Category Archives: Dating and Allergies

Be Our Guest: Dining at Walt Disney World

Let’s face it, we’ve all looked at a menu with hesitation. Wondering what limitations or substitutions await you. We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for the lines “made on the same grill, pre-made at another facility, or may have come into contact with.” It can be so discouraging that you almost want to wait to crack open that menu until you can talk with a server or chef. I’ve always held off on making decisions on ordering until I’ve spoken with someone, that is, until I stepped into the most magical place on earth and was handed a menu that helped me put away my worries and strife.

The Vacation Kingdom of the World. You don’t get a title like that without being a well-rounded, fine-tuned, working machine. Now full disclosure, I am no slouch when it comes to Walt Disney World (WDW). We started going to Disney in the early 90’s, a turbulent time in the family as we had my newly discovered risk-for-anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree-nuts and my brother’s newly discovered food allergy to eggs. With all these food allergies packed into one family, we decided to pack up a trailer and drive from Ontario, Canada to the great state of Florida (a three day excursion mind you) and camp at the Fort Wilderness Campground. This way, my mom and dad could be in charge of all the food we ate because I was terrified to eat anywhere other than my mom and Grandma’s house.

Now, it may not come to anyone’s surprise that The Walt Disney World Company has their food allergy game figured out, but at the time I was still scared, I didn’t have the self-confidence to try the food in the parks. That was until I turned 13. Things changed and I became more confident in myself and my food allergies, and was ready to try new dining adventures. I had my very first dining-out experience at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.

Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for WDW. In such a safe and welcoming environment, I could discuss my food allergies with an actual chef, who took the time to explain the menu and reassure me of their due diligence. It was this stepping stone that laid the ground work for me to become more confident in speaking about my food allergies in restaurants anywhere. I learned to look over menus carefully and talk to servers myself and ask the right
questions. Because their cast members were so well trained and prepared, it rubbed off on me and helped me understand the value and importance of taking this time to be sure of my food choice and feel safe about them.

Fast forward to January 2017. My partner Steve and I decided to travel down to WDW to ring in the New Year with the mouse. I am continually impressed with how restaurants treat food allergies, but I am knocked off my feet in awe of how the Walt Disney Company is changing the game when it comes to food allergies. When you’re planning a trip to WDW, it’s in your best interest to book dinner reservations in advance. Booking online is the first step in WDW’s food allergy preparedness. You have the option to fill out all your food allergies in detail before you even step foot in the restaurant.
When we finally arrived to our first dining reservation, I was greeted with the question, “who has the allergy in this party?” and then promptly handed an allergy-friendly menu. The menu had detailed dishes from appetizers to desserts, outlining all ingredients and what dishes were free of certain allergens. It’s hard to put into words how I felt in that moment. I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. It was the first time I was able to go through a menu with confidence before speaking with someone from the restaurant. When we placed our order, the server asked if I felt comfortable and if I needed to speak with a chef just in case. I couldn’t help but remember that shy 13-year-old, who blustered up the courage to talk with a chef about her food allergies. I was bursting with emotions thinking about how a tool such as this will help kids just like me build confidence and a voice when it comes to their food allergy. Instead of being presented with a bunch of no’s and off-limits, we finally have a menu that is full of options and
opportunities.

Remember, the onus is still on you to disclose all of your allergies and take all of the necessary precautions you would usually take at any restaurant. It’s hard to guarantee anything, but WDW gets pretty close in my books!

The Walt Disney World Company truly gets it. They understand the mental toll it takes to dine out with a food allergy regardless of being a confident adult, or a parent with their child. They’ve stream lined a process with 100% visibility from putting menu’s online, to informing the restaurant when you book a reservation, down to a beautiful allergy-friendly menu. They also have the opportunity to look over menu books at quick server restaurants, and give you the option to speak with a chef at buffet style dining halls in their resorts. It is magical for a lack of a better term, but I think the word fits nicely considering the location. Food allergy awareness has come a long way and WDW is certainly looking like a gold standard contender. They are continuously innovating and discovering new ways to ensure everyone has a safe and happy dining experience while on vacation.

