Eating In Restaurants With Food Allergies

Eating Out is More Frightening than Fun

by: Alex Thom
Eating out is scary when food allergies are involved.

Remember my family's epic road trip last summer, and my continual fears about my son's food allergies while eating on the road? Well, this year we chose to fly to Newfoundland to visit my parents, but it sure doesn't feel like I'm worrying any less.

In December, my son's allergist tsk-tsked me about how lax I was regarding the foods we let Mason eat. Often, I had allowed him to eat "may contain peanuts or tree nuts" foods, and sometimes we even let him have donuts or baked goods at chain places like Tim Hortons. She was shocked and warned me to never, ever take risks like those again, so my worry levels have increased exponentially since then.

We've been doing a lot of day tripping around my parents' part of this beautiful island, but that means we're visiting a lot of very out-of-the-way places, and small family-owned business where people aren't always up on the latest allergy news. It's been a real challenge to feed Mason some days. Here are some of the challenges we've come across:

 Restaurants don't always want to admit that their chicken fingers come frozen in a box. So it takes some pressure to find out, then inquire about the contents and if there are any warnings on the package.

 Deep fried Snickers bars aren't deadly just for reasons you may think. One restaurant we ate in assured us their deep fried products were all house-made and safe, but my husband thought to ask if any nut products were deep fried there, and sure enough, they serve deep fried Snickers as a dessert optionthose contain peanuts, so pretty much everything on their menu was ruled out for Mason.

 Cross-contamination is so, so, so hard to guard against when there are nuts in establishments, and I find it nearly impossible to put trust in a stranger to make sure this doesn't happen.

 Bread products are often made together with dessert items that contain nuts, which seriously limits ease of finding food on the road.

 If a nut product has been at a table that hasn't been sanitized, what then? Seriously, this is a constant worry for me.

 It is almost impossible to explain to a person who doesn't deal with allergies why a Popsicle is a threat. And hey, who knew they were, anyhow? Turns out, they're processed in a facility that also processes nut products, so cross-contamination is a threat. You have to read absolutely every single thing, always.

We carry a lot of snacks with us, and try to time our day trips well so we're not eating out all the time, but there are times when a full meal is required and we're far from home, so it's just another worry we get used to handling. That said, it's a whole other challenge explaining the seriousness of it, and all the details about caregiving for an allergic kid to those around us. Even my parents don't really understand, which makes it impossible to leave Mason with them for, say, an overnight date for just my husband and me.

This whole allergy stuff just sucks. 

On a more positive note, a server in a restaurant we ate in told me that she was once severely allergic to peanuts, too, but at 13 years of age she outgrew the allergy and is now totally fine. I'm holding onto her experience in the hopes that Mason outgrows the allergy, too.

Read this article to find out what it's like to parent a child with food allergies.

Want to help people with food allergies? Stop lying about them!