Imagine your child has a disease where even the smallest cracker crumb makes them vomit for hours–where a playmate eating a sandwich can lead to your child experiencing severe intestinal damage–where getting a kiss from Grandpa could cause malnutrition for months if Grandpa just had a beer.
This is the life of a person with celiac, an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten and occurs in 1 out of 133 Americans, and celiac occurrence and onset in children and adults (particularly women) has been increasing at a rate of 7% per year. Odds are, your child or you will befriend someone with celiac disease in your lives.
As someone with celiac disease, I wish more people were educated on this, especially when it comes to the wellbeing of children who sometimes can’t easily advocate for themselves!
Curious about celiac? What should you keep in mind if your child or a friend has celiac? What restaurants are safe to eat at in Washtenaw County? Read on!
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the slightest exposure to gluten causes the small intestine to attack itself, resulting in a host of gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea or constipation, nausea, cramps and pain, vomiting), general symptoms (fatigue, failure to thrive or grow for a child, fevers, tooth enamel damage, skin rashes), and if undiagnosed for long, for a child can cause delayed puberty and behavioral problems, and for all ages can cause or contribute to anemia, anxiety and depression, arthritis, migraines, seizures, and neuropathy.
Diagnosing celiac disease is simple: you can get a blood test for gluten intolerance, and if it comes back positive, you schedule an endoscopy (the only way to diagnose celiac).
If your child has celiac, it is critical to their wellbeing that they not be exposed to any gluten. Direct exposure (eating gluten) is a no-go, but even cross-contamination (food that doesn’t have gluten in it but was processed on a factory line that also processes gluten—or using a pot that’s boiled regular pasta to cook a GF dish with) will gluten your child.
Ideally, you can work with a nutritionist to develop a safe kitchen for your child, and you’ll need to talk extensively to your child about the importance of advocating for their health as well as ensuring your child’s school and family members understand the seriousness of celiac. You may want to consider having your child see a therapist, especially one who specializes in gastrointestinal diseases; the isolation and stringent requirements that come with celiac can sometimes affect emotional wellbeing.
When it comes to those with celiac, just being “gluten-free” isn’t good enough. Almost all restaurants can do “gluten-free” dishes that have no direct gluten, but few can guarantee no cross-contamination. It’s easy for you to bake GF cookies for your child’s playdate with a celiac friend–it’s far harder to scrub your every bowl and cookie sheet with a clean sponge (that’s never been used on gluten) and cover the cookies with aluminum foil because the oven itself can cross-contaminate if there’s any gluten from past baking adventures in the air.
Ways to make sure you have celiac-safe snacks:
- Buy USDA or FDA labeled “gluten-free” snacks. Anything certified by the USDA/FDA as GF must meet stringent testing standards. Keep everything in its original packaging; that way the child/parent can ascertain the snack is safe.
- Ask directly: the young person/parent will likely know brands that they enjoy and are safe. A store-bought, certified GF snack is always going to feel safer for someone with celiac than a homemade snack, where even the best-intentioned of people could forget and use an open jar of peanut butter in the snack (open items always contain cross-contamination risk in a kitchen with gluten) or forget to wash one spoon thoroughly.
- If you want to make snacks, do something simple like chopped veggies and fruit, where it’s easy to wash cutting boards & plates with a clean sponge and just transfer the veggies and fruit directly.
Going out to eat with celiac
This simple script has worked exceptionally well for me when talking to restaurant staff: Ask if they have gluten-free options. If they answer affirmatively, ask about the expertise of their kitchen and chef when it comes to cross-contamination: restaurants can’t guarantee no-cross-contam, but does their kitchen have a separate preparation space? Or wash all pots and pans between each use?
State that you(r child) has a gluten allergy: although it’s not technically accurate, restaurant staff are familiar with the severity of allergies and this will accomplish the same result. If the staff is positive in their response, or mentions that they use an allergen ticket system or their chef is trained in allergens, it’s a safe restaurant; if they’re hesitant, or say anything about, “If you’re particularly sensitive, it might not be safe”–it’s not.
When ordering, ask your server to make sure to put an allergy ticket on your particular dish.
Safe Ann Arbor Restaurants
We are so lucky to live somewhere with multiple restaurants that have extremely safe allergen procedures.
Here are some local celiac-safe places:
Anna’s House–a delicious breakfast and lunch place–is by far my favorite. They have an entirely separate place to prepare celiac orders. Their sweet and savory options are extensive!
445 E. Eisenhower Pkwy, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. Hours 7am-3pm.
Frita Batidos uses a separate fryer for their gluten-free dishes. Their garlic-cilantro fries (so rare to get celiac-safe fries!) and fritas are spectacular.
17 W. Washington, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: 11am-11pm.
Tios is knowledgeable on which tacos are safe from cross-contamination and their tacos are fresh and delicious.
401 E Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: 11am-11pm; closed Sunday.
La Taqueria has several fantastic GF tacos with a knowledgeable chef.
106 E Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours 12-10pm.
Sava’s has several safe options and is farm-to-table.
216 S State St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: temporarily closed; expected to reopen soon!
- F. Chang’s has a few safe dishes and is a great place to get a quick dinner.
720 Briarwood Cir, Ann Arbor, MI 48108. Hours: 11am-9pm.
Seva’s has an excellent variety and strong skill set with allergens. They are a vegetarian and vegan restaurant.
Westgate Shopping Center, 2541 Jackson Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48103. Hours: 11am-9pm; closed Sunday.
Totoro: 215 S State St. Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: 12pm-9pm; closed Tuesday.
Mama Satto 715 N University Ave ANN ARBOR, Michigan 48104. Hours: 11am-9pm.
Cafe Zola has several safe dishes and a lovely outdoor seating area. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
112 W Washington St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: 8am-10pm.
TeaHaus’s macarons–although made in the same place as their glutenous scones–are prepared conscientiously and so far have never glutened me: perfect dessert.
204 N 4th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: 10am-6pm; closed Monday.
And lastly, Michigan and State Theater’s popcorn, perfect for enjoying a snack during a movie.
603 E Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104. Hours: varies.