Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 popular gluten-free menu ideas

The numbers don't lie. As many as 3 million Americans are living with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease where the immune system reacts to consumption of a protein called gluten. The condition causes inflammation in the digestive tract that can damage the small intestine and lead to the body being unable to absorb essential nutrients.

Left untreated, the disorder can put sufferers at greater risk of developing additional health complications, including other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid abnormalities, and, in some extreme cases, cancer.

For those living with celiac disease, the only way to effectively manage the condition is a gluten-free diet. This means avoiding all foods that contain gluten, typically found in wheat, rye, barley or cross-bred hybrids of those grains. This type of diet may sound straight-forward, but is actually difficult to follow.  

For restaurateurs, serving guests with celiac disease can get complicated. Preventing cross-contamination is a critical part of the process. Restaurateurs also should be aware that the Food and Drug Administration recently laid out new rules for restaurateurs who use the term "gluten-free" or similar terms to market menu items. According to the FDA’s rule, items labeled as gluten-free must meet all the requirements of the new, legal definition. Under this definition, any menu item marketed as gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

With the proper precautions, restaurateurs have several ways to ensure that celiac customers can safely enjoy eating at their favorite restaurants. Following are some tips to ensure a safe, gluten-free dining experience for your customers:
  • Read labels carefully and check all ingredients used to prepare gluten-free menu items.
  • Work with your suppliers to identify and verify  that their products truly are gluten free.
  • Ensure protocols are in place to handle and prepare gluten-free options.
  • Ensure your staff is properly trained in preparing and serving gluten-free foods.
To further protect your guests’ health and well-being, always double-check any gluten-free menu items you offer. Take care with all ingredients, not just flour or wheat based products. Many prepared items, like French fries, battered shrimp and deli meats, and ingredients such as sauces, gravies and even nonstick sprays, may have gluten in them. They may also be produced with equipment that has been used to manufacture other foods that contain gluten. That presents a risk of cross-contamination, which will nullify your gluten-free claim.

Now that you know what to prepare for, here are 10 popular gluten-free ideas to try on your menu:

  • Rice crackers with cheese – There are lots of great gluten-free cracker options available on the market, many of them made with rice. These are tasty and can be a great item to use as an appetizer.
  • Guacamole with corn tortilla chips – Be sure to check ingredients in the chips to ensure there is nothing in them containing gluten, although tortilla chips, in general, tend to be gluten free.
  • Fresh veggies and dip - This is another great option to have on hand, and it’s healthful, too. Be sure to check the ingredients of the dip to ensure there are no gluten-based flavoring agents.

  • Pureed winter squash soup.– Squash soup is a good bet because once the squash is cooked you can simply puree the soup for a thick, hearty mid-winter dish and avoid using flour as a thickening agent. You can also choose to use gluten-free flour as a thickener.
  • Chicken soup with rice noodles ‑ Most suppliers today carry some great rice noodles. Alternatively, you could prepare dumplings made with a gluten-free flour mix. Always double check there is no gluten in the stock.

Main Dishes
  • Tacos – Use pork or any of your favorite kinds of meats or grilled veggies, but make sure you use corn tortillas only. Check to make sure the tortillas do not contain wheat or other gluten-filled flour.
  • Rice pasta with red sauce  ‑ Rice pasta is a surprisingly good substitute for regular wheat or semolina pasta. Red sauce is a good bet because unlike a white sauce, it generally doesn’t contain flour.
  • Beans and rice – Notice a rice theme? Rice is a great way to provide carbohydrates to people with celiac disease. Beans are another delicious way to achieve a similar flavor profile.

  • Flourless chocolate cake –These cakes or tortes are some of the best treats around and no flour is required in the recipe.
  • Crème brulee or flan ‑ These delicious desserts are typically made with copious amounts of eggs and milk products, and without flour.

To learn how to serve customers with food allergies, visit the NRA’s ServSafe Allergens online course.

Because the number of diners requesting gluten-free foods is on the rise, your ability to accommodate them will not only allow you to serve them more effectively, but also help grow your customer base exponentially. That party of eight with the one gluten-free diner will choose your restaurant over any others just to satisfy that one person.  The best news is, once you put operating procedures into place and provide great service, you will see those customers ‑ and their friends – keep coming back for more.

This article was provided by National Restaurant Association partner MenuTrinfo and written by Betsy Craig, founder and CEO for MenuTrinfo.

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