Eating out when you have food allergies or sensitivities can be challenging, especially when you are first getting started. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be! You can enjoy going out to eat in the company of family and friends with the help of these tips. (And as someone who has food allergies, I can tell you it all gets easier with practice. You’ll be a pro in no time!)
1) Create your own food allergy card that lists all of your allergens or known sensitivities– This is extremely helpful to both you and the restaurant staff to ensure that you get a meal that will make your stomach happy. When you sit down at the table, let the server know as soon as possible that you have food allergies and present him or her with the card so he or she can make suggestions about what meals to order or what can be modified. If they are not sure, they can take your card to the chef to consult them. This makes it easy for everyone. I do this and I have had many waiters thank me for bringing it with me and some restaurants even asked to keep a copy at the restaurant for when I return. You can make copies of your card to carry with you to give to friends and family members too so they can prepare allergen-free foods for gatherings, birthdays, etc. There are also websites that can make custom allergy cards if you would rather not make one yourself. If you are traveling you can get your card translated into the language of your destination country.
2) Research online or with mobile applications to find allergen free restaurants– Just type “allergen friendly restaurants” into your choice of a search engine and you will find plenty of reviews and websites that will let you know which about what restaurants might be a great fit for you. Another way to find information is using mobile applications. Some of them will use GPS to find restaurants for you to check out that are within close distance of you. This is so helpful when you are looking to get a quick bite unexpectedly. I have listed some helpful websites and mobile applications at the bottom of the page. If you find a restaurant that has good reviews you often go to the restaurant’s website and look at the menu to get an idea of what you may order there. You can also find contact information for the restaurant, which leads me to my next tip…
3) Call the restaurant ahead of time– Call the restaurant and ask to speak to the manager or chef between 2 and 4 pm if possible before the typical restaurant rush hour. Inform them of your food allergies and how you will be affected should you consume any of them and ask if they have anything suitable for you to eat on the menu or are willing to make accommodations. If they say yes and you believe that they understand the severity of your allergic reaction this is a good sign. If they do not agree, you will want to find a new place to eat. Some other questions you may want to ask are:
“Do you have a separate preparation area and utensils to prepare food for special diets?”
- Their response will clue you in on the measures the restaurant takes to avoid cross contamination.
“Do you carry any specialty products for people with food allergies?”
- This will show you how contentious the restaurant is about guests with food allergies.
“Will you be at the restaurant while I am there?”
- This will ensure that proper measures are taken that the meal is safely prepared. If they say they will not be there when you plan on coming in ask if they can alert someone who will be working at that time.
- Next you can discuss the menu and the ingredients in dishes that they suggest or you find on the menu online to make sure there are no allergens. Make sure to talk about ingredients in sauces and garnishes. Also discuss cooking methods so you can avoid cross contamination issues. Once you come up with a dish together that sounds tasty write it down so you can request it when you make your visit to the restaurant.
4) Avoid getting anything deep fried – Even if French fries are labeled gluten free in a restaurant, ask the server if they have a dedicated gluten free fryer. If they do then, order the French fries! However if they do not, it is risky because the French fries are most likely in the fryer with breaded gluten-containing foods and can easily get contaminated.
5) Add some flavor by bringing your own condiments- From my experience with food allergies and restaurants, most often there are allergens in the sauces and dips so the dish I order is fairly plain. To make it more exciting, consider bringing small amounts of your favorite flavors with you. For instance, you can bring a container of tamari if you are gluten free and going to a Japanese restaurant that only has soy sauce. Get creative. If you can’t have the dressing on a taco salad, ask for some oil, salsa, or extra avocado or bring your own if you suspect they might have ingredients that your body doesn’t agree with.
6) Always bring food allergy medications just in case- If you have severe allergic reactions to foods, don’t leave without your EpiPen, antihistamine or any other medications you need to get things under control should you have an unexpected reaction. Better safe than sorry!
Find Me Gluten Free
- Use this application to find gluten free restaurants near you. It uses GPS to help find places to eat nearby, especially if you are somewhere unfamiliar. Even if you have additional food allergies this is a good application to use to get a sense of how conscientious restaurants are about allergens. You can see ratings and reviews from others and add your own.
- This application also helps guide you to local restaurants that serve food that is free of your allergens.
- Learn about the latest food allergy research, hear stories from others and find lots of information about managing your food allergies in every aspect of your life, and more on this site. You can also connect to food allergy related events here.
- This site shows restaurants that are committed to being 100% gluten free facilities across the country.
- This is one site where you can purchase custom food allergy cards that are translated into foreign languages to take traveling. The cards cost $8 and are custom so you can add up to 10 allergens on them.
Favorite Seattle Restaurants:
Razzi’s Pizzeria – Greenwood
When I was diagnosed with dairy, gluten, and basil allergies one of my first thoughts was “bye-bye pizza”, which was very sad to me. However, when I went to Razzi’s I found that was absolutely not true. They have the most extensive vegan and gluten free Italian menu I have ever seen. Also the owner is very gracious and dedicated to his business. He told me if I let them know a few days in advance they will prepare a pizza sauce without basil and they also asked to keep my food allergy card. Not only are they extremely kind, but their food is also incredible!
