Gluten Free on the Go: Wendy's
GF Fast Food Utopia?
The reason fast food and gluten free diets don't often go well together is because:
A.) Fast food = thing wrapped up so that it can be eaten easily on the go = sandwich or wrap
B.) Fryers full of oil with bits of bread floating on top
C.) Workers in a hurry to prepare things will share utensils and preparation space, mess up orders, etc.
It's hard to change B and C. Fast food will almost always be hectic at certain times of day, and unless a restaurant has a dedicated fryer for french fries, you will always have the potential for cross-contamination in the fry zone. But A is something that the restaurants can do something about. By expanding the definition of "fast food," a fast food restaurant can add gluten-friendly options to their menu and give the gluten intolerant more options when they have to grab a bite out.
So if there's a Wendy's in your area (there isn't in mine and I am sad), what kind of options do you have for mostly-safe eating?
More Than Drinks and Sauces
In other reviews I complain about the lack of real options for someone trying to avoid gluten. Much of the time the gluten free list on a fast food website is a lot of dipping sauce, sandwich condiments, and a beef patty. And a list of sodas. (Soda is GF?? I would have never guessed!) Recently more and more fast food chains have made their grilled chicken safe for consumption as well, which gives many diners a salad option. But we don't all want to eat salads all the time, and people who also suffer from digestive issues on top of their gluten intolerance may not be eager to eat a bowl of leafy greens.
But fear not! Wendy's has a whole PDF dedicated to gluten. It will tell you all the safe items on the menu, give some suggestions, and will even give you a helpful overview of what gluten is (just in case?). It's a pretty good list, but let's break it down by menu items.
Wendy's is another one of those burger joints where a beef patty and grilled chicken patty is safe to consume. If a bun-less sandwich is your thing, you can get a burger or grilled chicken sandwich with just about any condiment. (NOTE: the ketchup and mayo may come into contact with other items that contain gluten. See if you can get an individual packet, or if your location has a squirt bottle in the dining area, use that instead) For special/seasonal sandwiches, you might want to consult the master list and double check. But your bacon, cheese and veggies are all safe for consumption.
As I already said before, salads are one of the major GF options at a fast food restaurant. Wendy's is known for their big, unique salads, and they have a few to offer you. The Apple Chicken Pecan Salad (without the pecans) is safe, as is the Baja Salad and the Chicken BLT Cobb Salad. Also, the Caesar Side Salad (without croutons) or Garden Side Salad (no croutons) is another option if you don't want a big, meaty salad. For dressings you can choose from Avocado Ranch, Classic Ranch, Creamy Red Jalapeno, Fat Free French, Italian Vinaigrette, Lemon Garlic Caesar, Light Classic Ranch, Pomegranate Vinaigrette, and Thousand Island.
The Other stuff
Wendy's isn't just known as a place where you get hamburgers. It's known as a place where you get things that just aren't available at your typical fast food chain. By which, of course, I mean that they have chili and baked potatoes. Well, you can have chili and baked potatoes! All of the chili and baked potatoes are gluten-friendly options! And like many fast food places in recent years, Wendy's also offers apple slices for those who want something a little "healthier."
The apples are available in the kids meal, meaning if you get a bun-less sandwich with apple wedges, you can more or less make a gluten free kids meal, albeit a slightly sad one.
If Wendy's is known for anything else, it's their Frosty dessert. Even though I would say it tastes a little malty, the Frosty is gluten-free. All of them are. So are the shakes. The only thing you have to worry about is if you get the parfait. These may contain granola, cookies, etc. And since we know that soft drinks are always GF, you can also opt for the frosty float to top off your meal.
Because it appears that the parfaits sprinkle the cookies, granola, etc. on the top rather than blend them in, I would assume that whatever implement the shakes use for blending is not coming into contact with these ingredients, and that there is no concern for cross contamination.
A Note About the Fries
As with just about every fast food place that serves anything else fried in oil, Wendy's natural cut French fries carry a contamination risk. Check to see if your local Wendy's fries everything in the same oil. If they don't, you would have the extra option of not just fries, but chili cheese fries, which is 3x better than regular fries on account of chili + cheese.
It would be lovely if they would get with the picture and just have normal fries at every fast food place (that don't contain beef or wheat) that aren't cooked with other things. But until that day you must be very vigilant and ask lots of questions.
The addition of baked potatoes and chili give gluten free diners extra options in their quest for a satisfying meal. It would be nice if the fries could be counted on to be GF, but even without them, Wendy's is still a safer bet than just about any other large burger chain.
Somewhat recently Wendy's had also introduced sweet potatoes and sweet potato fries, which seem to have disappeared from the menu. I hope that they will continue to experiment and think outside the box with regards to what "fast food" means, and offer choices that are safer and a little healthier for everyone.