Helpful Tips on Dining Out with Kids with Food Allergies

by Leila on February 16, 2011

My daughter’s food allergies appeared when she was just a month old. It was a terrifying experience and started us on a long road of lifestyle changes and learning to manage her food allergies without freaking out.  Her previous allergy list was Eggs, Milk, Wheat, Pork, Oats, Corn, Soy, All Nuts, All Fish, Eggplant and Berries. Yeah, we were very limited. Over the years of strict avoidance and a lot of conflict in between we have made huge progress with our modified lifestyle and with her allergies. The list is now down to eggs, milk, pork, nuts, some fish and shellfish. It is easier to manage but some of the same concerns are still there since the severity is so high she is contact sensitive so cross contamination can be devastating for her.

I had a manager at a restaurant chain ask me “Why do you even take her out to eat if it is so difficult?” and my response was, “Why are you such a heartless jerk?”

Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have said that but I was pissed. It boiled down to the fact that she did not want to deal with making any accommodations because she was just too busy. I won’t mention the restaurant’s name because the owner was more than amazing at helping squash that whole mess, told me what I should request in the future, gave me his personal cellphone number and gave us a gift card. We haven’t had problems since.

It is not easy going out to eat with children in general and especially with a kid with food allergies. But, I don’t let one crappy experience determine our choices. I want my kids to do what everyone does: Pay way too much food to eat out!

I’ve learned some very important things along the way so I hope that it’s something that may benefit another. Here are my basic tips:

1.       DO YOUR RESEARCH!!! Ingredient lists are usually available online. If you plan ahead you can look these up or even contact them directly to get a good idea of what options you have. PRINT IT OUT!!! I can’t even say how many times I’ve requested plain pasta, explained the egg/milk allergy, and had managers tell me “All bread and pasta has egg and milk”. Nope dude, read your ingredients and oh by the way I have them right here! That brings me to…

2.       READ THE INGREDIENTS! I always request to see the ingredients or ask that a manager verifies this. Supplies can change and they often do. So, even if you have gone to the same place dozens of times always, very politely, ask to see the ingredients. Also, try to refrain from calling someone a jackass when you prove you were right. I usually say something like, “Yeah I had no idea that this would be okay until I got used to reading all the ingredients of everything I touched! So crazy!” … then I will mentally add “Jackass”. Speaking of people being Jackasses…

3.       DON’T BE A JACKASS!! I’m blunt. I’m crude. I curse when the kids aren’t listening and often slip up when they are… but I truly believe in treating others the way you wish to be treated! I am really nice to the hostess and the servers and the managers and the random people around us when we are dining out. If you go in with your research done, with a great attitude and the biggest cheesy grin you can muster then you will be better off. Hey, it hurts me sometimes to be cheerleader nice. If I can do it so can you!

4.       ALWAYS ADDRESS THE ALLERGIES FIRST!! If it’s the first time I have been in a restaurant I will always ask the hostess to bring the manager over to discuss food allergy options. As soon as our server greets us I will let it be known in a very tactful way. I usually try to do this away from my kids because, unfortunately, there are some jerks out there that have created bad situations and reduced my kids to tears. When you got hungry kids and are feeling the funk from someone it’s good to have…

5.       TASTE IT!!!!!! I won’t feed my kid something prepared for them unless I sample it first. Something has looked okay, I’ve been told it was prepared okay but when I tasted it holy shit there was butter on it. That would have been a trip to the hospital!

6.       ALWAYS BRING SNACKS, TREATS OR A BACKUP!!!! I always have snacks on me. I always bring some kind of sweet treat (We really don’t do a lot of sweets/candy so this is brought out when we might be in a pickle) If I am going somewhere new I always, always, ALWAYS bring a backup meal. Sandwich or rice balls or pasta will be the main thing I will bring then I can add fruit or sides from the restaurant. Sometimes, it sucks because they can’t be accommodating for your kid but you can bring your own food so they still have the sit down experience.

7.       SAY SOMETHING NICE ANYWAY YOU CAN!!! I’ve walked out of restaurants pissed off but could find something positive to say. If we have great service I like to take a few minutes to tell the manager and thank them for their time and efforts. They remember that. The staff remembers that and they usually get some kind of incentive for compliments. They like that! I also think it’s important that I show appreciation to those who go out of their ways to make sure my kid doesn’t go into anaphylactic shock!

8.       ALWAYS BRING EMERGENCY SUPPLIES!!! This goes without saying but I have to say it because it will make me feel better. Always bring Benadryl, Epi pen, wipes, inhaler or whatever you have to manage your child’s allergies. We do not leave the house without these things and especially to places where there is a higher risk of break out!

9.       LEAVE IF THE PLACE IS BEING A BUTTHOLE! It’s okay to leave. It’s okay to just go with your gut and not want to give someone your business. If it’s just the manager or staff then follow up with a very professional and tactful letter outlining your experience. I’ve had an amazing response when I’ve felt a situation was crap and I followed up with the owner. Some places I just won’t go to again but I appreciated the efforts.

10.   USE YOUR COMMON SENSE!!! I say this simply because I have been in situations where I know there is nothing my kid can eat but my friends/family/coworkers have said “Oh let’s just go anyway… we can figure it out.” Yeah, no…. not always! We don’t go to seafood restaurants because the likelihood of cross contamination is high and I do not think it’s worth the battle/risk to try to get the cook staff to accommodate. It’s just not an option. We also don’t usually go to buffets because even if they have a clean setup you cannot control user error! I see people putting the soup spoon in with the mac and cheese. Ugh.

