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How to Make the Most of Dining Out When Your Child Has Food Allergies

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A mother’s main role is to protect her children. As the mother of children with food allergies, that role is even more important.

My kids are allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts. Trying to protect them is a never-ending battle.

There’s nothing scarier than taking your child somewhere only to find out that your child was fed “gluten-free” cake (my kids don’t have allergies to gluten) containing both milk and eggs. Thankfully the cake didn’t have peanuts, or we would’ve ended up at the hospital instead of at home with Benadryl and a nebulizer.

While food allergies are becoming more common and most people seem to understand, I still feel like wrapping them in cotton (thankfully their sensitive skin can handle cotton) and never letting them leave the house.

Living with food allergies isn’t easy. My kids will never be able to share foods with their friends, and sending them to school can be nerve-wracking. We’ve tried to make their lives as normal as possible at home, but it’s a scary world outside the home for a child with food allergies.

Learning to accommodate food allergies is a process. I’ve grown accustomed to reading labels and have learned what ingredients to look for (who would expect milk in tortilla chips?), but most people don’t understand food allergies unless they’ve experienced it firsthand.

Here is a list of tips to make dining out with food allergies easier (and if you decide to stay in, check out this amazing list of recipes and resources in the Food Allergy Freedom Super Bundle).

Check the menu ahead of time

When dining out, check the menu online first or call ahead. Most chain restaurants have an allergen menu posted online. They can also provide one in the restaurant, but I’ve found that it’s much easier to know the menu ahead of time.

If necessary, ask the host before sitting down. This saves time when ordering and helps to ward off blank stares when you ask your server if the chicken tenders have milk or egg in the batter.

Explain exactly what your child can and can’t eat

Very specifically, tell the server (and possibly the manager or chef) exactly what your child can eat and what he’s allergic to. I also love this “chef card” to give to your server.

Make sure that you fully explain that your child can’t eat any derivatives of the allergen, either. We’ve had servers check the label on hamburger buns to determine that they didn’t contain milk or any milk derivative like whey, only to have the cooks put butter on the bread when they placed it on the grill.

We learned this the hard way when my son’s face turned red and broke out in a rash around his mouth after eating a “safe” hamburger in a restaurant.

Beware of cross-contamination

When slicing your child’s hamburger, did the cooks use the same knife that they used on someone else’s cheeseburger?

Most people don’t even think of this. I’m constantly reminding others before feeding my kids that they can’t eat off the same plate or utensils, and never let the food touch.

Chain restaurants tend to have standardized preparation guidelines, so cross contamination is less of a risk.

Use special utensils

If you’re extremely brave and decide to attempt a buffet, make sure you use clean utensils to serve the food.

Many restaurants will have a container of clean spoons on the buffet, and I typically use one of those to serve. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen chocolate frosting on the fruit tongs, cheese on the chicken tongs, etc.

Make sure that you check the surrounding foods, too. If cheesy potatoes are above the chicken, chances are some of the potatoes have fallen into the chicken as people served them.

I try to stick to fresh fruit and raw vegetables at buffets, and I’ve even asked for food to be prepared separately to avoid all possibilities of cross-contamination.

Dining out doesn’t have to be scary with food allergies. Take a deep breath, arm yourself with information about the ingredients and preparation policies, and hit the town. Enjoy your meal!

Related Reading on Organized Motherhood:

5 Tips to Handle Parties When Your Child Has Food Allergies

17 Food Allergy Resources

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