Living with food allergies doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the joy of eating out. With a bit of knowledge and preparation, you and your family can confidently navigate the culinary landscape while maintaining your safety. In this blog post, I’ll provide six essential tips to ensure a safe and delightful dining experience. Let’s dive in!
Embarking on a journey of navigating food allergies as a family may seem overwhelming at first, but rest assured, you’ve got this. When Emory was diagnosed with food allergies at nine months, my husband and I were completely lost. We quickly realized that our What to Expect When You’re Expecting e-book’s food allergy chapter was inadvertently left out. With no management guide (except for strict avoidance of triggers), we forged out and began creating our own story.
With a laundry list of food allergies, we never imagined that dining out as a family would be an option for us. Now that Emory is five, she’s becoming more aware of certain things. One of those “things” is eating out. She even requested that we take her to a “fancy restaurant,” so she could “wear a dress and daddy could wear a jacket with buttons!”
As parents, we want our daughters to experience all the joys that life has to offer. For Emory, that is eating at a fancy restaurant. Although, the thought of putting my child’s health in someone else hands sends my anxiety through the roof, figuring it out is something we plan to do for her.
Hopefully, These Six Essential Tips for a Safe and Enjoyable Dining Experience will help you navigate food allergies just as they have helped us!
Do Your Homework
Before heading out, do some research on restaurants that prioritize food allergies. Look for establishments with dedicated allergy-friendly menus or those willing to accommodate special dietary needs. Reading online reviews and seeking recommendations can also help you find places with a strong track record of handling food allergies safely.
One of my favorite food allergy podcasts is In the Tall Grass. Earlier this year, hosts Debbie and Candice had Chef Joel Schaefer, former Culinary Development and Special Dietary Needs Manager for Walt Disney World, as a guest. He provided TONS of insight on dining out safely. I highly suggest giving it a listen!
Communication is Key
After determining where you’d like to go, call the restaurant ahead of time and make a reservation. Ask to speak to the manager on duty. While sharing you needs with management is essential, I suggest requesting the name of the manager who will be onsite during your actual visit. It’s important that they be aware of your reservation and dietary needs. Here’s a pro tip – Call the restaurant when they aren’t busy. Having the staff members’ undivided attention is very important when communicating your needs.
Once you arrive at the restaurant, communication becomes vital. Ask to speak with the manager, and don’t hesitate to inform your server about your specific allergies and dietary restrictions. *A good restaurant has already communicated these details prior to your reservation time.
Even if it appears that the server is aware of your needs, it never hurts to clearly explain the severity of your allergies and ask questions about ingredients and food preparation methods. A well-informed and understanding server can be your greatest ally in navigating the menu and ensuring your safety.
Read Labels and Ingredient Lists
Even if a dish seems safe, it’s crucial to read labels and ingredient lists carefully. Some allergens can hide in unexpected places, such as sauces, dressings, and seasoning blends. Don’t hesitate to ask for detailed information about the ingredients used in a particular dish. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Equal Eats provides printable food allergy cards specifically designed for chefs. You can personalize them to meet your needs. Although I have yet to print these for Emory, I can imagine that they come in handy when navigating food allergies while dining out.
Customizations and Substitutions
Don’t be afraid to ask for customized options or substitutions to accommodate your allergies. Most restaurants are willing to adjust their dishes to meet your dietary needs. From swapping ingredients to modifying cooking methods, many chefs are trained in handling food allergies and will gladly work with you to create a safe and delicious meal.
Emory’s allergies are tricky, so we have our “go-to” order for her: grilled chicken breast with olive oil, salt, and pepper with a side of fries (prepared in a dedicated gluten-free fryer). We usually skip dessert unless they have dairy-free mango sorbet.
Be Prepared with Medications
While you take all necessary precautions, it’s crucial to be prepared for unexpected allergic reactions. Carry your prescribed medications, such as antihistamines or epinephrine auto-injectors, with you at all times. Make sure they are easily accessible, and inform your dining companions about their location and usage.
Informing Friends and Family
If you’re dining with friends or family, make sure they are aware of your food allergies and the necessary steps to keep you safe. Educate them about cross-contamination risks, allergen-specific symptoms, and emergency procedures. Their understanding and support can help create a safer dining environment for everyone.
Navigating food allergies while dining out may seem daunting, but with the right knowledge and preparation, it becomes an opportunity for safe and enjoyable experiences.
You can savor every moment of dining out without compromising your health by doing your homework, communicating effectively, reading labels, customizing dishes, and being prepared. Remember, you and your family deserve to relish the culinary delights while staying safe.