Going Gluten-Free at the Drive-Through – What to Do When Fast Food is Your Only Option
by Max Librach
While no one’s claiming fast food is ideal, sometimes you need to eat on the run, whether you’re traveling, out with a crowd or just short on time.
You can get a safe gluten-free meal at the drive-through, but you’ll need to be extra careful, choose your restaurant well, and ask questions.
Here are my thoughts on 10 different fast food chains, from my own experience and from what I've heard from others who are gluten-free. Some you won't have in your neck of the woods, but most are well-recognized across the country.
Fast Food Options: Which Have the Best Gluten-Free Menus?
- Wendy’s has a gluten-free menu, including bunless burgers, salads, baked potatoes and chili. Some restaurants use a dedicated fryer for their fries, making them an option when you’re gluten-free. Ask your local Wendy’s to be sure that your fries are cross-contamination free.
- Hardees offers a low-carb style burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf, a breakfast bowl or salad for gluten-intolerant customers. Hardees does not use dedicated fryers, so skip the fries.
- In-and-Out Burger may be a regional chain, but it’s a favorite with lettuce-wrapped burgers and freshly cut fries. The fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer, so they’re a safe indulgence.
- Chick-Fil-A has a number of gluten-free options and one of the largest gluten-free fast food menus on the market, including a gluten-free kids’ meal with grilled nuggets, blended applesauce and a drink. The grilled chicken, grilled chicken salads and, typically, the waffle fries are safe bets.
- Dunkin Donuts is the most recent to launch gluten-free options with their gluten-free muffins and donuts in select locations in Boston and Miami. Here's the latest on Dunkin Donuts' gluten-free plans...
Other Safe Alternatives with Gluten-Free Menus
- Sonic, Burger King and Arby’s all offer gluten-free meats. Have your sandwich made without a bun and skip chicken dishes and fried sides. Pair your bunless burger with a side salad, shake or hit up the kids menu for applesauce or fresh fruit.
- Many of Subway’s salads are gluten-free or can be made gluten-free. Ask that the server change his or her gloves and use fresh bins of food to reduce cross-contamination. A few Subway restaurants are testing the gluten-free market with gluten-free buns and have provided additional employee training in gluten sensitivity. This got started last year in Dallas, Portland and a few other cities to see if customers would actually buy a gluten-free sandwich. Evidently, the test was a success because Subway has just announced that they will be offering gluten-free sandwiches at all Subway locations in the state of Oregon!
Which Fast Food Options to Stay Away From
- McDonald's offers no safe options for a gluten-free lunch on the go. Even a bunless burger isn’t necessarily safe here. A side salad, without chicken, or ice cream is the safest choice if all else fails.
- Taco Bell looks like it ought to be a pretty good choice. Looks can be deceiving. The only gluten-free option at Taco Bell is their new Cantina Bowl. Other than that, there's not much else for you.
Keep in mind that cross-contamination is always a risk and you must assume that the employees know nothing about celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Step inside and keep an eye on your meal prep for extra safety, until you’re familiar with the policies at your favorite drive-through. Take the time to politely educate the manager and you may find that you can safely enjoy an on-the-go meal in the future.
As a side note, if you're not a big fan of fast food but need to eat lunch quickly, there are gluten-free food trucks popping up in a number of cities. These could be a nice option if you're in the right place at the right time!