For some reason that I still don’t understand, most outings or social activities revolve around food. At least, this used to be our case. If there was a birthday, we had to go eat-out. If family members came to visit, we would go to a restaurant. I mean, pretty much anything involved food. I was O.K. with this until my youngest child was diagnosed with Food Allergies; this made things different for us. Now, if we go out of the house, we bring allergy-friendly food with us everywhere. It’s fun, like having a picnic every time. We rarely eat at restaurants, and when we do, the whole experience is accompanied by a safety “ritual”. So, what do we do?
- We look for an allergy friendly restaurant. Allergy Eats has become our best friend when it comes to finding restaurants that accommodate my kids food allergies.
- If I’m not sure that the restaurant is accommodating, I just call them. It is surprising how many restaurants are happy to accommodate food allergies.
- Before leaving the house, I make sure that we have 2 EpiPens and a bottle of Benadryl in our bag. I NEVER leave the house without our epinephrine auto-injectors.
- Once I arrive at the restaurant, I let the host/hostess know about the food allergies.
- Once we know in which table we’re sitting, I wipe down the table and seats to make sure there is no allergen residue that can potentially start a reaction.
- When we are seated, the first thing I do is make sure that the server knows about the food allergies and understands the severity of it. We have a child with life-threatening allergies.
- If it’s possible, I try talking to the chef/cook. This way I make sure that he/she knows about the food allergies and how important it is for us that there is no cross-contact.
- We try to order allergy-friendly meals for everybody.
- When the food arrives, I try to make sure that there is no obvious allergen at sight.
- I try to remind others and myself to not use their/my utensils on someone else’s food.
- If everything goes well, which has been our experience, we thank the server and the chef/cook for the meal and for making sure that our children didn’t have an allergic reaction. A nice tip always helps and it shows the staff that we appreciate the extra effort they put in keeping the experience allergy friendly.
- If the restaurant hasn’t been rated in Allergy Eats, it’s a good idea to rate it. This way, you help other families that are looking for a safe, allergy friendly place to eat.
Now, if we are invited to eat at a friend/family member’s house, things go in a similar way. Here’s what I do:
- I remind my friend/family member about the allergies.
- Ask what is going to be served and recommend some allergy friendly substitutes to cook with.
- Ask to help with the cooking. Or, ask if I can bring some of the food. This way I know what is being cooked and make sure that the ingredients are allergy friendly.
- If your friend or family member doesn’t want you involved with the cooking, but you still doubt that the food will be allergy friendly, bring the food for the allergic person. Always trust your instincts, I know I do and they’re usually right.
- I also, wipe down the eating area before seating. I don’t want to risk it. You never know when someone else has eaten an allergen in that area.
There are also other things that I’ve learned from our experiences and that might be helpful in avoiding allergic reactions:
- Make sure to ALWAYS remind the restaurant staff (host, server, chef) about the food allergies, even if they know you. You never know when they are too busy and/or might forget about the allergy.
- If someone on the table orders something that’s not allergy friendly, try to have that person seat as far away as possible from the person that has food allergies. Be mindful of avoiding cross-contamination of utensil if sharing food. After that person (with the food that has allergens) is done eating ask him/her, politely, to wash their hands.
Enjoy your meal. Food Allergies don’t need to be an obstacle with the right precautions.