-Arianne. K

My Dream for a Standardized Allergy-Friendly Menu

Cheerful couple with menu in a restaurant making order
Dining out with friends and family is always something I look forward to. Having to worry about my food allergy, however, takes some fun out of it, but it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. I always get a sense of relief when I find a restaurant that is allergy-friendly and has a detailed spreadsheet listing allergen information for their menu items across the board. I often dream about what it would be like if there was a standardized allergy-friendly menu at every restaurant I went to.  Here are a few reasons why a standardized allergy-friendly menu would benefit those of us with food allergies:

It would reduce the anxious feelings that often come with dining out. Having a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the burden I sometimes feel when discussing and planning a night out with friends. For example, I often find myself saying to them, “sorry, we can’t check out that restaurant because I think there are nuts in many dishes” or “I didn’t feel comfortable there last time.” Also, it would eliminate the constant back-and-forth of asking about ingredient info with the wait and kitchen staff. I would still notify them about my allergies so they know it’s severe, and to be cautious of cross-contamination.

It would make the planning process quicker and easier. Knowing a restaurant has a standardized allergy-friendly menu would eliminate the amount of time I spend researching restaurants before choosing or agreeing to dine there.

menuIt would make me feel more comfortable and safe when dining out. It would show me that the restaurant’s dishes have been dissected to highlight what allergens are within. My hope would be that these recipes would never change, which is another reason why it’s important to still mention your allergies. An allergy-friendly menu doesn’t necessarily mean that the food service staff are completely allergy aware, which is why I would still double check that they have strict kitchen protocols for accommodating allergic diners beyond providing ingredient information.

It would highlight safe options on the menu for my allergies. Having a detailed outline of potential allergens and ingredients for each dish served would not only give me a clear list of safe items, but it would also provide me with options I would have never thought I could have. Knowing I would find a standardized allergy-friendly menu at any restaurant I went to would also allow me to discover restaurants that I never thought I could eat at before.

Fortunately, the restaurant industry in Canada is well aware of the seriousness of food allergies, but there is much room to improve. There are a fair number of food chains that have a standardized menu and provide an allergen information sheet, but it isn’t required across restaurants nation-wide. It would be a dream to be able to check out a new restaurant knowing that when I get there, they would provide me with a menu of safe dining options to leave me worry-free.

– Michelle D.

Valentine’s Day with Food Allergies

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

Valentine’s with an allergy?

Well, I got you!

Valentine’s Day is one of the most romantic days of the year. Maybe you and your long-term partner are planning a weekend getaway to relax and enjoy each other’s company or maybe you and your girlfriends are planning on celebrating ‘single ladies’ style. No matter what your relationship status is, you can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday. I didn’t really start celebrating Valentine’s Day until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember being very nervous the first Valentine’s Day we celebrated together because I had actually no idea what I was going to be able to eat. I was so worried that we would get to the restaurant and then be forced to leave because I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. So my advice? Don’t be like me! Be confident and take initiative! Over the last four years of dating my boyfriend, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to master Valentine’s Day:

Valentines day hearts on wooden backgroundPlan ahead! – Going out for dinner? Think ahead. My boyfriend and I already contacted the manager of the restaurant we are thinking of trying this Valentine’s Day, two weeks in advance. Valentine’s Day itself is a very busy day/night at most restaurants, so don’t contact the restaurant the day of. Contact the restaurant maybe two, three, or even seven days in advance and speak to the manager. The majority of classier restaurants usually also do special “Valentine’s Day” menus and these menus are typically different from their usual menus. Just because you’ve been to a restaurant before does not mean it’s going to be safe for you on Valentine’s Day. The manager will be able to give you the best advice on what is going to be safest for you. Once you get to the restaurant, request to speak to the person you’ve already contacted. I’ve had amazing experiences at The KEG, Baton Rogue, and Copacabana on Valentine’s Day.

