7 Tips for Eating Out with Kids with Food Allergies

Eating out with young children can be stressful.  Add in food allergies and it can be down right anxiety-provoking!  Sometimes it can be quite a Kidatdinnertablechallenge to find a safe place to eat, especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies.

Eating at restaraunts and other establishments is a big part of our culture and not participating in social acitivities that involve food can feel very isolating.  So how can you and your family minimize the risk of an allergic reaction while still enjoying the opportunity to dine out once in a while?

Here are my top 7 tips for eating out with the kids:

1) Do your research before you go.

Search online to find restaurants that are allergy-friendly. There are websites dedicated to making your search a little easier.  I particularly like www.AllergyEats.com. They have a great mobile app that comes in handy when traveling. Always take a look at the menu before heading out.  It saves you the hassle of getting to a restaurant only to learn that there is nothing on the menu for you to eat.

I always look for menus with simple dishes. I love when a restaurant has a kids’ menu because those dishes are pretty simple fare.  To limit the risk of cross-contact, avoid eating at places that use your particular allergens in a large number of their dishes. You will also want to avoid buffet-style restaurants and self-service food areas that are prone to cross-contact between foods, such as salad bars.

2) Call ahead.

Assuming the restaurant has some allergy-friendly dishes for you to choose, give them a ring to make sure they are accustomed to dealing with food allergies.  Again, you don’t want to arrive at the restaurant and find that everyone is clueless about how to safely handle food allergens and minimize cross-contact.

3) Always carry your epinephrine, other allergy medications, and your emergency plan.

This goes without saying. If you arrive at the restaurant without your allergy emergency kit, make the trip back to get it.  If you have multiple children with allergies, make sure you have enough meds for each child.  I have had two children have an anaphylactic reaction to the same food.  You have to be prepared.

4) Make sure your table is clean.

Before you are seated, you can inform your host of your food allergies and ask that the table be cleaned, if you think it is necessary.  You can also travel with your own wipes and wipe things down, as well.  If you are not comfortable with the cleanliness of your surroundings, don’t be afraid to ask to have your area cleaned or to be re-seated.

High chairs and booster seats are potential source of cross-contact.  When my children were younger we traveled with our own booster seats and disposable placemats.

You also want to avoid using the salt and pepper shakers and condiment jars on the table.  They are another potential source for cross-contact. My kids have a mustard, egg,  and sesame allergy so we rarely use condiments, but if you do.  Ask for fresh bottles or have your server bring you “to-go” packets of condiments, salt, and pepper.

5) Inform your server of your food allergies.

Always tell your server about your food allergies and ask to see their allergy menu, if they have one.  If you can speak directly with the chef, that’s great, too.  Never assume a food is safe to eat without checking on the ingredients, even if you have had the same dish before.  Make sure they understand that you or your child cannot eat food containing your allergens or that may have come into contact with your allergens.

You might consider carrying allergy cards to give to your server.  This way, they have your allergens in writing.  The more ways you can communicate, the better.  If you feel like your server isn’t understanding your completely or you don’t feel like they can handle your food allergy requests, do not be afraid to leave.  I have left restaurants that I did not think could accomodate our food allergies.

6) Order simple foods.

It easier to avoid “hidden” allergens by ordering simple foods with the least amount of ingredients possible or foods that don’t typically have your allergen as an ingredient. The safest meal choices are whole foods such a  simply-prepared protein, vegetables, and fruits.  I eat alot of chicken breasts and veggies when I eat out.  You also want to be careful about eating deep-fried items that may have come into contact with your allergens.  Again, always ask your server about the safety of each dish.

7) Double check your order before eating.

Mistakes do happen.  Even though you think you may have communicated clearly, sometimes things slip through the cracks and people make mistakes.  First, when the server brings your dish, verify that it was prepared without your allergens.  Secondly, always look at your food to make sure it does not contain any obvious allergens.  I have had food prepared incorrectly on numerous occassions.

If you implement these 7 tips you will greatly reduce the risk of having an allergic reaction and be able to enjoy dinner away from home.  Remember you can live life to the fullest with food allergies, it just takes a little extra planning.

Be sure to pass these tips onto your children, as well.  Even small children can practice telling servers what their food allergies are.  It is a great way to teach them how to be empowered self-advocates.

I would love to hear your tips on how to stay safe while enjoying eating out. Please leave a comment below.


Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice.  Please seek the advice of your physician regarding any diagnosis or treatment. Any implementation of the information contained herein is at the reader’s discretion. The author and publisher disclaim any liability for any adverse effects resulting directly or indirectly from information contained on this site.

About Tiffany deSilva

Tiffany deSilva, MSW, CPC, is the Founder of Fantastically Free, a Make Difference Divsion of BrightFire Network, LLC. Tiffany is on a mission to help children, families, and adults live safe, healthy, and happy lives despite food allergies.

Feedback & Comments:

  1. Thanks Tiffany for fantastic ideas and reminders. I came across your website only recently but I’m already in love with everything I read so far. My daughter always suffered from multiple food allergies and it was always difficult to cope but we tried to live as a normal life as possible and we went out to restaurants. I think it was instincts that made me do all the necessary checks as you suggested in your 7 steps above. It is very important to make sure that your child is safe even the times when my husband thought I was going a bit too far with my questionings and cleanliness, but that is what you have to do.
    Like you, we stuck to simple dishes like steak, roast, chicken, fish, vegetables – always asking for it to be plated without any sauce, gravy or salsa. Recently, a number of Italian restaurants are offering gluten free pasta and pizza dishes and we still do the same thing, ask for the simple toppings or sauces making sure it does not contain eggs, cream, dairy, etc.
    I must admit that I found that in most places, where the staff can understand your concerns, they are willing to help. In a couple of occasions, the ignorance was shocking. At one time my daughter was offered the pasta dish according to what we asked but they added nuts as a garnish, then the waitress offered to take them off when we asked her to take it back. How shocking was their lack of understanding the dangers of allergies and cross contamination!
    My daughter is highly allergic to all nuts and tree nuts, eggs, dairy, soya, wheat, sesame, almonds and coconut and it can be difficult because I have to do everything from scratch. She is now 15 and, contrary to the common belief, things are much more difficult because she’s going out with friends to all the “trendy” places teenagers like to go to but she can’t join in the “fun” of having the freedom of choice. She can’t even have popcorn at the cinema because its cooked in coconut fat! It can be difficult for teenagers as well because they have to educate their friends.
    Keep the good work in raising awareness and thank you for such wonderful articles. Looking forward to the next useful read.

    • Thank you very much for the feedback, Mary! It sounds like you are doing all of the right things when it comes to eating out. It is scary sometimes how little servers know about food allergies and cross-contact! There is a definite need for education and training in this area. My 3 girls haven’t hit their teen years yet, but I agree that it becomes more difficult as our kids get older because they have to gain their own independence and take on more responsibility in managing their own allergies. It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job of empowering your daughter to do these things!

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