When V was little she was a rather picky eater. However, as she grew older, she became more open to trying different foods. By the time she was seven, she was unrecognizable. She approached food with open curiosity and willingness to try new and different things. Dining out with her became lots of fun. We discovered that we shared many likes and dislikes, save for our differences of opinion on cilantro and mushrooms. She and I ventured into exploring new restaurants and new foods together. We would order a couple of things from the menu and share them. V became my dining-out sidekick.
Diagnosis of diabetes a month after her 8th birthday, followed by celiac diagnosis two months afterwards, changed everything abruptly. In the beginning, we briefly halted eating out as we were still adjusting to carb counting and insulin administration. Then we found ourselves restricted to a handful of restaurants that had nutrition facts menus because we needed to have an accurate carb count of V’s meals. Planning and restrictions became the norm; spontaneity was no longer possible. We could not just go out and find a place to eat when it was time. As we transitioned to a gluten-free diet, our choices became even more limited. Now we needed nutrition facts AND a gluten-free menu, and an assurance that the restaurant was following at least basic precautions to prevent cross-contamination. We found ourselves eating at boring chain restaurants a lot, even though most of their gluten-free options were limited and rather unexciting. I would still try to order something new and fun from the menu but often it was not GF so V would not be able to try it. She felt disappointed and I felt really sad for her. Also, I really missed my sidekick, my partner in crime, my fellow food explorer.
As time went on and we became more skilled at diabetes and celiac management, we started to break out of the chains, pun intended. Fortunately we live in a city with an abundance of restaurants providing gluten-free options. We got more confident at SWAGing (scientific will-ass guess) carb counts, so we felt more comfortable dining in restaurants without nutrition facts, as long as we were reasonably assured of safety of gluten-free foods. More and more often I found myself trying things from the GF menu. Sometimes it was out of consideration for V; other times it was out of plain curiosity. How was her GF food? Did it taste good? Could you even tell a difference?
And then an unexpected thing started to happen. I began developing a taste for GF foods. It may have started with the In-n-Out, when I tried lettuce wrapped burger for the first time and decided that it was the best thing ever.
Or maybe it was the GF cinnamon roll pancakes at our favorite little restaurant? They were to die for and tasted way better than regular pancakes.
Armed with the power of the internet, Find Me Gluten Free phone app, and newfound determination to discover any and all GF dining gems that our city has to offer, we began exploring in full force. Gluten free food can be good and exciting! Who would have guessed? Bread is overrated. Gluten-free pizza crust is bees knees. Gluten-free pasta can taste just as good as regular pasta. Ethnic foods? No problem. We found Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese, Thai and Mexican restaurants with impressive GF options, to name a few.
Nowadays, when we do out to eat, I often choose to order from a GF menu. V and I sit together, peruse the GF menu, order a few things and share. It is almost just like the “good old times”, when she was my sidekick. Except now I am her sidekick. I am her partner in crime and exploration of the great big gluten-free world out there. I follow her rules and restrictions. I have to be that annoying customer and ask about cross-contamination precautions. Together we SWAG the carbs. We still have to plan ahead and our choices are definitely limited compared to the regular menu, but I would not want to have it any other way.