Laura Secord – If you’re allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and have never had the opportunity to try Valentine’s Day chocolate in a box because of the enormous amount of nut products in these chocolate filled boxes, Laura Secord has your back. The 100-year-old Canadian chocolate franchise has an assortment of peanut-free and tree nut-free chocolates in both bars and boxes. They even have a special Valentine’s Day nut-free chocolate assortment box. I picked up a box the other day and it was incredibly delicious. Start making hints to your date that you’re craving some delicious Laura Secord nut-free chocolate this Valentine’s Day. Go Canada!

Keep it simple! – There’s honestly no need to go out for dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Keep yourself safe (and save yourself some cash) by inviting your Valentine over to your place this Valentine’s Day. Make an allergen-safe dinner at home together and watch a cool movie. You will not only have a great time, but you and your Valentine will bond by being able to share with him/her your allergen-safe secrets. You (and your wallet) will be grateful that you’re not out on arguably the busiest dining out night of the year.

Don’t make Valentine’s Day revolve around food! – Who said Valentine’s Day had to be associated with food? Celebrate the day with your loved one by doing something or going somewhere that you wouldn’t usually go to; take a trip to Niagara Falls, go skiing, or take out those skates and go to the nearest ice rink. You make your own fun!

The most important piece of advice I can give you is to enroll your loved one. Share with your Valentine your worries and come up with a game plan in advance together. Get asked out on a date and you’re told that the restaurant is a surprise? Immediately take the initiative and share with your date that you have allergies and you’d love to be a part of planning so that you two can find a suitable destination for you. My boyfriend now takes initiative even before I do! It’s not supposed to be a scary or stressful night, so find a way to have fun with it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

– Giulia C.

When a Boy with a Food Allergy Walked into my Life: Girlfriend Edition

Chocolate covered almonds, peanut butter sandwiches, and M & M’s are a few of my favourite things to eat! For me, going a day without peanuts, tree nuts, or almonds was as rare as a black swan. I have been very lucky in my life to have no food allergies. On top of that, my family and my closest friends are also allergy-free. Needless to say, you can imagine how much my life flipped the moment I found out my major crush (who is now my boyfriend) informed me of his life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. This was also a relief for me, as I understood why we didn’t share a kiss after our first date.

The first time we kissed, and several times after, I noticed a trend. The question “have you consumed any nuts today?” along with an interrogation of my diet, was something I quickly got accustomed to. I’ve never been questioned before kissing someone, so that was a totally new experience for me. Talk about feeling pressured! This wasn’t a typical question that had a range of answers, it was either yes or no. I had to be 100% sure or else my boyfriend’s life was at stake. I became very well acquainted with ingredient labels on all products. This helped me to feel confident to ensure I was nut-free and kissable on days when I was visiting my boyfriend.

Woman trying to kiss a man and he is rejecting her outdoor in a park
Before kissing someone, ensure they have not eaten your allergen!

I began making a list of personal items that may contain peanuts and tree nuts, or could have been contaminated at some point (with the amount of peanuts and tree nuts in my life, you can imagine how long this list was). If there’s one thing my friends know about me, it’s that I love my chap stick. In all honesty, I use it hourly! So I chose to assume all previously used one were contaminated and bought new ones. I then marked the new ones with permanent marker to indicate that they were nut-free and safe from cross-contamination. As I used my old personal items that potentially came into contact with nuts, I eventually replaced them with nut-free products that would be safe around my boyfriend. After all, if things go well with this guy, my future will be surrounded by a nut-free environment so I might as well get used to that sooner rather than later.

I currently live at home and figured it would be important for my parents to be informed of my boyfriend’s food allergies. To help my parents have a better understanding, I named a couple of examples of tree nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts, and almonds. It was a good thing I did, as my dad later questioned me about almonds. This gave me an opportunity to educate my parents further and since I had their attention, I brought up the topic of cross-contamination, such as clean nut-free counter tops when my boyfriend is visiting. My parents were put to the test over the holidays when they invited him over for Christmas dinner.

