have a sandwich without milk or dairy! If from a dedicated fryer, french fries might actually work as well.
A big shout out to J at Austin's Autism Journal for providing the link for Jack in the Box. This is a thorough list of everything they use right down to the frying oil. But you do have to do some cross checking with a menu to see what ingredients are in each meal.
What can you eat? Well...the french fries look safe. But that's about it, unless you want to go and just order a sauce. And that is assuming they are only cooking fries in the frying oil.
For me, it's not totally unexpected, but still surprising how little food can be eaten at a fast food restaurant if you are on a GFCF diet. Even some of the "grilled chicken" cannot be considered GFCF!
Side salads seem to rule the day, at least at the big three ( McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy's), but other restaurants even include cheese in their side salads.
You could go to Wendy's and pay a dollar for a plain baked potato that you can easily make at home in 4 minutes using your microwave, at a cost of about 30 cents or so.
And if you want to do like we were doing before we learned of our mistake, I would only recommend getting fries from Chick- Fil -A. And maybe Hardee's and Carl's Jr. - if we knew more about their frying process.
All in all, the best choice is not to make a choice. Plan ahead, and bring GFCF snacks from home.
We will be practicing what I preach from now on.
Do you have a favorite restaurant where you like a quick meal or snack that I didn't cover? Please leave me a comment and I will make to find the information for you.