Even the most health-conscious Americans need a cheap bite to eat every once in a while.
Sometimes, there’s just not enough time between putting the final touches on that big project and picking up the kids before school to do much more than grab a burger through the drive-thru at McDonalds. Other times, consumers just crave a lazy dinner-time experience that won’t hurt their wallets.
But it’s not so simple for 3 million Americans with Celiac disease, according to the University of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center. Those 3 million people could contract autoimmune disorders, neurological problems, osteoporosis or cancer if they consume a protein called gluten.
Another 18 million Americans live with a sensitivity to that protein. They can experience intestinal discomfort, headaches and even depression after eating gluten.
And the protein isn’t easy to avoid. It lurks in breads, salad dressings, fried food and most processed foods, according to a U.S. News article. Basically, gluten lurks in just about anything the average American craves on their guilty run into their favorite fast-food joint.
Celiacs and gluten sensitive people do have to be more careful – but they don’t have to give up the occasional cheap treat for good. Here are five less expensive restaurants that offer gluten-free goodies.
Wendy’s. Price range: $1 – $7.
This fast-food giant known for its burgers and Frostys offers mostly salads to its gluten-free customers. Unfortunately, Celiacs will need to order all their salads without chicken. Wendy’s grilled chicken is cut on the same cutting board used to cut breaded chicken – which makes cross-contamination a possibility. Wendy’s does not offer gluten-free bread, though burgers can be ordered without buns. And good news: Frostys are gluten-free.
Chick-fil-A. Price range: $3 – $5
In June, Chick-fil-A came out with its gluten-free bun made with grains including sorghum, amaranth, millet, quinoa and teff. The bun joined a small sampling of the restaurants menu that was safe for those with Celiac disease including the Honest Kids Appley Ever After Organic Drink, Cinnamon Apple Sauce, orange juice and catered waffle potato chips. The restaurant’s grilled chicken selections along with a wide variety of its sides and breakfast options are also gluten-free. However, those options might be less safe for those with Celiac since they’re not sealed and could have been cross-contaminated. To view Chick-fil-A’s gluten-free menu, click here.
Chipotle. Price range: $7- $8.
Gluten-sensitive consumers can enjoy a feast at this popular Mexican grill – though those living with Celiac disease should be a bit more careful. The only item Chipotle serves that explicitly contains gluten is the flour tortilla. So customers with gluten sensitivities can order bowls, crispy corn tortilla tacos and even chips and queso. But there is a disclaimer. The restaurant can’t guarantee that items containing corn – including the corn tortillas and the chips – won’t also contain trace amounts of gluten. They could have been contaminated when the co-mingled with gluten-containing grains while they were still in the field. So Celiacs should avoid those items. Customers living with Celiac Disease should also ask Chipotle employees to change gloves before starting their order to avoid cross contamination. To see Chipotle’s gluten-free menu, click here.
Chili’s. Price Range: $5 -$20.
Chili’s could be a good occasional splurge for those with gluten sensitivities, but it should generally be avoided by Celiac patients. The casual dining restaurant offers a wide variety of gluten-free appetizers, grill items and “fresh mex.” Even their famous baby back ribs are gluten-free. But Chilis locations don’t typically have a separate cooking area to prepare gluten-free meals. The chain can’t guarantee its food won’t be cross-contaminated, making it less than safe for Celiacs. Those with the disease should call ahead to confirm a safe cooking environment before they head to Chilis. To see Chili’s gluten-free menu, click here.
Outback Steakhouse: Price: $5 – $30.
Outback Steakhouse makes it clear on their website that they take gluten intolerance and sensitivity seriously. The chain provides “gluten-free education” to all its employees and expects them to follow a certain protocol each time a gluten-free menu item is ordered. The protocol includes hand washing, glove changing and using clean cooking equipment and utensils. Outback also has ties to the Gluten Intolerance Group, an organization working to support, educate and advocate for those with gluten intolerance. But Outback cannot 100 percent guarantee foods won’t be cross contaminated, making the restaurant less than ideal for customers with Celiac. Still, the restaurants offer a wide breadth of gluten-free items including ribs, steaks, seafood and desserts. To view Outback’s gluten free menu, click here.