Saturday, September 19, 2015

Branching Out by Dining Out with Food Allergies

For over 10 years I have kept my son in a protective food bubble as he is allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts, and he avoids gluten, soy, and artificial colors.  He eats only food that I have made or that I have preapproved.  But he is getting older, and his social life is about to blossom.  I need to begin to pass the torch of responsibility on to him. 

He knows to check food labels, be diligent, etc to stay safe.  He still checks with me before eating anything questionable.  He brings home bags of candy from school to trade for safe candy that I keep on hand.  He knows the drill.  He gets it. 

Two years ago we went on vacation to Disney World.  I had read that they are the gold standard for allergy dining.  I held my breath and watched closely as he ate every bite of his first ever restaurant prepared meal.  He survived.  We went back to Disney again this summer, and I felt more confident allowing him to eat the restaurant food as we had had a great experience on our previous trip.  In fact, when he talks about Disney World, he talks about getting to eat restaurant food.  That was his magic. 

We also made a trip to St. Louis this summer where we ate at the Old Spaghetti Factory.  I noticed they had a gluten free menu, so I asked to speak to the manager about whether or not they could prepare a safe meal for Bubs.  We discussed not only the ingredients of the food, but also how the food was prepared.  I felt satisfied with their answers, and he got to eat yet another restaurant prepared meal.  My confidence was growing.

A couple of weeks ago, our family was planning to eat out at a shopping plaza with lots of restaurants.  I did my research ahead of time and found a restaurant that served gluten-free pasta.  I called a few days before we planned to go to find out about marinara ingredients, food prep, etc.  While the ingredients were all safe for Bubs, I did not feel comfortable in their level of knowledge to keep the marinara free of cross-contamination of cheese.  The noodles are prepared in a dedicated area, so we decided to allow Bubs to eat the noodles from the restaurant, but we would bring marinara from home.  It worked out well, and he was ecstatic.

The hubs and I have a favorite pizza joint we like to meet at for lunch on occasion, and at our latest visit I noticed they are now offering gluten-free pasta.  The owner happened to be sitting in a booth behind us, so I struck up a conversation about food prep, ingredients, and cross-contamination.  I felt positive in their ability to prepare a safe meal for Bubs.  And a safe meal he had!  Hooray!  A local restaurant that can provide safe food!

Now that more restaurants are becoming aware of food allergies and how to prepare food safely, and as my confidence and willingness to try new things grows, Bubs is able to have "normal" experiences such as dining out.  This will be so important as he grows into being a teenager.  Teaching him to to ask the right questions, knowing which restaurants he can trust, and knowing how to advocate for himself will be invaluable.