Going Gluten-Free at the Drive-Through – What to Do When Fast Food is Your Only Option


While no one’s claiming fast food is ideal, sometimes you need to eat on the run, whether you’re traveling, out with a crowd or just short on time.

You can get a safe gluten-free meal at the drive-through, but you’ll need to be extra careful, choose your restaurant well, and ask questions.

Here are my thoughts on 10 different fast food chains, from my own experience and from what I’ve heard from others who are gluten-free. Some you won’t have in your neck of the woods, but most are well-recognized across the country.


Fast Food Options: Which Have the Best Gluten-Free Menus?

  • Wendy’s has a gluten-free menu, including bunless burgers, salads, baked potatoes and chili. Some restaurants use a dedicated fryer for their fries, making them an option when you’re gluten-free. Ask your local Wendy’s to be sure that your fries are cross-contamination free.
  • Hardees offers a low-carb style burger wrapped in a lettuce leaf, a breakfast bowl or salad for gluten-intolerant customers. Hardees does not use dedicated fryers, so skip the fries.
  • In-and-Out Burger may be a regional chain, but it’s a favorite with lettuce-wrapped burgers and freshly cut fries. The fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer, so they’re a safe indulgence.
  • Chick-Fil-A has a number of gluten-free options and one of the largest gluten-free fast food menus on the market, including a gluten-free kids’ meal with grilled nuggets, blended applesauce and a drink. The grilled chicken, grilled chicken salads and, typically, the waffle fries are safe bets.
  • Dunkin Donuts is the most recent to launch gluten-free options with their gluten-free muffins and donuts in select locations in Boston and Miami. Here’s the latest on Dunkin Donuts’ gluten-free plans

Other Safe Alternatives with Gluten-Free Menus

  • Sonic, Burger King and Arby’s all offer gluten-free meats. Have your sandwich made without a bun and skip chicken dishes and fried sides. Pair your bunless burger with a side salad, shake or hit up the kids menu for applesauce or fresh fruit.
    • Many of Subway’s salads are gluten-free or can be made gluten-free. Ask that the server change his or her gloves and use fresh bins of food to reduce cross-contamination. A few Subway restaurants are testing the gluten-free market with gluten-free buns and have provided additional employee training in gluten sensitivity. This got started last year in Dallas, Portland and a few other cities to see if customers would actually buy a gluten-free sandwich. Evidently, the test was a success because Subway has just announced that they will be offering gluten-free sandwiches at all Subway locations in the state of Oregon!

    Which Fast Food Options to Stay Away From

    • McDonald’s offers no safe options for a gluten-free lunch on the go. Even a bunless burger isn’t necessarily safe here. A side salad, without chicken, or ice cream is the safest choice if all else fails.
    • Taco Bell looks like it ought to be a pretty good choice. Looks can be deceiving. The only gluten-free option at Taco Bell is their new Cantina Bowl. Other than that, there’s not much else for you.

    Keep in mind that cross-contamination is always a risk and you must assume that the employees know nothing about celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Step inside and keep an eye on your meal prep for extra safety, until you’re familiar with the policies at your favorite drive-through. Take the time to politely educate the manager and you may find that you can safely enjoy an on-the-go meal in the future.

    As a side note, if you’re not a big fan of fast food but need to eat lunch quickly, there are gluten-free food trucks popping up in a number of cities. These could be a nice option if you’re in the right place at the right time!


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Comments ( 83 )

  • Gail Mollencopf

    This was great thanks!!!!!

  • Rebecca Mecham Bagle

    Actually, SOME Mcdonalds DO separate their oil. You have to ask at each location as it varies. Most Burgervilles (a NW chain) separate thier oil as well, but always ask. Also, the Nacho cheese at Taco Bell is NOT gluten free the last time I checked. It has thickeners that contain gluten. The ONLY item known to be gluten free at Taco Bell is the Tostada because it has no meat (the seasoning has gluten) and no nacho cheese sauce either. My son and husband LOVE the Subway GF menu. My little guy was so excited when our local Subway finally got the GF menu.

  • Jenn Whaley

    Even though McDonalds has dedicated fryers for their fries – their fries contain wheat as they are basted in a wheat based beef broth and flash frozen. :( – Jimmy Johns unwiches are gluten free as well as all of their meats – they are very happy to change gloves and take the meat from a non bread cutting area as long as you tell them you are intolerant to Gluten. I always get the refried beans at Taco bell – they seem to be the safest.

  • Renee Solano

    The last time I checked, the only thing safe on taco bell’s menu was the pintos and cheese, the nachos were not gluten free. Did this change recently? As far as McDonald’s, debates abount as to whether or not the fries are safe. Regarding Wendy’s, I have not seen one yet with a dedicated fryer for fries but I haven’t been all over the country so I’m sure there are some out there.

