When I talk to the mums in my Happy Tummies community and ask them the biggest problem they have with food allergies, the overwhelming response is that they can’t easily eat out. This affects their immediate family, as well as their whole extended family because it stops them going out for birthdays or other celebrations.
In addition, it means when families go on holidays, it’s not a real holiday like other families where they just book a hotel and eat out for a few days. Families with food allergies need to book an apartment with a kitchen, find a nearby supermarket and then cook every night. Trying to find gluten-free meals can be difficult, but if you add to that a dairy allergy or intolerance, an egg allergy, a nut allergy and even a fussy kid, it’s almost impossible to eat out!
These are my top ten tips for eating out safely at restaurants if you have a child with food allergies. If you need to avoid traces in food, it’s even harder!
- Ensure that you always have an epi-pen and antihistamine with you – this is a priority
- Be sensible about the type of restaurant you choose. For example, it would be difficult for a Chinese restaurant that uses a lot of nuts, and even peanut oil, to accommodate someone with a nut allergy. Similarly, it would be hard for a seafood restaurant to cater for someone with a seafood allergy
- If you go to a restaurant that’s part of a chain, make sure you ask the required information every restaurant. Different owners or managers may have different policies
- Don’t eat at buffets The risk of cross contamination is too high with everyone serving themselves. Most people without food allergies are unaware of the consequences of using the wrong spoon in a dish!
- Try to go into the restaurant before you plan to eat there or ring them up before you go and see if they can accommodate you. It’s best to do this at an off peak time so they have time to chat with you
- Eat early when they’re not busy if you can. This will ensure that they’ll have more time to cater to your needs
- Ask the staff lots of questions and if you feel nervous ask more questions. Choose somewhere else to go if you get an uneasy feeling
- Make sure that everything cooked in the deep fryer is free from cross contamination of the allergen/s you need to avoid. This applies to egg, gluten, wheat, dairy, fish and so on. Many businesses have a dedicated fryer just for cooking chips so you can be certain they are safe. Make sure you remember to ask what oil they use to ensure that is also safe
- Consider using an allergy dining card that you can give to wait staff to show the chef. You can get yours free here and personalise it
- If you find a fantastic and accommodating restaurant, spread the word! Thank them as you leave for helping you, give them a great review on their Facebook page and tell your friends. This will encourage them to keep it up!
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