4 Tips for Handling Food Allergies While Dining Out and at Parties

posted: 09/01/15
by: Katie Morton
Little Girl Eating Ice Cream

Fifteen million Americans suffer from food allergies; every three minutes, an allergic reaction to a particular food sends someone to the emergency room. In its most severe form, a food allergy can cause anaphylaxis, a drop in blood pressure and narrowing of the airways that can cause death. For any parent of a child with food allergies, this is a terrifying prospect.

Having food allergies used to mean severely limited options for dining out. With the increasing prevalence of food allergies, more people are becoming educated. As a result, more schools and restaurants are willing to accommodate special dietary needs, for example, in keeping school lunches nut-free or in listing common food allergen ingredients on menus.

Doctors caution, however, that you can't completely let your guard down. What steps can you take to keep a child with food allergies safe at restaurants or parties?

1. Prepare Ahead When Dining Out

Many restaurants now provide their menus online, and some chain restaurants also provide a list of allergens in the food they serve. Call the restaurant during a slow time and speak to the manager or chef about whether specific dishes contain the allergens that affect your child.

If your child has a life-threatening food allergy, don't stop there--keep cross-contact in mind during your conversation. Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) suggests asking if staff are trained on food allergies, and whether the restaurant has separate cutting boards and utensils to prepare meals for those with allergies. Make a reservation and request that the host give your server a heads-up about your kid's specific allergy.

2. BYOFood to Parties

If your child is going to a birthday party, again, it's best to pick up the phone. Politely describe the extent of your child's food allergies, and offer to provide an allergy-safe dish that your child can enjoy and also share with other guests.

It's increasingly common to bring a "safe" dessert when attending birthday parties, especially in the case of nut allergies, since most bakery items (such as birthday cake) aren't safe due to cross-contact.

3. Remind the Host Upon Arrival

When you get to the restaurant or party, remind the restaurant or party host about your child's allergies. At a party, look at labels on any packaged ingredients before giving the go-ahead to consume, or you can have your child to stick to your own allergy-safe dish.

If you're at a restaurant, ask the manager to put an allergy alert on your child's meal to ensure safe preparation. This means that the kitchen will double-check ingredients, and often take extra steps like using dedicated cookware and utensils. FARE's Food Allergy Alert Chef Card is an excellent resource to share with the kitchen. Print it out, fill it out, laminate it, and have it with you whenever you dine out with your child. Ask your server to share it with those preparing the meal.

4. Pack Meds

Even with the utmost vigilance, accidents do happen with food allergies. Always carry emergency medication for your child. Learn how to recognize an allergic reaction, and know how and when to use medicine to save your child's life.

With some simple planning and by asking the right questions, enjoying a social meal when your child has food allergies doesn't need to be off the table.