    I can’t wait for Subway to have Gluten Free option everywhere. They are one of the companies that are doing things right, making sure their employees are well trained in avoiding cross contamination.

  • Kenton

    Mcdonalds restaraunts in Canada use seperate oil for their fries and they are safe.

  • Mir

    yes canadian mcdonalds do have gluten free fries , when i first inquired the manager pulled out the ingredint lists , hasbrowns were safe too and thier fryer for fries is seperate and dedicated . My son has wheat allergy , other children celiac , no tummy aches so far or hives . Not that we eat it much . But its a fun treat while on the go .

  • Meatslayer

    I would never leave fast food as my only option, I always have a variety of energy / meal replacement bars at the ready. (Vega bars=first choice)

    Fast food is like a plague slowly killing people.

  • MakeMineCadburys

    Well written article. Thank you for the information!

  • Judy Enderle

    I have found that eating at Qdoba or Chipotle are the best fast food places to eat. It’s mexican but a much healthier gluten free option. The guess work is taken out as long as you stay away from the tortilla wrap. However, you can’t have the chips at Qdoba but you can at Chipotle. I have been told to stay away from Subway- too much bread cutting causing particles of gluten to go all over.

  • Kurly

    Thanks for the post! I am always looking for where can I eat when I am out and on the go! Headed to Atlantic City for a conference and horified that won’t be able to eat for the 5 days. I did call the hotel and made sure that my room had a refrigerator so at least I could bring my own food and keep it there!

  • Pam Goldfarb

    Thankyou so much please keep going and try to do all drivethrus

  • Bill Tarin

    Thanks for the article. It is good to know about the different fast food places. As for the one comment about killing people, that depends on how much and how often you eat that kind of food. I do it about once every 2-3 months. I was surprised to hear about Taco Bell since I thought it would be relatively safe. I always get the hard tacos and the beans with cheese, but again, that is about once every 2-3 months. My son, a celiac, takes his kids to McDonalds and gets the burger with no bun for him and one of his boys who is also celiac. I guess he is not aware of the problem there. He does like to go a lot to Chinese fast-food places in the Denver area that have gluten-free menus and has done well there. A fast-food chain here that has good wraps is Jimmy John’s. I have watched them make the wrap, and it seems like they do a good job. My son recommended that place.

  • Kathy

    Thank you so much for the information. Traveling has really been hard for me. Sometimes I need just a small quick lunch and we did not know where to stop. This is wonderful to know. Thank you so much.

  • Mohammad Alyatama

    Great and informative article , thank you :)

  • Jac H

    Mr. Librach,
    After reading your Bio on this website, I am surprised by the information provided in this blog. I found many non-facts in your blog. A simple check of these corporate websites would clarify your “facts.” This is another example of how gluten free myths abound on the internet. I am now an unsubscriber to your blog.

  • Steph H

    I would say Chipotle is the safest :) Ask them to change their gloves and you’re good to go! I thought McDonalds fries were gluten free, in fact, I would swear they WERE a year or two ago. I ate them with no apparent issues…is this a recent change by them or did my body just not react to them? I did indeed look them up….contains wheat and milk…along with the hashbrowns which I thought were also safe.

  • Jen

    Wendy’s has REMOVED their new natural cut sea salt fries from their gluten free menu. They are no longer safe!

  • Barb

    I’m not sure what your symptoms are if you get glutened, but mine are horrific and I won’t eat any fast food. The kids who work there are more interested in their social life than ensuring they follow safety rules. I would never suggest anyone who is gluten intolerant or Celiac eat at a fast food restaurant.



  • Ilea

    Carls Jr has a dedicated low-carb burger and they will make any sandwich/burger item low-carb style if requested/asked. (their low-carb style is wrapped in a lot of lettuce, it really helps curb the hunger you’d normally have from a burger with no bun or extra lettuce at most places I’ve been to. And they wrap the lettuce in paper very well which makes it easy to eat it like a normal ham/cheeseburger.)

  • Angela

    Be careful at Jimmy John’s – their Provolone cheese is NOT gluten-free. I learned the hard way. ):

  • ShellyBean

    Hi there,

    I also wanted to add regarding Jimmy John’s, please be careful of their roast beef meat. It is not glute free, as well as the provolone as another blogger had just written. I also agree that people with gluten intolerences should probably be steering clear away from McDonald’s.. I realize it’s difficult for people to accept they may not ever be able to eat the food there, but it’s just reality & we celiacs need to face it. Besides, that particular establishment is killing us slowly but surely. ….Be well everyone

  • Joanne

    I understand this article as a “what to do when you have no options” acept starve. So yes, aviod fast food. I do, but what if your stuck and need the info to get you through the situation.I was stuck at an air port, 8 hours with just fast food options. Would have loved to know this info.

