Dining out with a special diet
People with food allergies and intolerances are a pain in the ass. I know, because I’m one of them.
As a gluten-free gal with celiac disease, I can empathize with what it’s like to be that girl, sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s dinner table with 18 gajillion questions about how her food is prepared, what’s in it and whether or not she can swap ingredients.
But as annoying as we might be, I have news for you: This is real stuff. When it comes to intolerances, the consumption of the wrong food ingredients can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, migraines, joint pain, emotional upset and skin reactions that last for days – sometimes up to a week – at a time.
And on the other hand, we have food allergies. For this group of sensitive eaters, consumption of particular ingredients can lead to symptoms ranging from itching in the mouth, hives, wheezing and dizziness to anaphylaxis, which can cause death. Recent tragic events, such as the death of 13-year-old Natalie Giorgi after she accidentally consumed a snack with peanuts, have proven just how dangerous food allergies can be.
So yeah, our needs can be a bit of a hassle, but the truth is it’s OK to have special requirements when it comes to eating out. Be it from food allergies, gluten intolerance or a dairy sensitivity, we live in a world where making exceptions is necessary in order to eat out. Restaurants across the globe cater to gluten-free ladies and soy-less kiddos who need to have dishes made in a specific manner in order for them to safely consume food.
“Be insistent, but always polite and gracious – remember that you’re asking [a restaurant] to go out of their way for you,” said Jules Shepard, founder of Jules Gluten Free (blog.julesglutenfree.com). “Assure them that you can wait – it’s worth the wait for them to get it right! – and be grateful for their attention.”
The point is, keep it cool when ordering your dish and you’ll have a much easier time getting what your body requires. You deserve to have the meal you want – don’t ever apologize for that. But to ensure your dish is prepared appropriately, make your requests with a smile. It also helps to keep these pointers in mind:
Do your homework. “If possible, call in advance and ask the restaurant manager or chef what kind of options they offer that are specific to your food requirements. If it’s an allergy or intolerance you’re dealing with, ask questions about how the food is prepared and if they’ll make a few adjustments, like using a clean pot before preparing your gluten-free pasta to avoid cross-contamination,” said Shepard.
Before you go. Hash out all of the details of your allergic reaction by filling out an anaphylaxis action plan with your doctor and carry the plan with you, as well as your emergency medication such as an epinephrine auto-injector (Epipen) with you at all times.
It’s OK to push back a bit. If a server isn’t giving you the answers you need, then politely ask to speak to the chef. Don’t cause a scene, but try this: “I know I’m a pain in the butt, however, I have a few more specific questions about how this meal is prepared. May I speak with the chef?”
Ask about butter. It’s in everything. Even a safe-looking veggie or rice dish is often doused with butter somewhere along the line. If you’re lactose intolerant, it’s always good to ask how something is cooked before you assume it’s a safe dish.
Know when to hit the road. Sometimes, a restaurant just can’t give you what you require. Hopefully, step #1 will have nixed this issue, but an impromptu food rendezvous can happen. If you feel uncomfortable, it’s OK to choose not to eat at that restaurant. With friends? If you’re not too hungry, then enjoy the company and eat when you get home or have some snacks stashed in a handbag.
Give your dish the once over. The moment your dish arrives, confirm that it’s what you ordered. I always say make sure to mention my can’t-have ingredient by saying something, like, “And this is the gluten-free rice bowl?” If and when the server confirms that it is, I say, “Wow! This looks great.”
Ultimately, it’s important that you don’t let eating out scare you. Restaurants these days are often happy to meet your special dietary requirements and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a safe meal like every other person at the table. If you enjoy your experience, don’t forget to tell them you appreciate the experience.
“If the restaurant is local and you receive a safe meal, be sure to let them know you will tell all your friends and you will be back,” said Shepard.
Caroline Shannon-Karasik is the upcoming author of a gluten-free healthy lifestyle book, set to be released in January 2014. She is the author of the popular gluten-free blog, TheGSpotRevolution.com and is currently training to become a certified health coach. Her writing and recipe development has been featured in several publications, including, VegNews, Kiwi and REDBOOK magazines. Caroline lives with her husband Dan and four adopted cats in Pittsburgh, Penn. Caroline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.