Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eating Out

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..

At Home
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!


  1. I can't help but think that if Katherine was my little girl or any one else's little girl, that we would do all of these things you do, of course (OF COURSE!) to keep her safe.

    But when you list out the special special care you give to her, it just squeezes my heart and makes me think of what a great great mom you are. *Sniff*

  2. Aw, thanks, Misty. Like so many other allergy mom bloggers, I'm just happy to share what we've figured out over the years so other people don't have to reinvent the wheel. Not because I've perfected this (so far from it), but the errors I've made over the years are ones I would like to spare other parents, if I can.

  3. Wow. She has severe allergies. Miss A has a dairy & egg allergy, but it is moderate.

    We also like beans & rice (no cheese), chips with guacamole/salsa, chicken/beef fajita tacos from Tex-Mex places. Since they are all separate items and none are breaded, we've never had a problem. We just reiterate no cheese or sour cream anywhere near her plate please!

    Another suggestion is to have her food come out first (as soon as it is ready) so I can inspect it and re-order if there is a problem. It doesn't hurt for her to start eating before everyone else, but this way she is not waiting if there is a problem. In fact, I know a lot of regular moms who now do this too!

  4. The idea of packing a little treat for them in the homemade meals is adorable - such a thoughtful mom!

    I also find it a problem when we request the ingredient information at the restaurants - nobody has them available. Even sometimes when you search online they just have the nutritional information, not the actual ingredient list. A couple of those companies we have emailed explaining of an allergy concern and they provided us with a more detailed list.

  5. Wow, you've gotten this down to a science. What a great mom. :D

  6. :)I love this. You just "make it work". That's how we are - a few local favorites that we know "do it right" but if we have to figure it out we do.

    If you take a family vacation -- disney is the place to do it with food allergies. When you make your dining reservations you let them know of the allergy and they accomodate you. We had places bring in safe food from other restaurants for Alex to eat and other places where it was a buffet and he did have some choices, but not many - didn't charge us on our meal plan for him.

    Katherine and my son are close in age. Wait til the little ones are a bit older and protect her. My 3 year old asks me about ingredients now because she was use to accomodating Alex. Now that we know she can't have milk she has taken it in stride. We do miss our weekly pizza lunches though.

  7. What great tips. We only take Kayla to one restaurant at this point. I have not been able to bring myself to brave a fast food chain. We're heading to Disney in January and I know they're wonderful, but it's still so nervewracking to think of all the new restaurants.

    I love the toy idea for the packed meals!

  8. Even if you are not vegan you can check www.happycow.net They have a list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants around the world. If you don't know, vegans don't eat any animal products (including dairy). So you could find a wide variety of dairy free options there. I always check it before traveling.