Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Eating Out With Multiple Food Allergies

Asher at 18 months

Asher at 18 months old after a visit to Phoenix Children's Hospital Emergency Room. This is what happened to Asher after we went out to dinner and gave him some food we thought was safe but didn't ask to confirm. (This is also after Asher was treated at PCH--his mom and dad were too freaked out about how he looked to take a picture before treatment.)

The second picture is why Wendy’s and In-and-Out Burgers will always have a special place in my heart.

In-and-Out is special because it is the first restaurant I found that made one thing that Asher could eat: French fries cooked in canola oil.* When Asher’s diet was much more restricted, we were grateful to have one place we could go when I needed a night off of cooking. Nate and I would get cheeseburgers, and we’d bring Asher some turkey, a banana and with those French fries, he had a pretty complete meal.

Wendy’s is special because it is everywhere, and it is the only fast food restaurant that has a complete meal that I can order for Asher with complete confidence: a kid’s meal with a fruit cup instead of French fries (which are cooked in the same oil as chicken). I was so excited to order that for him the first time. I thought, “Now, he won’t feel bad when all the rest of his friends are eating fast food at the next playgroup!”

Other restaurants have been helpful; the Biltmore’s Bamboo Club was the best—the chef made Asher a special version of orange beef!

Here’s what I’ve learned about eating out when dealing with multiple food allergies:
1. Go at off-hours when the staff have more time to accommodate you. If we go to lunch or dinner at the time everyone else goes for lunch and dinner, I just pack Asher’s food. Sometimes, waiters don’t have the time to run back and forth checking with us, then the chef, then us.
2. Research on the Internet. If the restaurant has a website, rarely they’ll list allergens. That’s always great, but even if they don’t list allergens, I like to look at the menu online. This gives me an idea of what Asher might be able to eat.
3. When I find some items that Asher might be able to eat, I call the restaurant (again during off-hours) and ask to speak to the manager. The managers I’ve spoken with are always nice and find out the ingredients for me so I can figure out what Asher can eat.
4. Not to be picky, but well, I have to be as seen by the above pictures…when a waiter is impatient with my request or does not know the answers to my questions and refuses to ask the chef, I pull out Asher’s back-up meal. This behavior on the part of the waiter signals to me that he or she does not get what I’m saying and a mistake is much more likely. I figure it’s better to be safe than have Asher accidentally get something he’s allergic to, which could lead to an Epi-Pen injection ($70), a dose of Bendryl, and a trip to PCH’s Emergency Room ($100 co-pay, 5-6 hours).
5. Write thank you notes. When we have a helpful waiter/manager/chef, I tip generously and write a thank you note. It's hard to accomodate us, and I want to make sure that they know that I appreciate their help (and hope they'll continue to do so with other food-allergic people).

*I’m not sure if all In-and-Outs cook their French fries in pure canola oil. Check yours before ordering if allergic to soy.


Kate said...

All of your posts this week are so fascinating to me. Thank you for all of the helpful information and for educating your readers.

matisse said...

Make sure you continue to ask about the different oils. I am aware that companies will change their frying oils (from canola, to soy, to vegetable) on whim based on which oil is cheapest at the time. I am horrified at the allergic reaction! Please give Asher a kiss from his Cuz Matisse

Marsha said...

You learned some valuable lessons on eating out with food allergies. I am gluten intolerant (Celiac Disease). Eating out is nearly impossible for me. When we travel I take my food with me. My husband can't have soy. So we take a little burner and some pots and pans and cook in the motel room or we eat cold stuff at parks along the road.
I have on a occasion gone to a restraunt other than Mexican (I can eat pretty safe at Mexican places) but it's embarrassing to have to bug the waiters and cooks about ingredients, and what they cook it in etc. Just easier to pack the cooler for trips and eat at home otherwise.