11.   BRING CARDS OUTLINING THE ALLERGIES!!! I have a simple card that I bring with me that says “Hi! I have food allergies to (list them). Please don’t feed me anything with these in it or cook my food with these items! A clean grill and clean utensils will keep me safe! Thank you!” Sometimes the physical card eliminates error in translation.

12.   BIG HUGE TIPS ARE ALWAYS REMEMBERED!!! I have friends that are and have been servers and the big tippers are always remembered. I figure if I am going out I will always factor in a large tip for excellent service.

13.   BRING DISTRACTIONS!!! Toys, coloring books, books and angry birds seriously help the dining out experience. I’m not the type of parent that lets my kids bring electronic handheld games everywhere we go but sometimes I make exceptions. Think of everyone around you and don’t bring something obnoxious. I think my ipod touch is mostly used when we dine out and that’s when we get most of our levels on Angry Birds! Ha!

14.   DO NOT GO AT PEAK TIMES!!! You will have more luck with happy staff if you schedule your dining experience on off peak hours. They will simply have more time to devote to you

15.   ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE!!! Seriously, keep it fun… keep it positive… don’t freak… don’t scream… don’t let the little bumps in the process put you in a funk. It’s not easy to dine out with food allergies so accept that but hope for the best.

These tips are by no means fool proof and are just my opinion. Do not expect flawless results by following my advice. I’m not responsible if any mishaps arise if you try to dine out. These are just friendly suggestions on how to make your experiences a little easier.

About Leila DontSpeakWhinese

Leila, aka The Ninja, is the advocate for all things not whining. Parenting is fun when everyone stops b*tching! She is the Mom of a big blended family of five awesome kids. They ninja kick through life together. Oh and she is a total jackass.

Comments

  1. kaybee says:

    This list is amazing. My son has a milk and soy allergy which we are hopeful that he will grow out of. He is still young enough that we really bring his own food to restaurants and just supplement it with steamed vegetables, but this is will be very helpful in the near future.

    Stopping by from SITS Girls 31dbbb.

    1. Leila says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I’m sorry to hear that you are taking on the food allergy challenges as well. I’m so glad you find this list helpful!! In the early days of allergy battles I did the same. I would occasionally branch out and get plain grilled chicken. But, 9 years ago the world wasn’t as in tune or as sympathetic towards allergies. Thankfully its a lot easier now. Baby steps on dining out and soon you will find your regular places that can always accommodate who greet you with smiles :)

  2. Nichole says:

    I think these are great tips, many are great even for parents of kids without allergies.

    My little peanut has a peanut & dog allergy. We will be seeing a pediatric allergist for further testing real soon b/c he just had another allergic reaction to something and I had no idea what caused it!

    Also stopping by from the 31dbbb :)

  3. Senorabrown75 says:

    Being from the other side–that of an annoyed restaurant worker— I want to commend you for covering all the bases and be smart enough to know that taking your kid to a seafood joint is probably not very safe. Lol ;)  

    I love all of your tips, and I hope your readers take notes and use them ALL!  Having “the card” is the best tip of all….this will ensure in black and white that there is no room for error.  I can’t tell you what a relief it is when a guest has all of their allergies listed so that we don’t have to play any guessing games.

    I just want to add to #4 (ALWAYS ADDRESS THE ALLERGIES FIRST!! ):  Do not be afraid to overexaggerate the allergy if you feel that you are not being taken seriously.  Do not be afraid to say that your kid could end up dead because of this severe allergy…however “such and such” is fine as long as it hasn’t been touched by “peanuts.”

    People don’t  understand food allergies and the severity of bad reactions…but blogs like this are helping to  open the lines of communication and understanding, which is most important.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Your input seriously made my week!

  4. [...] about the menu, especially Leila, who’s daughter has food allergies (here’s her advice about dining out).  As I remember, the tempura is egg-free, but we were reminded to call ahead if you had any [...]

  5. [...] have yet to take the kids because it’s become my “night out” place. It can be a challenge to dine out with kids with food allergies but after one conversation with Executive Chef Brad Lyons I was totally put at ease. Unlike a lot [...]

  6. I love this list! I only wish I read this on Monday! After my daughter’s art class on Tuesday, I decided to take her to a different restaurant in the mall than the one we usually eat at. It’s our little act of self-indulgence so we stay after class to eat once in a while. My daughter’s allergic to all nuts and soy and I took her to a place that ended up being mostly Chinese food! Oy.
    I had a backup, but it was more of a snack not a whole meal. Your suggestion to research a place first is excellent. Had I done that, my daughter could have eaten more than a few bites of sticky rice and the snack I brought! Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned through experience and also for ninja kicking these obstacles out of your kids’ ways. :-)

    1. Leila says:

      Thank you SO much! I’m so glad you found this list helpful! I’ve learned the hard way over the years!! Chinese food is hard for food allergies. We usually don’t even try it… though Japanese food is much easier. If in doubt I always request plain steamed veggies, plain baked potatoes and grilled chicken. I find by having a simple menu request it’s often easier to accommodate than trying to modify what they already have to fit your needs… if that makes sense :)

  7. [...] have yet to take the kids because it’s become my “night out” place. It can be a challenge to dine out with kids with food allergies but after one conversation with Executive Chef Brad Lyons I was totally put at ease. Unlike a lot [...]

  8. @facethesun says:

    I am always amazed at how many servers do not know what is and is not a dairy product. A friend is allergic and will gov through the whole discussion while ordering and then they will offer her cream for her coffee. Also, I work with kids with allergies and many parents clearly have not been educated about their own child’s allergies and epipen. They leave it at home!

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