Food allergies can be limiting in many respects, but having one doesn’t mean you have to give up living either. Obviously, dining with food allergies at home is a bit easier because you have ultimate control of your food prep and the ingredients used. Outside of the home, things get a bit more complicated. But, whether it’s gluten or eggs, you can still travel, be social, and even dine out, even with your dietary restrictions.  All it takes is a little extra work, but the benefits outweigh the work you may need to put in. Read on for some tips on how to dine outside of the home, the allergy-friendly way.

1. Do Your Research

This is probably the most obvious tip, but doing online research before dining out will save you a lot of time later. Look to see if allergen statements exist on menus, check out posted ingredients, and find places that have special menus you might be able to dine from. AllergyEats is a great resource if you’re just getting started on this quest.

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2. When Dining Out, Always Make Your Allergies Known and Ask Questions

This is a must. Communicate with your server and/or the chef to let them know of your allergies. Just because something on the menu is marked as gluten-free does not mean that the server or chef will triple check to help avoid cross-contamination. If you make your allergy clear, the establishment will usually take extra precautions. Also, it’s important to ask questions about ingredients.

Consider this tip from My Family Travels: “My son is allergic to peanuts, so instead of asking, for instance, if French fries are cooked in peanut oil, which results in a yes or no answer, I ask what kind of oil is used in the fryer. By keeping my questions open-ended, the server is forced to ask the chef about any unknowns – as opposed to possibly guessing – and I feel more comfortable making decisions based on those answers.”

3. When Traveling, Snacks Are Your Friend

Put simply, you’re simply not always going to find restaurants that can and will make you feel comfortable about their allergen cross-contamination procedures, and so as to avoid problems, sometimes it’s a good idea to just keep snacks on hand when traveling. Better to have your allergy-friendly food on hand while out and about then to have to stay hungry. If you’re in a social situation and the restaurant of choice doesn’t work for you, you can leave as a group, or, find something yummy to drink and then nosh on a snack after leaving. Yes, it’s tough, but it’s what we have to do sometimes!

4. Steer Clear of the Buffet

This probably goes without saying, but buffets are hotspots for cross contamination. Utensils get mixed, and all of a sudden that peanut-free pasta has peanut traces. You just never know what happened right before you get to that buffet, so it’s best to steer clear, even from the salad!

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5. Praise the Good

Many restaurants are making big steps to help out food allergy-prone people all over the country. But many restaurants are still lacking in their knowledge and capability to cater to those who have sensitivities or all-out allergies to certain ingredients. If a restaurant does a great job catering to your particular allergy, be sure to make sure it’s known so they understand how important it is to cater to those with allergies. Positive  reinforcement goes a long way, especially in the land of customer service. Write online reviews. Tell the manager. Whatever you need to do to make sure they know that you’re a satisfied customer. This will lead to future good experiences and a more allergy-friendly dining experience and world for all of us!

Having a food allergy doesn’t mean you cannot travel or dine out. You just need to take the proper steps to make sure you can dine out and still stay healthy. What are your favorite tips for dining out with food allergies? Let us know!

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Image source: Christopher/Flickr

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