Living with a food allergy is quite manageable as long as you stay home. Tucked away in your safe cocoon, you have complete control over how your food is prepared.
But no one can live like a hermit! You have to get out sometime, right?
Here are a few tips on ensuring a safe, anxious-free meal out on the town:
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
This is the best tip of all – plan everything! If you know you're going to be in an area of town you don't know well, do a little Googling and see what restaurants are available. Do any specialize in allergy-free food? Is there a cuisine that can accommodate your allergies the easiest?
If you're meeting up with friends or family, check to see if they have plans for lunch or dinner. Make sure that they know about your allergy ahead of time so they can accomodate it. If you're allergic to wheat, the last place you want to have to eat lunch at is a pizza place, right? So step up and check!
2. Pack For The WorstCredit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/263250
Make sure to pack your allergy medication or epi pen, your medical alert bracelet, and a safe snack, just in case the worst happens. Keep your medication in easy reach and make sure one of your traveling companions knows where it is and what to do, just in case.
3. Inform Others of your Condition
When out with others, make sure to tell them about your allergy. This doesn't have to be a grand announcement – just make it short and sweet – "Just so everyone knows, I’m allergic to peanuts. You're welcome to eat them just please make sure they don't get mixed with my food or we're going to have a fun trip to the ER this afternoon."
When alone, make sure to wear your medical ID / alert bracelet or necklace. This will ensure that if you do have an allergy attack and you become incapacitated or unresponsive, responders will know about your allergy right away. The faster they know about it, the faster you will get the right treatment, and the faster you will recover.
4. Check Out The Restaurant Staff's AttitudeCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jams_123/955698430/
Let the staff know as soon as possible about your allergies. This can be done when you make the reservation or as you're ordering your meal. With all of the ingredients that go into a dish, you can never know if a dish has your allergen in it unless you ask. With their help, you could able to avert a night of misery.
When you speak to the staff, be polite but firm. Make sure that they understand the seriousness of your allergy – "If you feed me any peanuts or peanut products, I will die." (Yes, sometimes you have to be blunt.)
You might want to consider carrying an informational card that explains your allergy and what you can and can not eat, along with helpful tips to avoid cross-contamination from utensils, surfaces,
and other dishes in the kitchen. These cards can be found online – just print one out and tuck it into your purse or wallet. Most waiters will appreciate the handy guide.
Of course, some waiters or waitresses will cop an attitude with you. These are the people that you want to avoid. Go elsewhere - hopefully to a restaurant that is willing to help their customers.
5. Be Ready To Ask Questions
Menus are not created to give you all of the ingredients used in a dish but rather to sell you the food. You can't tell if they've used wheat to thicken the sauce or an egg in the meatloaf.
Make sure to review the menu and ask the waiter about possible allergen ingredients. For example, if you're allergic to wheat and are eating out at a Chinese restaurant with friends, you won't want to have anything with soy sauce in it (it's made from wheat). Ask, ask, ASK!
6. Be Wary of DessertsCredit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/512790
The dessert menu at most restaurants is a landmine field of allergens. Wheat, eggs, milk, nuts – there's at least one (usually more) in each dish. There are also more chances of a hidden ingredient in this course of a meal than any other – almond flour in a cake, or cream in a tart sauce or an egg wash on a crust. Nothing is safe!
And don't depend on a waiter's knowledge to get you through this pickle. Most restaurants do not make their own dessert but rather buy them from a bakery or wholesale warehouse. The staff will have no idea how something was bake or if your allergen is really in there or not.
Your best bet is to eat dessert at home. Not only will you save yourself from torture but you'll also save some money too!