Dining Out with EGIDs
By Julie Springer
Living with two children who have EGIDs and traveling frequently forces our family to find ways to eat away from home, especially when we were unable to travel with our own foods. Over time, we have found that we can eat out in any town we visit, with a little preparation. Below are some things we have learned over the last 9 years that may help you and your family navigate dining out.
Choosing a Restaurant
Choose a restaurant that normally serves the food you or your child can eat. For example, fast food restaurants are not likely to prepare steamed veggies or one-ingredient foods. Seafood restaurants may have difficulty preparing a safe meal for someone with a seafood allergy. We have found smaller restaurants to be very accommodating, and some will even purchase special ingredients to be able to prepare a safe meal for you when given advance notice. There are also several larger chain restaurants that cater to those with food allergies. A great online resource for reviewing restaurants, as well as their allergy policies, is www.allergyeats.com.
The worst experience for a patient with an EGID is to get to a restaurant, be seated, and then find out there is nothing that the chef can prepare that is safe to eat. Calling ahead will help prevent that from happening.
A few years ago on a 5-day trip to Los Angeles, I was challenged to find a place where I could get meals for my youngest child. A month before our trip, I began contacting restaurants in the area where we would be staying. Of the several I contacted, only one was willing to work with me. The chef/owner was more than willing to accommodate our needs, even purchasing products he normally did not carry to prepare my son’s meals. I followed up with him twice before our arrival in town and let him know about what time each evening we would be there. The chef would personally deliver our food and check in on us throughout the meal to make sure everything was perfect.
Call the restaurant you are planning to visit and speak with the owner, head manager, or chef. (I try to do this at least a week before my family plans to visit.) Rather than explain what you or your child can’t have, explain what they can have. This helps avoid confusion. Discuss issues such as cross-contact and cooking methods. In our case, we often request that foods be cooked on aluminum foil to avoid cross-contact from the grill. Be understanding if a restaurant tells you they cannot provide accommodations for your safety. I would rather someone be honest than have my child get sick. Calling ahead will allow you to know if and what the restaurant can do to meet your needs and allows the restaurant time to get what they need to prepare your meal safely.
One of the most important lessons we have learned is to avoid eating out during the busiest times during the day. Mistakes are often made when the kitchen staff is hurried. Plan to visit the restaurant before or after the mealtime “rush.”
When you arrive, immediately ask to speak to the chef or manager to whom you spoke on the phone and review again your restrictions, concerns of cross-contact and cooking methods. Do not rely on wait staff to convey your restrictions and special instructions to the chef. Ask the manager to be personally involved in the preparation of the meal to ensure it is done correctly.
After Your Visit
Follow up with the restaurant owner/manager/chef after your visit. Share any concerns, but also be sure to thank them again for accommodating your special requests and needs. This will help you to establish a relationship with them for future visits to their restaurant.
Julie Springer is the mother of two children living with eosinophilic disorders.