Food allergies and dining out can be difficult. When it’s time to dine out, every parent with a child who suffers from food allergies has a hard time letting go of kitchen control. Surrendering this control is difficult because allergen avoidance is always the most necessary form of prevention, and this is often easily accomplished in the comfort of your home. However, a late soccer practice, meeting, or simply just wanting to enjoy the cuisine of a favorite local restaurant can make allergen avoidance difficult. Eating out puts the responsibility of allergen on both the diner and the restaurant staff.
Research shows that there is ample opportunity for restaurants to improve their food allergy safety practices. According to the Food and Drug Administration Food Code, the person in charge of an establishment should be knowledgeable of food allergies. We cannot guarantee that all staff will be aware, but that shouldn’t discourage families from eating out. We want children to enjoy life, and there are steps that we can take to be safe.
Fortunately, many large restaurant chains have picked up on how important it is to make sure they offer options and service to families managing food allergies. Many have standardized menus, which often include ingredient information, which can provide you and your family with safe, allergy-friendly food options.
Do Your Research to manage food allergies and dining out
A great place to start is to research the restaurants you are interested in online! Most major chain establishments have websites where you can view their menus before you visit. This research gives you a chance to identify safe options for your little ones with food allergies before you go.
Remember, websites aren’t always current, so speaking with a manager is a good idea. The manager will help you ensure that the restaurant is food allergy-friendly and cross-contamination won’t be a problem.
Another great resource when doing research is AllergyEats, which describes itself as “the leading guide to allergy-friendly restaurants in the United States.”
AllergyEats is a free, peer-based website and app, (for both Apple and Android devices), to rate a restaurant on their food allergy friendliness, based on customer reviews. You can’t beat social support systems where you can get input from families like your own!
As always, ask questions about staff and make requests to make sure you’re comfortable since food allergy cases are unique.
We want to ensure our kids safety, so I recommend checking if the restaurant is food allergy-friendly. Ensure to tell your server about all food allergies to ensure that you have a happy and healthy experience. Many times, they’ll be glad to send the chef out to speak with you about your dietary restrictions!
Once you’ve identified a restaurant ask if they can prepare a safe meal for your child. If they say “yes” don’t be afraid to ask them what steps they’ll take so that you can feel confident. Some parents prefer to “try out” the restaurant without the children to get a feel for their ability to accommodate. If you get the feeling that they are unwilling, unable or, don’t “get it,” move on.
In the meantime, you may want to prepare an allergy card for the chef that lists your child’s allergies explicitly. An allergy card will make food allergies and dining out more manageable. A list of foods that aren’t safe and substitute ingredients can make it easier for the chef to cook. This list adds a reminder, mainly if you are dealing with multiple food allergies.
Go Prepared to Eat
Before you leave for the restaurant, bring a few staples in case the restaurant does not have everything you need. For some parents, delivering safe food in a thermos or a safe sandwich is an excellent alternative. It’s easy to bring a little dairy-free margarine and some vinegar and oil for salads, too! (Dressings often contain dairy, soy, wheat, nuts, and seeds). Lastly, make sure you have your epinephrine pen with you before leaving the house.
Do you have any additional tips for eating out? Comment below!