When you become a parent of a child with food allergies, restaurant dining often feels like tiptoeing through a minefield. The potential dangers are usually invisible and you are relying on the vigilance of others to keep your child safe.
Still, we want our children to be able to enjoy the typical and “normal” parts of everyday life, so we venture out to restaurants as nerve-wracking as those experiences may be.
So where do you start?
Find A Restaurant
Usually, by process of elimination. Make it easy on yourself and avoid places that are cross-contamination nightmares for your child’s allergens. Places like Chinese restaurants, seafood restaurants, ice cream parlors, bakeries and buffets should be considered above-average for risk of exposure to the “big eight” food allergens and to cross-contamination in general.
Next, think of the types of foods your child can eat, keeping in mind that simple foods are usually best. A nicely grilled steak and plain baked potato can often be easily prepared without cross-contamination. Some upscale steak houses are extremely accommodating with special dietary needs, although they seem to frown upon my son using the front of his shirt as a napkin and his sleeve as a Kleenex.
Once you’ve identified a restaurant with potential, call them during non-peak dining hours (Fridays and Saturday afternoons are generally super-busy. Try an off, weeknight). Ask to speak with the manager or a chef and find out if they can prepare a safe meal for your child. Some parents prefer to “try out” the restaurant without the children to get a feel for their ability to accommodate. If you get the feeling that they are unwilling, unable or just don’t “get it,” move on.
Some of the chain restaurants, such as Outback Steakhouse, have online menus. If you find something that your child would enjoy, ask the chef exactly how it is prepared. If the chef seems willing and able to prepare a safe meal, make a reservation for a non-peak time.
In the meantime, you may want to prepare a chef’s card that specifically lists your child’s allergies. This adds as an additional reminder, particularly if you are dealing with multiple allergies.