There’s no doubt that it’s easier to identify if a dish in a restaurant has the more common allergens in it – those that are legally required to be declared. But how do you manage allergies outside of those when you’re going out for food?
I know that some consider dining out to be too high risk. As a family with a child avoiding tree nuts and legumes, we like to eat out from time to time, as long as we’ve followed our rules!
Here are my 10 tips for a safer and easier experience:
1. Get a recommendation: find out which restaurants are praised for accommodating allergies. You can look up a restaurant and search its TripAdvisor reviews for “allergy” to see what others have said, or search Facebook groups for recommendations.
2. Be confident in your own assessment of risk. For example, we consider Chinese and Indian restaurants too risky because dishes contain many nuts and legumes, and the risk of cross contamination is too high.
3. Know when it’s a no-go zone. If a restaurant has a sign at the door saying something facetious about allergies, or the menu says they can’t stop cross contamination- avoid. We’ll never set foot in a Five Guys.
4. Check the menu before you go! Lots of restaurants now have their allergy menus online. Remember this won’t necessarily list all ingredients, only the top 14 allergens, so you’ll have to:
5. Ask to see the ingredients list of the product you want to order. I usually explain that because we are also allergic to legumes which aren’t on the list, I need to see the full list. We’ve had mostly good experiences with this.
6. Don’t be afraid to leave if they don’t get it or won’t help – or if you just get a bad feeling. We’re always polite but we don’t lower our standards if someone can’t help us to keep our son safe.
7. Have a back up. I’ve wandered around a town for a café option before and got stressed as there was nothing suitable. My child, then 4 years old, taught me to chill out: “Mummy let’s just grab a sandwich from Tesco and sit in the park.” And that was OK, too.
8. Have courage in your convictions! By asking the right questions you’re helping normalise this for others with allergies. I’m always reminding myself my son is watching me and when he’s older he’ll have to do this himself. I don’t want him to feel ‘high maintenance’ for it, so I shouldn’t feel that way either.
9. Be patient! It’s difficult repeating yourself and it may all seem obvious to you, but whilst training is given on Top 14 allergens, it’s less likely to happen for the less common allergens we face. I wish everyone knew that gram flour comes from chickpeas, but I can’t genuinely expect that from the general public! Most people are trying to help and give good service.
10. Rest assured that things are slowly changing. Natasha’s Law means that from summer 2021 all food pre-packed for sale needs to have all ingredients listed – absolutely a step in the right direction.