Q&A: Allergy-Friendly Restaurants

Have you found a restaurant that meets your family’s food allergy needs?

The quick answer: “No, not really.”

Restaurant menus are changing these days to keep up with the new gluten-free rave (it has become somewhat of a rave for those for whom it is not medically necessary…not that there is anything wrong with cutting back on wheat, either).  Many restaurants have added a few gluten-free items to their menus or have an entirely separate gluten-free menu.

The increase in gluten-free restaurant items and menus is certainly progress for that particular group of allergy/Celiac sufferers, but it does not include those who suffer from any other food allergy.  I am not proposing that the restaurant industry do a complete overhaul to accommodate every allergy or medical need.  I am simply stating that it stills leaves out a large number of people.

Sure, there are some restaurants where you can find something on the menu that does not contain the top allergens, but there is one very large hidden issue — Cross-Contamination.  “Allergy-friendly” french fries are most likely fried in the same fryer as egg and gluten-containing chicken nuggets.  “Allergy-friendly” hamburger is cooked up right next to that cheeseburger and guess what? The same spatula is used to flip both burgers.

Let me tell you a quick story…my son’s first anaphylactic reaction was at a restaurant from a supposedly allergy-friendly dinner (you can read the entire restaurant anaphylactic story here).  No peanut oil was used for the french fries, no cheese was on the burger, and we even left off the bun to avoid any potential hidden ingredients.  It didn’t matter…something cross-contaminated his food.  It was certainly a wake up call to us.  We no longer take for granted the potential risk of cross-contamination.  When we do the occasional McDonald’s treat for him, I am anxious for the next hour, even though we check every morsel of the food before he eats it.

The answer to the question for my family is that there are a few places that we have found to be somewhat allergy-friendly, but you must always be on guard for a change in menu items, ingredients, and cross-contamination.  As far as ingredients go, you can check most large chain restaurant’s menu on their website.  However, you must keep in mind that ingredients often change and websites are not updated.

Finally, the website Allergy Eats is a fantastic resource for reviews on the allergy-friendliness of restaurants.  You can read personal experiences as well as enter your own.  Allergy Eats lists restaurants across the country, both chain and local.  I highly recommend you check there before you head out for your next burger and fries.

For all the potential dangers in restaurants, you can see why we most often eat at home.  I just no longer want to put my son at risk; the convenience is not worth it!  But not only is it safer, it’s much easier on our budget as well.  Plus, my family tends to like my cooking and that suits me just fine.  🙂

Have you found any restaurants that are allergy-friendly or not? Please share your experience with us.  Also, you might want to consider leaving a review on Allergy Eats.

Don’t forget about the book giveaway for Money Saving Mom’s Budget.  Click here to enter thru tomorrow.

Shared at Pennywise Platter.

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8 Responses to Q&A: Allergy-Friendly Restaurants

  1. Crafty Mama says:

    Flat Top Grill in Chicago is pretty allergy-freindly; it’s a make-your-own stir fry restaurant, and you can choose to have your food cooked in a separate pan so it doesn’t get cross-contaminated. Also, they only use the ingredients you put in your dish. AND they have a list of what to use and what not to use in your stir fry if you have allergies! 🙂 http://www.flattopgrill.com/allergies.html

    • Cook says:

      That’s good to know. Thank you! I’ve been to that type of restaurant once. We’ve never returned because my husband got food poisoning (and it wasn’t from anything on his allergy list). Ha! Perhaps Chicago-fare is better. I wonder if Flat Top Grill is on Allergy Eats. You can always submit a review and be entered in a drawing.

  2. Mike says:

    We have a lot of food allergies in our family. When we go out to eat we taking allergy warning cards with us and that makes things easier for the waiter (and for us). There are lots of good ones out there, just make sure you get a laminated one. We like Stay Safe Card (www.staysafecard.com)

    • Cook says:

      Mike, I know a lot of people use that method. I’m glad it works for you. With the severity of my son’s allergies, it still makes me nervous. Most of the time, I don’t think waiters have a clue. However, I haven’t tried the card method, so in all fairness, I can’t say it wouldn’t work for us either.

      Thanks for your input!

      • Mike says:

        My wife’s been using allergy cards for years. She’s allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, coconuts, pumpkin and more. Our 2 yr old daughter also has other food allergies.

        It’s amazing when you see the waiter’s attention focus in on the card. It’s like a prop, it adds meaning to the situation and connotes the seriousness of your allergies. It’s very effective.

        • Cook says:

          That’s good to know, Mike. I’ll have to give it a try sometime. In the last couple of years (since my son’s big restaurant reaction), I pack food from home for him. Restaurants always seem to be relieved by it and never bothered.

  3. Rachel Robinson says:

    Chick-fil-a has just made it a little bit easier for some allergy sufferers. They introduced this week grilled nuggets and a buddy fruit pouch of applesauce as options for the kids meal. Granted cross-contamination could still be an issue for some but at least some children can eat there now that may not have been able to before!

    • Cook says:

      I didn’t know that. Thanks, Rachel. Many Chick-fil-as switched to frying their french fries in canola oil instead of peanut oil. That also means that it’s in a completely separate fryer. My son can eat those safely and enjoys them too!

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