Monday, February 11, 2008

Restaurant Roulette

I have to admit, restaurants were not foremost on my mind at my daughter's first allergy doctor appointment. My oldest daughter was only four and my youngest was a year old. Our family was not exactly "restaurant-friendly" on a regular basis at that point. For one thing, neither kid wanted to sit down and eat for more than a few minutes and the baby hated all the excess "stim" created by a noisy restaurant (the only kind we would venture in with little ones).

With the many concerns I had at that time, many of which didn't even hit me until later, I didn't focus too much on eating out.

That came later. Oh, boy, did it ever. Once you have a family member with a food allergy, going out to eat is no longer a spontaneous, carefree activity. It takes on a certain intensity. You've got to arm yourself with lots of questions as well as epinephrine. Because you never really know what goes on in a restaurant kitchen, sometimes dining out with food allergies feels like you're playing Restaurant Roulette.

As a "nut-free mom" I naturally avoid anything Asian when dining with my daughter. Unfortunately, I love Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine. So that kind of stuff is reserved for nights out with my husband. But once you've jumped that particular dining hurdle, you have a whole slew of other problems from "American" restaurants.

For example, why is it necessary make a fish filet "nut-encrusted?" Even McDonald's, once a relative haven for our nut-allergic daughter, has introduced nuts into a bunch of their menu items, mostly salads. These are usually packaged off-site, so the risk of cross-contamination is low, but still. And of course, peanut butter shows up everywhere in just about any venue. It doesn't look like that will be changing any time soon.

Lately, I have found many places to have more progressive "no cross-contamination" policies, so that's encouraging. And the biggest advice I can give regarding restaurants is the old adage "Never assume." Always ask them about how they handle food allergies. It's not a bad idea to phone first. Sometimes they even like a day's notice in order to get the kitchen "allergy friendly." Ask your doctor for specific foods that will be the most "low risk" with regard to your child's allergy. (I did and I felt a lot better.)

Most importantly, kids with allergies should still be able to view eating in restaurants as a fun, sociable activity. I've found avoiding them to add to my daughter's stress when we finally do eat out. The more success we have in a restaurant, the better she feels.

For kids with multiple food allergies, it's naturally a little trickier. I'd love to hear how parents handle that challenge.

1 comment:

Kasey said...

Jenny -

I came across your blog. I'm a college student who suffers from food allergies (peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, and fish), and I simply ask the waiter to double-check about nuts before placing my order. Usually by simply letting them know, "Hey, I'm highly allergic to this," they'll notify the chef and that helps reduce cross-contamination, and the chef will sometimes even come out and talk to you to outline what you can and cannot eat. Even at Coldstone's, for example, the ice cream scoopers will get fresh stones and spoons for me to prevent cross-contamination. Being vocal is key! I've only had problems a handful of times, and have been able to notify the manager without much of a fuss. If I'm out to eat with friends, I'll sometimes get them to taste my food before I do to make sure that there aren't any nuts if I forget to mention my nut allergy - tasting your daughter's food might not be a bad idea!

Good luck!