  • Laura Anies

    Gluten free at McDonald is ideal for eating for Celiacs and for people who want to be Gluten free

  • Jim Holland

    The Gluten Free Guide to Fast Food Restaurants has gluten free menu listings for over 42 international an domestic fast food restaurants. It’s been pretty helpful when eating out, but I always make sure that the fast food workers limit cross contamination. Chick Fil A is very careful when it comes to gluten free allergies.

    Anyways, you can find the book on Amazon.com as well as RealAdamBryan.com/GlutenFree

  • Dep. C

    HArdees and wendys both do good. Outback steakhouse is the best ive seen so far, dedicated trained staff, fryers, and cooking stations just for gluten free. Chipotle Mexican Grill they wash hands and use corn tortillas or make bowls.

  • Charissa

    I just ate at Taco Bell (in a hurry)…they assured me the nachos w/o the beef were gluten free… Now i’m bloated right up w/horrible pains… Never again… So its either the beans or the cheese?? Im so sensitive, & its true that so many people dont know what they are talking about, or dont change gloves, etc!

  • Sas

    In a moment of overwhelming hunger, I’ve had the pinto beans and rice without problems at Taco Bell. Their website also states that it doesn’t contain gluten, however, cross-contamination is always an issue!!

  • Melisa

    The shakes at Sonic are not really safe because they also make malts in the same machine and don’t clean them between orders. I got very sick fro a pineapple shake, which was listed as gluten free, and I’m sure this is why. I had no food with it, so I know it was from the shake.

    The only fast food I eat is the unwich at Jimmy John’s (no beef). I emailed them to ask which meats were gluten free and they were very prompt providing me with a list.

  • Jim

    the skinniest people are at chipotle…the fatest are at FudRuckers…excepte for the little football players who come after their games

  • You Glootie

    Dedicated fryer? LOL! What? Does the gluten magically dissolve into the oil? LOL! Are you “glooties” really this stupid? Apparently you are.

  • You Glootie

    And a 10mg crumb of breading is not going to kill you glooties, either. LOL!

  • Dana

    I’m sorry Glootie for your ignorance. But yes – if I eat anything in a fryer that has cooked anything with gluten I get extremely sick! And yes, those of us who are extremely sensitive to gluten do get very sick from a mere crumb! Please, count your blessings that you are not in that league with us, but also please don’t be nasty and ignorantly judgmental towards us. Also please know that if you are celiac, you are doing your body harm by giving it gluten no matter what the amount and whether or not you have side effects. Do your homework!

  • Andy

    Wendy’s GF menu on the web (checked today) site no longer lists chili and have a disclaimer that the fries are cooked with breaded chicken products. Sad. It was a good choice.

  • Kotsu

    Watch out for carageenan in the imitation butters, ice cream products, and sour creams. A G.I. doc warned me about carageenan (which is made from a seaweed) as being particularly bad for IBD patients. Sure enough, I accidentally started eating it in frozen coconut milk “ice cream” and my ulcerative colitis got symptomatic again… and kept getting worse until I discovered the culprit. Got off of it and am finally back to symptom-free.

  • Cindy

    The Wendy’s GF menu has the chili back on it again. (Dated Nov 2012)

  • Bill Tarin

    Lots of comments on these fast food places. There are others well known, but not mentioned. Burger King is one such place which, and in my mind, has great real food compared to McDonald, which tastes awful and artificial. Any comments on Burger King? I have not eaten there since I was diagnosed 4 years ago.

  • Janette

    I carry gluten free bread and most cafes are willing to make a sandwich while traveling. ‘Paddock to Pantry’ at Scone,NSW are very careful and helpful. Also carry gluten free bread.

  • Laura

    My son is Celiac and highly susceptible to cross contanimation. If we get fast food he eats from McDonalds the most. He gets the plain grilled chicken breast with the fries and has for the last year with no problems. We’ve eaten at McDonald’s in the St. Louis, MO area, Joplin, MO, OK and TX with no problem.

  • E.S.

    Dallas area no longer offers the gf options at Subway. I dont know if that is everywhere but my family was really disappointed. That was a great life saver more than once for us.

