Eating out can be really stressful when you have serious allergies. I had a number of reactions to both school meals and restaurant meals which deterred me from ever trusting other people with my food for a number of years until recently who I came to university. I used to just pack my own and take it with me if we needed to go out, or there was an event with friends. People are way more easy going than you think, just let them know the situation and you can stay involved in every social gathering you would otherwise. This worked fine and if you are too nervous about it like I was then I recommend the same as it's no big deal, but these are just some tips I've picked up over the years from dealing with it.
- Carry an epipen bag. This is what my family and I labelled the little handbags my sister and I would carry everywhere with us. As young children our mum would carry our epipens for us but around the age of 10 or 11 when we began to be left at clubs and friends' houses we would always have a small bag with us containing two epipens so we always had them in case of emergency.
- Use allergen menus. Over the years, larger chains and supermarkets have become more educated on the issue of anaphylaxis and now have a much larger wealth of information on the ingredients they use. Even some of the smaller independents have completed allergen menus of their dishes in a simple format using ticks and crosses to tell you what may be contained in their dishes or what is not guaranteed to not be contaminated in the kitchen. Make use of these where possible as they are really handy to flick through when deciding what you'd like.
- Keep it simple. By this I just mean don't order the most exotic dish you can find on the menu just because it sounds interesting. This makes being careful rather difficult and unnecessarily complex, whilst you could just go for a dish with far fewer ingredients where allergens are much easier to keep track of. It also means it's much easier for chefs to know where their ingredients are being sourced from and tell you what they cannot guarantee.
- Research beforehand. Look up what restaurants may be best with your particular allergies and let friends/family know what the best options for you would be. This eliminates stress on the day about where to eat, and puts you at ease before hand because you already have a plan.
- Suss a place out first. This is very similar to the last tip, but if you didn't have time to look up places beforehand for any reason and this is a spontaneous dining out option then don't just walk into the first place you see and sit down. Establish what the options are and don't commit to anywhere unless you know they have a suitable option and are prepared to deal with allergies (not a hotdog stand in the middle of a boardwalk).
- Make your allergies known to servers. Apart from legal reasons, making it known to servers that you suffer from anaphylaxis is really helpful because, although a dish may not contain your specific enemies, you want to make sure care is taken in the kitchen. This doesn't have to be a big deal at all, just let them know either as you walk in or when you are seated.
- Feel free to pack your own. Obviously you can't really do this if you are out alone but if you have dinner plans in a group or with your family then just pack your own and ask for a plate when you get there. Servers are very accepting of this and I used to do this very easily, especially as it meant I got the choice to have exactly what I wanted! If the restaurant is themed such as a steak house or curry house then try and adjust it to this a little so that you feel part of the occasion and don't draw so much attention to the fact that you're eating your own.
- Educate yourself on the use of epipens. In terry you should already know how to use them if you carry them, but make sure you know the process back-to-front and offer to teach your friends so that you feel completely safe being out with them.
- Don't assume, always ask. I know from experience that chefs will use some pretty out-there ingredients where you wouldn't expect. Not because they're trying to kill you, simply because they aren't used to having to think about allergies. So it's always better to be safe than sorry and just double check with your server that what you're ordering is going to be OK, even if you've eaten there before. This way the chef is made aware and can prepare as they need to.
Thanks for reading, I really hope these help you! xx