GluTeen Free: Returning food as a teenager

By Abby Baird, Teen Board Member, Celiac Kids Connection

I’m Abby B, a junior who has had Celiac for almost three years now. I play multiple sports and go to a small private Christian school, meeting in person, despite Covid-19. I was diagnosed with Celiac disease when I was in 8th grade and have lived with it for almost three years now. Since I go to such a small school I am the only one in the high school that has Celiac Disease and the only one who must eat strictly gluten-free, which is hard because many people and teachers don’t know or remember that I am gluten-free. Now that some restaurants are starting to open up I would like to give some advice on eating out as a teen while being gluten-free.

As a teen, it is intimidating if not verging on scary to have to stand up for yourself at certain times, especially if it means that you are different from the rest of the group. Pre Covid-19 and even now through takeout and some open restaurants, teens are regularly going out to dinner or lunch with friends. I personally love going to get food with my friends and think that it is a great way to connect, but at the same time, it is nerve-wracking to have to change the plans so that you can order the right food that will be gluten-free. Many different times I have had to send food back at a restaurant. In addition to the fact that it is stressful to do that as a teen, it also can get tense when the restaurant will not comply with what you ask them to do. I have had good experiences with this and bad experiences, but as a teen, it is most important to make sure that you know what you are doing and that you feel comfortable doing it.

One bad experience I had was at a well-known sports stadium in Boston. I was at a school-sponsored event, so naturally, I was with all my friends. I went up to the concession stand to get two hot dogs (they had listed they had gluten-free buns on the website) and asked that the hot dogs would be prepared gluten-free because I had Celiac Disease. When I got the hot dogs back, they were all wrapped up in tinfoil and so I went back to my seat assuming everything was fine. But, when I unwrapped them I found that one of the buns did not look gluten-free, clearly one was, and one was not.  When you have Celiac Disease you are able to spot the difference pretty quickly.  So I was not comfortable with eating it – or really either hot dog at that point. Since this was a school-sponsored event, we had to bring a friend with us anytime we left our seats for safety reasons. When I wanted to return my hot dogs I had to make one of my friends come with me and miss the sporting event. While I knew my friends would have gladly come with me, it was awkward for me to ask that of them.  Plus at that point, I did not trust the concession stand. I waited till I got home to eat.  This was a bad experience, but not all times are bad, and most are good even when things get off to a shaky start.

I have eaten out at many restaurants with my friends on the Northshore and they have done a fantastic job dealing with returns of food that is not gluten-free or does not seem gluten-free.  Legal C, Davio’s, and Rev Kitchen and Bar are three that are always fast and polite.  When you are with your friends or without your parents, as a teen it can be stressful to have to return a meal. What I recommend doing is just politely asking if they could double-check that your food is gluten-free, and ask for a new plate if you are unsure of it. Most times restaurants are more than happy to do that for you, but if they cause a big fuss over it I would just make note of that and maybe not eat there again, or tell your parents about it.

Being a teen with Celiac Disease is not easy, but there are always ways to make it easier including making sure that all your food is good to eat at a restaurant. It may be stressful at the time, but you will thank yourself later for double-checking your food and learning how to stand up for yourself and what you need in a restaurant setting.

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