Family eating in restaurant

Eating Out with Food Restrictions

More and more restaurants are adapting to the increasing number of customers with special needs which makes eating out with food restrictions less of a challenge.

Food allergies affect millions of Americans. The CDC estimates that allergies among children have increased around 50% in recent years. In addition, millions more are managing diabetes, avoiding animal products, or seeking other accommodations.

You don’t have to ditch your meal place or feel conspicuous when eating out anymore.

Here are some tips for eating well when you’re away from home.

Plan Ahead

Clarity and tact will help you make the most of dining out and navigate restaurants and food trucks. Do your research and work with the staff.

  1. Call ahead. Start the conservation while you’re making reservations. Ask questions about the menu and making modifications.
  2. Check online. Most establishments have plenty of information available online. You can usually find menus, nutritional information, and contact information on their website. There may be a corporate website for larger chains with even more info and FAQs. Another helpful hint is to read reviews and look for diners who have similar restrictions.
  3. Be specific. Your server may think regular cheese is low-salt and eggs are vegan. Spell out exactly what ingredients you want to avoid.
  4. Go undercover. Find out what’s in the sauce or salad dressing. Learn the multiple names used for similar ingredients. Some restaurants even have special menus available by request for glucose-free dining or other needs.
  5. Order creatively. Tweaking the standard menu is often the easiest approach. One addition like beans or seeds can turn a salad into a meal. Multiple sides may make a satisfying main course.
  6. Eat beforehand. On the other hand, your options may be limited if you’re attending a party at an oyster bar. In that case, enjoy a hearty lunch and devote the evening to conversation.
  7. Ask about bringing your own food. If you still aren’t comfortable with the options available but don’t want to miss out on Grandma’s birthday dinner, another option is to call ahead, explain your situation, and ask if you can bring in your own meal. Especially if you are joining a large group of patrons who WILL be ordering, many restaurants are happy to accomodate.

Dealing with Food Allergies

Allergies involve potentially severe autoimmune responses. Take extra care because previous experience is no guarantee that your next episode won’t be more intense. Fortunately, federal law requires clear labeling for ingredients related to the most common allergies.

Consider these strategies to help you avoid allergy-related emergencies:

  1. Pick the place. Larger restaurants and corporate chains often educate their staff on being allergy-friendly. They may also be trained on how to respond to emergencies.
  2. Print out cards. Carry business cards describing your condition that you can give to your server. It will enhance communications with the kitchen.
  3. Bring medication. Keep epinephrine and an antihistamine with you. Each second counts in an emergency.
  4. Understand limitations. There’s only so much even the most diligent restaurant can do. Cross-contamination is common, and suppliers may change ingredients without giving notice. Play it safe if you have any concerns.

Dealing with Other Food Restrictions

Non-allergy food restrictions may involve practicing your values or avoiding digestive discomfort. Unlike allergies, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the related foods.

  1. Losing weight. Downsizing portion sizes may allow you to sample any food you love. Look for words like grilled, baked, and boiled.
  2. Controlling diabetes. Time your meals so you stay on schedule, especially if you take medication. Focus on choices that fit your meal plan like low-calorie and low-fat meals.
  3. Gluten-free. Some foods are naturally gluten-free so indulge in plain meat or fish. Other meals may be adaptable like leaving the bun off your burger.
  4. Vegan or vegetarian. Ethnic restaurants often provide a variety of delicious choices for those who avoid most or all animal products. Vegans may also want to double-check processed foods that often contain skim milk protein or animal fats.

Don’t be afraid to try out that new Indian place or celebrate your parent’s wedding anniversary at the local steak house. Whether you’re allergic to nuts or cutting back on salt, you can dine out with food restrictions as long as you plan ahead and communicate clearly.

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