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Tips for Dining Out (And Free Allergy Cards)

Updated: Jul 7, 2018

Dining out can be an especially significant challenge, as options are limited and the risks are high. Here are a few precautions to understand.

If there's one thing we miss, it would be the ability to dine out freely. When it comes to food allergies, there are definitely risks involved in any instance when someone else is preparing your food. But there ARE ways to make it work.

Assess the establishment's capability to accommodate you / your child's allergies. Not every establishment is set up to do so, nor do they fully understand the risk. Get a sense if they are willing to accommodate dietary needs, if they seem familiar with the risks of cross-contamination, and if they have separate areas that they could prepare your food. Be specific in asking about whether the cooking surfaces come in contact with any allergens to which you may have particularly severe allergies.

Speak with the manager or the chef directly, if possible. Accurate information is critical when it comes to communicating about your allergies. Sometimes, a competent, attentive waiter / waitress is fine as well. Just know that you are trusting them to pass along key information, and if you get any sense that any of it may be lost in translation, kindly ask if you can speak to the chef.

Carry an allergy card. This is something that you can give directly to the chef, so that they don't have to worry about writing everything down and making sure they captured everything. We always suggest speaking live with them first to explain your needs, understand the risks you might be taking on at dining at their location, and walking them through the accommodations you'd like them to help make. The allergy card is meant to serve as a cheat sheet reminder, not as a substitution for clear, live communication. You can download a free version from our site here.

Our allergy card sample. Download our free template from our site

Ensure all eating surfaces are clean. This is important for young children with severe allergies, especially if they are sensitive to contact. Restaurants usually re-use a dish towel that has been used across multiple tables and come into contact with all sorts of food. We recommend carrying your own disposable wipes, to ensure that you are always using a clean wipe and that the surface gets disinfected. Of all the wipes we have tried, Clorox Wipes have been the most effective (significantly more so than Wet Ones, Kleenex, or Purell). We usually wipe all relevant surfaces with Clorox Wipes, and then with natural water-based wipes to remove the chemicals.

Another great option for little children are Table Toppers, which are disposable placemats that stick to the table. They are also removable, so they don't leave any marks. This adds an extra layer of protection, since it's difficult to make sure the table surface is truly clean, and you don't have to worry if they accidentally drop some of their food on the table.

Table Topper disposable placemats are a great option for little ones with food allergies

Bring backup food in case safe food options are not available...or just bring safe food for your child's full meal. As much as you can try to call ahead or speak with the management, sometimes, you will still find yourselves making a judgment call that it isn't safe to take the risk. For adults, it would be helpful to just pass on the food and wait to eat something safe afterwards. However, this can be difficult for young children who don't have the capacity to wait. We recommend carrying safe snacks with you, or just bringing safe food separately for your child altogether. In fact, most of them time, our dining out consists of us ordering food for ourselves but our child eating the food we brought, as we don't take the risk very often unless it's one of our go-to establishments.

One of the products we use to do this are the Thermos Foogo food jar, primarily because it keeps food warm, so our child can also still have a delicious hot meal.

This food jar is insulated, so it can keep food hot or cold. We use it with us almost every time we dine out, to bring safe food for our child with food allergies..

We also love the Sugar Booger silverware sets for kids, not only for the quality of the utensils, but also for the carrying case that it comes in. It ensures that the eating utensils are kept clean and away from touching anything else that may be in our bags, and it also keeps the mess contained after the fact. That being said, individually wrapped disposable forks and spoons also do the trick.

We like these since the carrying case for these utensils help ensure they are kept clean.

Finally, always make sure you have your emergency meds with you. No matter what, you should always be prepared in the case any allergic reaction should occur. Always make sure to have your epinephrine autoinjectors, Benadryl, hydrocortisone, and asthma inhalers if necessary.

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