Recently, Linda wrote and asked, "I have a 5 year old who is allergic to dairy and I am very
interested in any dining out tips you may have! I am specifically looking for restaurants that
you frequent and what you order there. Also, Eating out for breakfast seems daunting. What are your 'staples' for eating out or packing to take with you?"
I'm going to divide this subject up into a few categories to make it easier to manage. Disclaimer: This is just what we do for our daughter. I am not a doctor, and your child's allergy may be more severe than Katherine's. Etc., etc..
When we're home, we don't eat out very much. When we do, we go to places we know well where we've never had any problems. Either Chinese restaurant in town is fine, but of the six or so pizza places, only one has dairy-free crust AND has never cross-contaminated Katherine's pizza with cheese. Interestingly, it is a local, not national, chain restaurant, and the workers are almost all college-age guys. They take great care of us. Katherine's Chinese food staples are sweet and sour chicken and white rice, and her favorite pizza is bacon with sauce--no cheese.
We also like our local Eat n' Park's breakfast buffet, which is a good place to take visiting family or friends. It has several dairy-free items available and has Silk soymilk on the menu. The servers are always happy to get buffet items from the kitchen for Katherine so we know they haven't been cross-contaminated. Katherine usually eats fresh fruit, applesauce, cereal with soymilk, and bacon. If it's the brunch buffet, she'll add fresh vegetables, crackers, and jello to her menu.
Before we travel, I go to the websites of the chain restaurants (fast food places) we're going to visit. Each chain is supposed to have nutritional information brochures to hand out upon request, but they are often out or the workers don't know where they are. At McDonald's, Katherine gets the Happy Meal with a plain hamburger, apple dippers (no caramel dipping sauce), and a juice box. At Burger King, the chicken tenders have dairy, but the chicken fries do not. Sometimes I can convince the employees to put chicken fries in her kid's meal instead of the tenders, and sometimes I have to order the chicken fries separately and make a trade. Their french fries are fine and are cooked in a dedicated fryer. Katherine can also eat the apple fries (no caramel dipping sauce) and drink juice. She can eat the Subway kid's meal with raisins or apple slices and a juice box.
For breakfast, bagels with jelly (no butter or margarine) are usually a safe bet, or else we get a box of cereal that she eats dry or with soymilk we packed. I always keep a few granola bars on hand just in case.
If I pack lunches from home for the kids to eat on the road, I include a little prize, like a Hot Wheels car, so they don't feel like they're missing out on fast food fun.
When we eat out at a restaurant I've never been to before, I grill the server about menu items. While it may be a bit embarrassing to Katherine, I make it very clear that my daughter has a severe allergy and that she cannot have any dairy. No one wants an allergic reaction in their restaurant, so usually people are very accommodating. I've had servers bring labels out for me to read, go back and check with the chef, bring the manager out, etc.
Raw fruits and veggies, plain pasta with oil or DF tomato sauce, grilled chicken (cooked in oil)--these are staples we can find just about anywhere. If there is a salad bar, I can usually find lots of things there for Katherine to eat. I usually pack fruit snacks or a cookie for dessert.
Whew! I'm going to stop there for now. Let me know what else you'd like to know, or share tips you have!