The Flying Apron- Fremont and Redmond
This is certified gluten free bakery, which means their facility is audited by the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) every year and they test their ingredients for gluten 4 times a year. They make amazing gluten free and vegan cookies, scones, muffins, you name it. They also have coffee, tea and some lunch items. My top picks are their ginger wheel cookies and dark chocolate muffins. Can you say moist!
Capitol Cider- Capitol Hill
With a completely gluten free menu and one of the country’s largest selections of hard ciders, what is not to love? I have had many wonderful dining experiences here with beautiful food. Another perk is that they have a dedicated gluten free fryer so this is one of the only places where I indulge in fresh fish and chips. Yum!
Spring has finally arrived! The tulips are in bloom, the sun is starting to shine, and the wonderful smells of spring are filling the air. A new season means new seasonal produce options and the opening of farmers markets. Snap yourself out of the winter blues by changing up some of your meals to incorporate more fresh spring produce. This spring produce guide will provide you with new recipes to freshen up your meals and kick start spring! To look for a farmers market in your area visit: http://seattlefarmersmarkets.org/
Artichokes: The edible bud of the thistle flower that have an earthy flavor and meaty texture. Simply steaming the artichoke and adding a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of butter are easy preparations. The hearts of the artichoke can be chopped and added to salads and pastas. Here are some tips on how to trim and prepare artichokes for cooking. Artichokes have several health benefits that many people are not aware of. They are loaded with antioxidants and phytochemicals that can help with digestion, cholesterol, liver function, and cancer prevention. Artichokes are ranked in the top four for antioxidant containing vegetables and ranked seventh highest overall. While the hearts are the most popular part, the leaves contain the most beneficial nutrients.
Asparagus: They come in three colors green, purple and white. Asparagus can be used pureed in a creamy soups, boiled or steamed and tossed with a light vinaigrette to make a salad, or chopped and baked into frittatas. Learn how to prepare and store them here. Asparagus are a great source of fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, E, K. The chromium in asparagus helps increase the transport of glucose from the blood stream into the cells by insulin. Glutathione is also abundant and is an important detoxifying compound that protects our bodies against dangerous reactive oxygen species. Besides glutathione there are several other important antioxidants found in asparagus.
Radishes: a root vegetable that has a sweet peppery taste and can be red, white, purple or black. Slice the radishes thinly and add them into salads for a flavor punch. Also simply sauté them with some lemon and butter as a side dish. Experiment with radishes with these recipes. Radishes might not be on the top of the list of your favorite vegetables, but here are some reasons why you should add them to your grocery basket. They are naturally cooling and their pungent flavor is used in eastern medicine to cool the body during the hot summer months. Next time you have a sore throat try sucking on a radish. The pungent flavor and natural spice helps eliminate excess mucus, sooth soar throats, and clear sinuses. Radishes are also a natural cleansing agent for the digestive tract and eliminate stagnant foods and toxins that have built up over time. Their high vitamin C content can help keep you healthy providing antioxidants to help fight off infections.
Strawberries: Their vibrant red color shouts springtime! They are also full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Add them in your morning cereal, oatmeal or granola. Chop and freeze them to make refreshing afternoon smoothies. Make a sweet dessert with angle food cake topped with fresh strawberries, or chop them up and add them into your salad. There are endless possibilities for this juicy fruit have fun experimenting! Strawberries provide vitamin C that works as an antioxidant to boost your immunity. Other benefits of their antioxidant properties are the prevention of cataracts, maintenances of healthy skin, and cancer fighting abilities. They also contain phytochemicals like flavonoids. These are good for fighting heart disease by providing protection against oxidative damage and inflammation. Their anti-inflammatory effect can also be beneficial to people who have arthritis. Strawberries also contain about 135 mg of potassium per serving that can help with the regulation of blood pressure. Besides heart health they are also modest benefits for digestion due to the fiber content with 2g per serving.
Pineapple: Take your taste buds on a tropical retreat with this juicy fruit in smoothies, salads, or just simply eaten on its own. Make your traditional salsa more exciting by adding some pineapple. There is nothing like biting into a nice juicy piece of pineapple on a warm spring day. Here are some great ideas! One cup of fresh pineapple provides 131% of vitamin C needs for the day, 2% of vitamin A, 2% of calcium, and 2% of iron. Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapples, can reduce swelling, bruising, healing time, and pain associated with injury and surgery. The fiber potassium and vitamin C found in pineapples are beneficial for heart health, and blood pressure. Pineapple is also good for energy because it contain vitamins like thiamin, and riboflavin.
Spring Produce List:
- Butter lettuce
- Collard Greens
- Fava Beans
- Green Beans
- Mustard Greens
- Snow peas
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