I made sure I went over the ingredients with my parents to certify everything was nut-free and I reminded my parents to stay away from items such as previously opened butters that could have been contaminated. I am happy to say that the dinner was delicious, and my boyfriend was able to enjoy an allergen-free turkey dinner.

Couple shopping in a supermarket

I thought the holidays was a big test, but that was nothing compared to the vegan pot luck get together my friends and I choose to organize. Vegan dinners tend to contain a lot of tree nuts due to their high protein content. As mentioned earlier, none of my close friends have any food allergies. During the planning phase, my friends and I went over who was making what dish. To tone down the anxiety my boyfriend may feel that night, I picked a main dish so the both of us could be confident knowing there is at least one thing we could eat, after all, kisses were on the line and going an entire day with my boyfriend and not being allowed to kiss him, seemed torturous! Next, I became the nut police, or at least that’s what my friends called me. I made sure each person was aware of the extent of my boyfriend’s allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. A couple days before the big day, I started giving some tips on reading labels, and foods/areas to avoid (such as pre-made salads) at the grocery store. I reminded my friends to pay close attention to their ingredients, and if they made a mistake, and accidentally contaminated their meal with nuts, to be aware of that so that I could inform my boyfriend of which foods to avoid. Not only was my boyfriend able to feel relaxed during our get together, but my friends also chose to support the new change in my life, and learned more about accommodating food allergies.

I had no idea the impact his food allergy would have on my life, but I found the transition to be much easier, especially when kisses are up for grabs.

– Cindy B

Top Ten Tips Series: How to “Rock” Your Food Allergies

As someone who has grown up since the age of nine avoiding peanuts and tree nuts, I like to think I “Rock” at managing my food allergies. If you aren’t as confident, or if you want to become even more confident, then here are my top ten tips on how to completely “Rock” your food allergies:

  1. Wear your MedicAlert® or medical identification in case of emergency. For those like me who were really self-conscious about wearing these, there are now tons of really awesome new pieces of identification right down to military-style dog tags! Pick the one most stylish for you, then rep it and tell everyone about your food allergy.Man jump through the gap. Element of design.
  2. Show and tell. Show off your auto-injector and teach others how to use it.
  3. Be a master chef. Create a special food recipe that is allergy safe and share it with your friends to show that you too can eat delicious foods.
  4. Don’t keep your food allergies or an allergic reaction a secret. Be proactive and tell friends what to expect before a reaction occurs. Tell them what steps they should take in an emergency.
  5. Lead the way, spread the word! This can be done so many ways. You could write a song, create a sketch comedy routine, paint your thoughts, write a blog, write to a politician, or create a twitter account with tips on staying safe with food allergies. There’s an endless chain of possibilities here to really pave the way for every other food allergic person!
  6. Be suave. If dating, be flirty with potential dates by incorporating your food allergy into texts. One line that has proven to open the lines of communication for me time and time again is: “Hey, please try not to eat any peanuts or tree nuts from now until I see you tomorrow ;)” The wink face may seem corny but it is very helpful in keeping the message light, but serious, by implying that I may go in for a kiss and want to be as safe as possible. Her follow-up will likely involve some opportunity for me to educate her on the potential risks of kissing if my allergens are present.
  7. Educate co-workers. There are a lot of people who have never been exposed to food allergies and have no knowledge of the potential consequences allergen exposure can have on someone at-risk for anaphylaxis. For this reason, I think it’s important to teach the people you work with (and see every day) about food allergies. Teach them about signs and symptoms, how to use an auto-injector, where they can find yours, steps to take in case of an emergency, and how to avoid cross-contamination. If you want more advice on how to do this, check out Jason’s take on how to educate co-workers: https://adultswithallergies.com/2016/04/01/explaining-my-food-allergies-series-to-a-co-worker/
  8. Learn from past mistakes. I’m sure we have all had a close-call (or two…or many) in our lives. I like to think that mistakes are made so that we can learn from them. I try not to dwell on them. I figure out where I went wrong and how I can improve to ensure I remain safe in the future.
  9. Remain confident when facing adversity. No one knows you better than yourself so when you face a difficult food allergy scenario, remain confident, and stick to your safety game plan! You are the master of your food allergies.
  10. Continue to be AWESOME! Use my tips or find your own way to rock your food allergies! Just remember, to keep being awesome.

