I have lived with food allergies, such as sesame seeds & nuts (i.e. peanuts & tree nuts), my entire life and it has taken me many years to gain the confidence to eat out. Although I choose safe meals, I still find myself fearing possible hidden allergens, not trusting the waitress to ask the chefs about my allergies and not trusting the kitchen to check ingredients.
But I love trying new foods and going to new places, so cutting the category of “dining out” from my life has never been an option.
There are so many different types and severities of food allergies, and I believe each person’s case is unique and should be treated as such. No matter the situation, friends, family, strangers, restaurant staff and even people sitting next to you on the plane should take food allergies seriously.
Consuming, touching, or even smelling some allergens can lead to hives, trouble breathing and even anaphylaxis, a life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical treatment.
So here are 7 tips that have helped me be more confident when dining out. Even if you don’t have food allergies, it’s worthwhile to read and do research on allergies and reactions so that you can better understand friends or family members that do.
Look ahead at the restaurant menu.
Most restaurants have a website with their menu listed. Take some time before you go out, or when you are picking somewhere new, to glance over possible options that would suit you. I feel less pressure to pick if I already have an idea of what I can order.
Don’t be afraid to ask and talk about your allergies.
Giving your order to a waitress/waiter can be nerve-racking. You’ve just met this person, yet you need confidence that they will help keep you safe.
Do not hesitate to ask the server to write down your specific allergies for the kitchen to know. If you do work in a restaurant and are told this by someone, please check, because it means a whole lot to them.
Do your research on ethnic food.
Through my own personal research, I have found out that many Asian cuisines, from Japanese and Chinese to Thai and Korean, consistently use allergens in their food, even if they are not listed on the menu. These include peanuts, fish/fish oil and shellfish, soy, sesame/sesame oil and eggs.
Also, many creamy sauces in Indian food, indicated by malai on the menu, may be thickened with a cashew or almond paste. Mexican sauces known as mole, and Italian pesto sauces usually contain nuts. Depending on your allergy, whether it is to a certain spice or seed, it may be worth taking the time to research or ask an expect for possible food dangers before feasting your taste buds on new types of grub.
Don’t be afraid to play it safe.
If all of your friends are getting elaborate meals, do not feel pressured to order something if you are not 100% comfortable with the ingredients. If that means you need to stick to soup and a salad, so be it. You do you.
Ask for substitutes, dressings/sauces on the side, or exclusions of ingredients.
There are so many hidden allergens in this world. I avoid foods with breadcrumbs because of sesame seeds, things fried in peanut oil, and salads/dressings/sauces that could have mysterious nuts or oils mixed in.
If I don’t think it will cause too much trouble, it eases my mind to ask for food items excluded (like nuts from a salad or asking for different bread for a burger).
Remember that you are not alone.
Have an open conversation with your friends and family before going out to eat. You may feel at ease after talking about your concerns, as well as feel that you can go into a restaurant squad deep. And just think, according to FARE, there are 15 million people out there in the world that have some type of food allergy, so you are not alone.
Enjoy being out and try not to focus on food.
When I was younger, there were times that I was so paranoid about my allergies that I became anxious and disengaged, so my advice is to try to focus on your company and relax.
Always carry emergency medicine, teach your friends/ family how to use an Epipen and don’t forget that help is just a phone call away. If you still do not feel comfortable after the food comes, then get it wrapped up, give it to your roommate at home, and go get some pizza.
My lasting tips are to always love food even though your body may hate some specific ones. And remember, you do you.