Unfortunately for those of us with food allergies, it’s all too common that we have to refrain from enjoying some of the pleasures of life, like eating out at a restaurant, because doing so can put our lives at risk. For many, this can be frustrating. Who wants to have to cook all the time? Whom of us wouldn’t enjoy a night out with friends? And sometimes you just want a dish you would never make yourself. The reasons for wanting to eat out are endless, and to be restricted by food allergies can be downright depressing at times.
So what can we do?
1. Don’t lose hope: The times are “a’changing” as they say. More and more restaurants are getting on board with the program. Even this week at the Cape we discovered an ice cream shop (the Ice Cream Cafe in Orleans) which is now serving gluten, dairy, and nut free frozen dessert options. Granted, I only had three flavor choices as opposed to fifty ice cream flavors, but I had a choice. Yay! The number of restaurants that cater to allergies has grown just in the past five years alone. So as more folks begin to understand the need, our options will continue to increase.
2. Cultivate relationships: If you have a restaurant that you really like which you know you’ll frequent a few times a year, take the time to introduce yourself to the management and waiters when you arrive. Explain that you have food allergies but you really want to be able to eat at their restaurant because you enjoy their food. I have four places near my home where I know I can safely eat because they’ve gotten to know me and know that I will eat there as long as they accommodate my allergies.
3. Create your own recipes: Sometimes it’s not about going out but being able to eat a particular dish you really like. Nowadays you can find the recipe for most restaurant dishes online. Simply type in the restaurant name and add “recipes”, and you’ll find what you want. Then you can adapt the recipe to fit your dietary needs and enjoy the dish in your own home without the worries of cross contamination.
4. Practice being proactive: Research restaurants before you go. With online resources you can view their menus and ingredients without even leaving your home. For example, I know that as someone with a dairy allergy, I cannot go to Olive Garden. Every single dish except two (a garden salad and their meat spaghetti sauce) is made with some sort of dairy.
If you haven’t researched a restaurant ahead of time, ask your waiter if they have a sheet which tells you what ingredients are in their foods. Many restaurants nowadays have forms which highlight dishes which are gluten, dairy, egg, soy or nut free. If they don’t, ask the waiter to ask whether a particular dish has whatever you’re allergic to. Most waiters are more than happy to oblige.
5. Be prepared: Sometimes, despite all the above, things go awry when you’re eating out, so make sure you have your epi-pen or benadryl with you at all times. Though, you never want to have to use them while enjoying a meal out, it’s always best to have them if you do need to use them.