Unsurprisingly, when you’re having to work with any number of food allergies, it becomes a minefield to negotiate when considering going out for a meal. As food allergies appear to become more prevalent in our society, more and more of the larger restaurant chains are becoming aware of the need to make provision and adapt their menus to suit a wider audience. Charities such as Coeliac UK provide their members with a list of “safe” restaurants to eat and offer advice as to what to do when going out for a meal.
For many families like ours, even this information is not enough to guarantee that we can eat out safely. M is our hyper-sensitive, multiple food allergy suffering stumbling block to overcome when we consider eating away from home. One piece of luck we do have on our side is that M is a complete and utter foodie. He loves food and is prepared to try almost anything at least once, unlike his big sister, who has become increasingly fussy the older she gets. He particularly enjoys eating seafood and fish, though he will readily admit that oysters are not a favourite! And yes, he has tried them, but found them a little too salty for his taste.
However, we have been lucky enough to find a small handful of restaurants that do cater to our needs and that don’t appear to cause a negative reaction in M. There is no guarantee that these would suit everyone with food allergies, but they may be worth a go. I would highly recommend contacting the restaurant before your visit to check whether they can confirm if they can accommodate your specific food allergies, taking a look on-line at their allergy-friendly menus and we have found the Dietetics team at GOSH to be extremely knowledgeable too.
- Nando’s: Whilst there are obvious foods that M can’t eat (the wraps, rolls and breads for a start), the chicken is gluten and wheat free and, so far, M seems able to tolerate the chips. What’s more, if you’re at all anxious about what the individual ingredients are, each Nando’s restaurant has a Food and Menu specifications book which is readily available. M loves visiting Nando’s, not least because the children’s menu includes a M-friendly ice lolly as an alternative to the frozen yoghurt offered for dessert.
- TGI Friday’s have their “Five Easy Pieces” menu, which provides meal options for those suffering from a gluten or lactose intolerance and includes a child specific selection. M has enjoyed the steak, the chicken tenders and the hot dog without problem, though it is possible that the hot dog contains soya. Unfortunately, they are yet to provide any dessert that suits those who struggle with food allergies, but the main courses tend to be large enough to satisfy most appetites in my experience.
- We only recently discovered that Bella Italia has a gluten free option on their menus and have been incredibly impressed with the level of service we’ve had when eating there with M. He chose a gluten-free pizza base, which the manager confirmed was also soya-, dairy- and egg-free, and topped it with their tomato sauce, ham and olives. M was in seventh heaven when we discovered this treat and is desperate to go back with the rest of the family in tow. They also do gluten-free pasta, though we have yet to try that out and were able to provide 2 alternatives for dessert – sorbet or M-friendly ice lolly.
- The latest restaurant to jump onto the gluten-free bandwagon is Pizza Express. Their gluten-free menu went live on 1 May 2013 and they have now updated the information to detail which ingredients on their menu should be avoided because they also contain gluten. We tried Pizza Express out with the children last weekend when we were at the Allergy Show and were again impressed with the pizzas that arrived. However, they did mess up the order a little by forgetting to add G’s goat’s cheese on her pizza, but otherwise we were impressed with the meal. Sadly, another without a dessert that suits those with multiple food allergies and M insists that the Bella Italia pizza was far better and bigger.
There are very many local or specialist restaurants out there who will also accommodate the most complex of dietary needs, but these should be a good starting point for anyone with children with food allergies. A word of caution to add, these restaurants are not able to guarantee that no cross-contamination will occur within their kitchens, though they work hard to make sure the risk is a minimal as possible. We have found that by talking to the waiting staff and explaining our needs, we get the best service we could ask for and I would recommend asking them what they can do to make your eating out experience the best one possible.