How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

As a celiac who needs to eat a strict gluten free diet, I only have a handful of restaurants I feel safe eating at. One of my favorites? The Whole Foods Hot Bar.

Sure, Whole Foods Market isn't a restaurant. However, many locations do offer a Whole Foods buffet, which is full of prepared dishes. The best part? Every tray of food has all of its ingredients listed above it, with allergens indicated at the bottom. The Whole Foods hot food bar isn't cheap, so this celiac doesn't dine there all the time. 

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

When I want a gluten free treat, though, Whole Foods is where I'm at! Ready to eat gluten free at Whole Foods? Here are four tricks and tips for eating celiac-safe and gluten free at the Whole Foods hot bar! 

1. Read like your life depends on it (which it kind of does). 

First of all, you need to take advantage of those ingredient cards and read EVERYTHING. Gluten can hide in some weird places, from soup to a rice stir fry that uses wheat-filled soy sauce. So, never assume that something is gluten free without double checking the ingredient list.

Some Whole Foods locations are really good about indicating any allergens in all caps on the labels above each dish. Other locations just list the ingredients. In the latter case, this means you should scan the ingredients for any gluten "buzz words" like wheat, all purpose flour, barley, etc.

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar
When veggies have gluten...

One last point: Even if you enjoy one dish at the Whole Foods buffet all the time, always check the ingredients. I've found that ingredients can change by location, sometimes turning a gluten free dish into an unsafe one. 

2. Be aware of your (gluten-filled) surroundings. 

One of the biggest concerns many celiacs (rightly) have with the Whole Foods buffet is cross contamination. As a warning sign at the Whole Foods hot bar explains, the kitchen in Whole Foods Market is not allergy-free and the chefs cannot 100% guarantee that all items are free of trace amounts of allergens. I will say this, though: I've been eating gluten free at Whole Foods for four years now, and I've never been glutened. How? Besides analyzing labels like they're a college final, I pay attention to what dishes are surrounding the one I want to try.

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

What am I talking about? Picture this: there's a delicious Mexican sweet potato and black bean bake that you want to try. There's no gluten in the ingredients. However, it's surrounded by two pasta dishes. In this case, I might double think the sweet potatoes because people could have easily used the wrong spoon to get a serving. I'd definitely ditch the sweet taters if one of the pasta spoons had some sweet potato on it or if I saw a piece of pasta accidentally thrown in with the "gluten free" dish. 

Yes, it's obvious that the Whole Foods hot food bar isn't set up with celiac disease or cross contamination in mind.  However, as long as you're vigilant about ingredients and location, you can improve your odds of a celiac-safe meal. 

3. If you're in doubt, leave it out! 

This piece of advice may sound obvious, but it's still worth mentioning: if a dish seems a little sketchy in terms of being gluten free, don't try it! 

Personally, I walk the perimeter of the Whole Foods hot bar - and read all of the dish labels - several times before I grab my to-go container and fill it up. By scoping out options before scooping, you can save money by only getting the gluten free goodies you really want. This tactic can also keep you from accidentally adding a gluten-filled dish to your to-go box...and contaminating everything else you already picked.

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

Sure, it stinks when you see some delicious fried chicken or enchiladas, and they don't fit your dietary needs. But getting sick after eating your "gluten free" Whole Foods hot bar feast would be even worse! 

4. Know that the Whole Foods buffet changes with every visit...and learn to embrace the surprises. 

One of the best (and perhaps worse) parts about the Whole Foods hot bar is that it changes daily. Sometimes, the foods are seasonal (like lots of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, etc for Thanksgiving). Other times, the chefs just seem to be having fun trying out new cuisines. (Case in point: lately, my local Whole Foods buffet has been full of Indian food...and I've been loving all of the gluten free options I've tried!)

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

On the negative side, this means I sometimes go to Whole Foods and only find a few gluten free options that sound appealing. However, when you hit the jackpot and find even more gluten free goodies than expected, the Whole Foods hot bar feels extra magical. So, my biggest piece of advice is to go with the flow and shop at Whole Foods with no expectations. You never know when you'll discover your new favorite soup or stir fry...or learn that you like an entirely new type of cuisine!

5. BONUS: My favorite gluten free Whole Foods hot bar items. 

I'd be a less than stellar foodie if I didn't mention my favorite gluten free Whole Foods buffet finds. All Whole Foods hot bars typically have a salad bar, and I always enjoy their grated veggies (ranging from beet to zucchini to broccoli) and beans (black, chickpea, edamame, etc). The baked chicken at Whole Foods is also AMAZING. Fresh, plain (in terms of being lightly steamed and not oily or over-spiced) and tender. 

As for the prepared dishes, some of my favorite celiac-safe finds are:

Whole Foods Market's gluten free kale and white bean soup:

I've seen this kale and white bean soup made with gluten in one location, but it's usually gluten free. It reminds me of some of the soups from Olive Garden and is always full of flavor. Whole Foods' gluten free soup is perfect for cold weather or just some healthy comfort food.

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar
Whole Foods' gluten free soup even made an appearance on my Gluten Free and Vegan Snack Plate Dinner!

Gluten Free and vegan refried beans:

Ever since my celiac diagnosis, I haven't regularly enjoyed Mexican food or refried beans at home. So when I saw these at the Whole Foods hot bar, I couldn't say no. Thick, creamy and dairy free as well. 

Turmeric spiced rice: 

What is it about turmeric that turns plain rice into an addiction? I don't remember what other spices are commonly included in this rice, but I do know they're super delicious. Not to mention that yellow rice is super pretty! 

Roasted potatoes and grilled veggies:

Sure, I could easily make roasted potatoes and grilled veggies myself at home (and sometimes I skip them and do just that). However, Whole Foods does something amazing to these naturally gluten free foods to make them ten times as delicious. The grilled veggies are always super thick and have very defined grill marks. Meanwhile, the roasted potatoes can be a little oily, but the flavor definitely makes up for it.

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

Balsamic mushrooms: 

Because, well, so juicy! 

Any quinoa pilaf or stir fry:

Whole Foods Market always cooks the quinoa perfectly and I love trying all of their different flavor combinations, from turmeric to Southwestern. 

How a Celiac Safely Eats Gluten Free at the Whole Foods Hot Bar

Like all restaurants, the gluten free and celiac-safe options at Whole Foods Market can differ by location. However, if you're looking for a mix-and-match healthy dinner, the Whole Foods hot bar is a pretty safe bet!

Have you ever eaten at the Whole Foods hot bar? What is your favorite dish to try? Tell me in the comments!


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