Dining out has become an important part of daily life for many busy families. When you have a child with food allergies, dining out can become difficult and even scary. However, with enough preparation and an emergency action plan, children with food allergies can dine out safely.
Follow these five steps for dining out with food allergies:
Step 1: Know what to avoid
Make sure you understand what foods your child needs to avoid. There are many different names for food allergens. You need to know all of the names so there is no question if your child can safely eat a food. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) lists the names of the top 8 most common food allergens.
Step 2: Be prepared!
Make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency. Ask your doctor to help you create an emergency action plan for your child. If your child is prescribed emergency epinephrine, make sure you have it with you and be prepared to use it if needed.
Step 3: Choose the restaurant
Many chain restaurants have menus and ingredient information online. Check out the menu before you go and make a list of foods that may be safe for your child. If the restaurant does not have ingredient information online, call the restaurant before you go. Ask to speak with the manager or chef. Ask if they are able to accommodate your child’s food allergies. Avoid high risk situations, like buffets, bakeries, pot lucks, picnics and restaurants that serve pre-made food.
Step 4: At the restaurant
Ask to speak to the manager or chef. Tell them about your child’s food allergies. Hand them a food allergy restaurant card to take back to the kitchen. This is a card that includes your child’s name, what they are allergic to, an emergency contact, and a warning about cross contamination. Try keeping your order simple — ask for baked chicken, steamed broccoli, and a plain baked potato. Avoid fried foods and foods prepared on the grill — the frying oil and grill are areas that are high risk for cross contamination!
Step 5: After your visit
Be sure to thank the staff! Building a good relationship with the restaurant will motivate them to help keep your child safe at the next visit. Keep a list of safe restaurants for easy reference in the future. Remember to update your list often because ingredients can change and always ask the right questions at the restaurant.
By following these steps, children with food allergies can find safe foods to eat while dining out.
- Cassandra Sova, MS, RD, CD, CNSC, clinical dietitian specialist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Dietitians at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin provide a broad range of medical nutrition therapies and nutrition education for specific medical conditions.