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Dining out with food allergies: A teaching moment

Last night, I led a food allergies and nutrition workshop for newly-diagnosed families. With the exception of two families, all of the other families (moms, actually) were not newly diagnosed. Like all of us, they were still trying to find their way with some aspect of feeding a food allergic child.

One thing that echoed in the room was the sentiment that many mothers are paralyzed with fear when it comes to introducing new foods and going out to eat. One of my children has food allergies, and I get it. I feel fear every time she eats something new, whether it’s at home, someone else’s house or at a restaurant. There are varying levels of fear, and usually I am silent about my fears and just study her face every few minutes to make sure she’s not showing any signs of a reaction. But, I also know these are the moments to teach her about her food allergies and how to manage them… wherever she chooses to eat.

Family Enjoying Meal At Outdoor Restaurant

Not surprisingly, a survey conducted by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) found that dining out in restaurants in the #1 aspect that negatively impacts the quality of life for food allergic families. And, 1 in 5 families surveyed reported not going out to eat at all.

Yes, it’s not easy to eat out in restaurants when food allergies are involved. But, eating out is a part of our culture and just a part of our lives. And, taking our food allergic children out to restaurants presents us the opportunity to be a role model for our children, not just in table manners and how to choose healthful foods but how to talk to restaurants managers and wait staff directly and openly about food allergies.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the world of dining out with food allergies:

  1. Call ahead to speak with the manager, as Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) recommends. Describe your child’s allergens and ask if the restaurant can properly accommodate your family.
  2. ALWAYS identify your child’s food allergies once you arrive at the restaurant. Let the wait staff and manager (even if you called beforehand) know about your child’s allergens. Be explicit that your child could become very sick or have a food allergy reaction if his or her food touches the allergenic foods.
  3. Choose to dine before or after the “rush.” If possible, dine out either before or after the crowds, when wait staff are likely to be more receptive and attentive.
  4. Bring a FARE chef card with you. These cards are awesome. It just reinforces the point you made vocally, and can be helpful for the wait staff to actually show the cook staff and manager.
  5. Just avoid riskier places… buffets where spoons have been used in who-knows-which-dish, bakeries, ice cream shops (shared scoops), restaurants serving cuisines that typically use the food allergen (like people with tree nut and peanut allergies may want to avoid Asian-style restaurants, which tend to serve a lot of nut-laden foods).
  6. ALWAYS carry your child’s medication. Enough said.
  7. Be prepared to walk away. If the restaurant staff don’t seem interested in meeting your child’s needs or aren’t willing to work with you, walk away. Who really cares if you leave a glass of water and unfolded napkins on the table? When in doubt, walk out.

It is our job to keep our children as safe as possible. And, it is also our job to help prepare our children to become self-sufficient adults who dine out safely, responsibly and confidently.

PLEASE SHARE: Does your child have food allergies? If so, how do you help keep your children safe and/or teach them how to order when dining out? Please share. I’d love to hear from you!

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