When our oldest son was just three years old, we found ourselves at the University of Chicago – our son groggy from anesthesia due to a necessary endoscopy and the doctor telling us, “The pathology and blood tests all confirm celiac disease.” I was relieved because we now had an answer as to why he wasn’t growing or developing. Once we removed the gluten from his diet, that all improved, but my head was also spinning because I had no idea how to deal with this diagnosis. No more birthday cakes, pizza, donut runs on Sunday mornings. Fast forward 10 years, and that all seems like a very distant memory.
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Celiac in the city with a teen
Now that our oldest is 13, I no longer know where he is every moment and I’m not dictating his every meal. Luckily, we live in a city with a lot of gluten-free options. With celiac disease, one has to be very careful regarding cross-contamination. At home for example, I keep separate peanut butters, butters, and cream cheeses because we don’t all eat gluten free, and if you dip the knife in one of those and then gluten crumbs get into the product, he could get very ill. About 10 milligrams of gluten is what it takes to get sick, and that is about the size of a bread crumb.
You’re probably wondering how we ever trust a restaurant or go out to eat. With age and experience has also come his level of risk tolerance for his body. For example, many restaurants don’t have a dedicated fryer for french fries, but he’s realized that this doesn’t seem to impact him, so he is OK to eat the fries, usually. This likely isn’t best practice per his doctors, but he also has to have some “food freedom” in life.
Our favorite gluten-free friendly restaurants in Chicago
As a family, we love to go out to eat. Below are some restaurants that my son loves – and that I trust:
D’Agostino’s — He loves the pizza and the restaurant even went through a celiac certification process
Jersey Mike’s – The company uses Udi’s sub rolls and will even clean off the deli slicers before making his sandwich
Lettuce Entertain You – Takes celiac disease very seriously and have separate menus in most of their restaurants
Wheat’s End – A dedicated gluten-free restaurant with amazing pancakes
Zia’s Lakeview – Dedicated gluten-free menu and he loves their octopus appetizer
Corridor on Southport – Amazing burgers that he orders without a bun and fantastic fries
As my son gets older, it will be up to him to keep his body healthy. He fully understands how awful he feels if he ingests gluten, but I also know he will make mistakes either intentionally or not. Thankfully, there are many great options in Chicago, and he has a great group of friends and parents that all support him.
To learn more about gluten threshold levels for teens and others, check out the National Celiac Association's helpful graphic here.
Photo: gluten-free doughnut at Wheat's End Cafe