Trying to eat out with allergies can be difficult to navigate. How many of these obstacles have you experienced or overcome?
(Callum enjoying dinner out for his 6th birthday at Pizza Express)
Following on from our hugely popular 14 things you’ll only know about as an allergy parent, and also the Allergy Awareness Week Bingo, I thought we should also take a look at eating out with allergies.
It’s not often a topic that’s discussed, unless something has gone terribly wrong such as the heartbreaking story of Amy May, or the conviction of Mohammad Zaman who caused a fatal allergic reaction to Paul Wilson, which resulted in a manslaughter charge.
And whilst these do much to sadly highlight the dangers of eating out with allergies, what happens on a day to day basis. What struggles are faced? And do people truly understand what it is like?
So, here are ’12 Things about eating out with allergies’:
You ask for a menu when they say they can cater for allergies, but instead you’re presented with a huge folder full of allergen information
It’s great that more places are attempting to cater for allergies, and I applaud them for it. But handing out a folder isn’t the same as offering a menu advising you of exactly what sort of meal you can expect. There are some wonderful places that have set the benchmark on how to do this successfully, so if you want some inspiration, check out our review of FFEOA18 for ideas!
There’s still a huge lack of awareness when it comes to cross-contamination
This is what most people dealing with allergies really struggle with, especially when it comes to trusting someone else! It only takes the smallest amount to cause a potentially huge reaction, so we need to know that people are on the ball and fully understand the implications when it comes to cross contamination!
Some restaurant staff have clearly had good training, others have no knowledge and leave you feeling very uneasy
It really is like chalk and cheese when eating out. Some places are amazing, and are completely on board with ensuring their staff are fully trained up and can confidently speak about which dishes are safe. Others seem to have their heads buried, hoping they’ll never be asked and looking like bunnies in headlights when the inevitable happens.
It’s hard not to be made to feel as if you’re an inconvenience due to food allergies
When dealing with allergies, you often feel as you’re a burden, and it’s a hard emotional aspect that not many people realise. The constant questioning, or having to bring food with you so you know it’s safe makes you stand out from the crowd, and not always in a good way.
Blanket ‘may contains’ means that foods that should be safe become a cause for concern and the reality is you can’t risk it just in case.
This is a real bug bear of many! Most foods with a ‘may contain’ are probably safe and ok for you to eat, but once you see that labelling, it becomes a risk and you just don’t want to put yourself in that potentially vulnerable position. Eating with allergies can seem like you’re dealing with Russian roulette, and this certainly doesn’t help!
Even though the new legislation on food labelling came into effect in December 2014, there are still a number of places that are unable to offer or provide allergen advice.
This follows on with what I mentioned a few points up, where places are reluctant to provide any real allergen information. It’s crucial for those with allergies to know what is in the food they are about to consume so that they can keep themselves safe! It’s impossible to do this if you don’t know the ingredients, or trust what is in the food!
Going out to eat becomes rare for a number of people as it just feels too hard to overcome the barriers
It’s not so much the eating out, it’s the all encompassing burden, guilt at making things harder for others, reducing the choice of where to eat out, having to ask a million questions, being scared to trust, worrying about a reaction when out….. so much more than many realise!
Given reassurance that something is safe, only to later realise that it isn’t once a reaction has started
Out of everything, this is the hardest situation to be in. You’ve gone through absolutely everything, sought reassurance as much as possible, put your trust in someone else, enjoyed your meal and had a good time out. Then it all goes to pot and the reaction starts, and the fallout from it begins. If it’s anything like little dude, not only is there the reaction to deal with, it also causes issues with eczema, results in broken sleep for days, mood changes, mistrust in food again….. and so the cycle continues.
Picking out a meal from a menu after being advised at the beginning that everything is adaptable, only to be told that actually, they can’t make it safe after all
There is nothing worse than looking forward to a meal, to then be told that you can’t have it. Just imagine, limited choice anyway, get used to the idea of something, and then ‘oh nope, sorry…’ Yeah, that….
Lack of allergy safe food for children, and no children’s free from or allergy safe menu
I’m sure many allergy parents will agree that a child specific allergy menu is pretty much like rocking horse poo – they don’t exist, or at least ridiculously rarely! So, here’s my challenge to all of the restaurants out there, who’s going to be the first to create a child specific allergy safe menu and shout it from the roof tops! Even better, tell me about it, and I’ll come test it out with Callum and then let everyone know how good it is (I’m assuming it will be fab…!)
Offering gluten free/ dairy free and not actually understanding what it truly means, and the implications involved
The biggest one I hear constantly from exasperated parents is the ‘you can’t have egg though, you said you can’t have dairy’ which is always an interesting one because I’ve never seen a cow lay an egg, have you?!
It’s one thing to claim you can do gluten/dairy, in fact anything free, but you need to actually be able to deliver on this otherwise you get hopes up, and then dash them just as quickly! If you get it wrong, then the results can be dangerous!
Actually offering free from desserts
The ‘only’ thing I can say here…. Fruit is NOT a pudding!!!
So there you have it, my ’12 Things about eating out with allergies’
Would you agree? Have I missed anything?!