  • Koolpete

    Here are some gluten free Taco Bell options:

    * Tostada with Chicken
    * Express Taco Salad (Chicken or Steak instead of Beef, no tortilla strips)
    * Fiesta Taco Salad (Chicken or Steak instead of Beef, no shell, no tortilla strips)

  • Joyce

    I eat at Taco Bell frequently. The big culprit in most of their dishes is the ground beef as the seasoning has wheat. I get crunchy tacos made with chicken, salads made with steak (no fried tortilla bowl) chips and cheese, nachos made with steak and have no problems with any of these items. As noted cross contamination can me an issue, but the steak and chicken seem to be fine if you use the the corn taco shell.

  • Karen

    Chick-Fil-A has very few gluten free items in Springfield, MO. Plus their staff have no idea what Celiac or gluten free is. Ate Qdoba Mexican Grill in Springfield, MO & got a gluten free meal except I got sick from the gluten. Best restaurant for gluten free food is Muscle Man Grill in Springfield. Have never been sick there.

    • Kari

      I have gotten sick from Qdoba too…I think it was the drippy, gluten-containing BBQ sauce that they had in the very BACK of the steam table that has to come across 2 other rows of ingredients to make it to someone’s burrito.

  • PrariChix

    I am highly sensitive to gluten (and very healthy since my villi have healed!). Every item on Chick-Fil-A menu in Fairfax, VA contains autolyzed yeast extract — a NO-NO for GF. Even the all-meat, bunless burgers at Fuddrucker’s give me an autoimmune response — grill must be contaminated. Usually do not eat fast food AT ALL. If I’m really hungry and don’t have a GF bar with me I stop at a grocery store & buy a piece of fruit & a safe jar of peanut butter. On Friday I was out shopping but didn’t want to take time for a sit-down meal; stopped at Trader Joe’s and bought a loaf of GF Udi’s bread, healthy ham, and sliced goat cheese (casein in cow’s milk also gives me an autoimmune response, although attacks different tissue than gluten): made the best sandwich I’ve had in years!

  • Kay L

    I saw a lot of answers that fast-food shakes were OK for celiacs. Our dietican says no. That they contain Malt or Maltodextrin. Can anyone tell me definatively wether Shakes or Soft Serve Ice Cream are a YES/NO? We are new to GF eating and trying to tell an 18yr old boy he can’t have anything fast food is making me crazy!

  • Teir


  • Cate S

    Just had a great lunch at Thai Express. When I asked about gluten free options they pointed out the Stir Fry, Pad Thai, and Pad Sew, and stated that they could make these fresh items with gluten free soy sauce! Wonderful! They do post a sign stating that there might be cross contamination, so purists beware!

  • Gwen

    Chipolte Mexican food can be gluten, dairy and vegetarian. The brown rice bowls are great for adding only what you want. De-lish and filling!

  • Nan

    Thanks for the good info! For those of you curious about carrageenan, it is in many dairy products. It is an excitotoxin like MSG. It affects the brain and may make you feel bad in other ways. You can avoid it- be a label reader. Go for high end ice creams like HaggenDaz.

  • Cathleen

    I just posted this to the FB page of the Gluten Intolerance Group of Charlottesville. Thanks for the information and the great product!

  • StephanieD

    Some hardees restaurants do have dedicated fryers; as a matter of fact all of the hardees in my area have separate fryers. As always double check and check allergen menus often because they can change

  • Carla

    Penn Station Sub shops fries only French fries in their fryers. And, they are made from real potatoes cut fresh daily. CUDOS! plus you can get a salad for any of the sandwiches. Not crazy about the salads, but the fries rock!

  • April

    Wendy’s is not gluten free! Look at the bottom of their gluten free menu and you will see where they use the same cutting board for grilled and fried chicken….even when you inform them you have a severe allergy. I had to go back to the restaurant to explain the reason I asked for certain things to be left out is because I’ll have a reaction…..the only change made was to remove the bacon from my salad. Bacon doesn’t contain gluten and I didn’t ask for it to be left off my salad. I stupidly did not check the second salad and didn’t realize until I’d returned home.

    I normally don’t get upset because it’s something I deal with frequently but the manager argued with me when I called to explain I’d already had it made a second time. I just wanted to make sure she knew it was a serious situation. My husband was going back, again, to pick up a new salad; however, the manager began to tell me where I was wrong. I was in complete shock that she would not only disregard this was a health issue, not just a whim and more shocked that she argued with me. I just wanted a salad and leave off the croutons….that was it.

    I did call headquarters because this particular location, the orders are incorrect more than half the time. It’s important to get what you order and pay for but very important with celiac, as you all know. To their credit, customer service apologized immediately and is sending a refund. There is only one location near me and I will never go there again, so a credit or coupon didn’t do much for me.

    If you have an issue with your local store, I recommend calling corporate. While I won’t return, I hope it helps the next person who comes along.

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