There I was again, reeling off the list of foods which my son, Julian, had to avoid because of his allergies to peanuts, nuts, shellfish, chick peas, split peas and soy. He was 6 years old at the time and we were dining at a restaurant, one of many during a week-long vacation in Florida. As the waiter strode back and forth to the kitchen, double-checking ingredients, Julian’s disappointment rose as his menu choices were ruled out. Fed up with this scene, I struggled to maintain composure.
My “oh woe is me” voice kicked in: “What a pain this is to deal with. Why does he have so many food allergies? And, why am I always the one asking about his food?” It was the last question that really hit home. I realized that, similar to reading ingredient labels, Julian had to learn how to ask questions himself about restaurant meals.
Kids learn best when you involve them, so my husband and I encouraged Julian to ask basic questions – “Are there peanuts in this?” We graduated to the more complicated questions as he matured: “Do you use the same grill to cook shellfish and steak?” “Do you make the French fries in the same fryer used for foods such as deep-fried shrimp?”’
We found that by taking precautionary steps, we could go to restaurants together safely. Following are the main points we found helpful when dining out with a food-allergic child:
Plan ahead. When possible, call the restaurant at a time that is convenient to speak to the chef or manager. They can point you to the safe meals on the menu. (Stick with simple items with fewer ingredients and fewer coatings, sauces and dips.) Try to dine at off-peak hours as staff will have more time (and patience) to check on menu items. The highlight of the meal – the dessert tray – will be off-limits for most food-allergic children. So to avoid disappointment, let your child take a special dessert or treat to the restaurant so he feels included.
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