Awesome comic bubble retro text. Pop art style

Do you have any other tips that you think would benefit other adults with allergies? Feel free to post in the comments below and start a discussion.

Dylan B.

Explaining My Food Allergies Series: To a Significant Other

Couple having intimate dinner of summer eveningExplaining your allergies to anyone can be a difficult task, especially when faced with a new person you have started dating. Although it might feel uncomfortable or be hard to do, it is really important that your significant other has a good understanding of your allergies and how to help you stay safe.

When I first start to date someone, I try to bring up my allergies as early as possible in a more low key way than making it into a really serious conversation. I find that an easy way to do this is the first time I go out to eat somewhere, I casually mention that I have food allergies and that there are some restrictions as to where I can eat. By doing this, I do not have to bring my allergies up out of the blue. Another advantage of mentioning them this way is that it can ensure that we will be eating somewhere that I know is safe for me.

Typically, I don’t launch into all of the details of my allergies when I first bring it up. Often times the other person will bring it up when we do go out to eat or when we talk next as it is something they have been curious about. This is when I go through the basics of my allergies: what am I allergic to, where I carry my auto injector, and the fact that my allergies are life threatening and something to be taken seriously. I try really hard not to scare the other person as my allergies aren’t something that should intimidate or scare them. The more confident you are in talking about your allergies the more comfortable your significant other will hopefully feel about them.

At some point a little later on, it is important to ensure your significant other knows where you keep your auto injector and how to use it. People are often really interested in seeing an auto injector up close and want to know how it works so this is a great opportunity to have a teaching moment with him or her.

As you continue on in your relationship more aspects of your food allergies will come up naturally. I’ve found that topics such as safety on dates, with drinking, and travelling have been very commonly brought up. As long as you feel safe as your relationship is progressing there is no need to tell your significant other every last detail about your food allergies and how to manage them on the first date. It will be much less overwhelming and easier for them to remember if they learn over time.

Dating someone with a food allergy can be a difficult task! Especially if your allergens are a main component of your significant other’s diet. It is important to remember that this can be a big adjustment for people and it will take time for them to become knowledgeable about how you manage your allergies. Make sure you are always open to answering questions that they might have and be accepting of mistakes that they might make along the way!

If the person you are dating is right for you they will be accommodating and understanding of your allergies!

Lindsay S.

Five Allergy-Friendly Date Night Ideas

young couple having fun in the kitchen

When it comes to planning a date night, ideas have a tendency to cloud my brain. I’ve thought of so many unique date night activities at random times but when asked, “what do you want to do?” flat out by a girl, my brain often likes to jumble them all up at once. Coffee or beer is an easy option. Flying a kite might be fun. Going to see a movie is always a good move. Food is an easy option too. But what about my food allergies? Being allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to keep food allergy-friendly date night ideas in my back pocket or I risk setting myself (and my date) up for a night of no activities. For a food and drink junkie like me, it’s hard to envision a date night that doesn’t involve food in one way or another. So here’s a countdown of my five favourite allergy-friendly date nights (or days) and how I planned them to help you out if you ever get stuck. Keep in mind that a couple of these dates haven’t actually happened yet. But my blueprint plan is still all laid-out and waiting for that special someone.

  • Day trip to Toronto Island (or the beach or a nice big park). For this one, try to go somewhere that is spacious and beautiful with lots of open space. I find that fresh air on a date helps wash away any stress I may have and really keeps me happy. When I went to Toronto Island, I packed my own picnic lunch in a backpack. Food was never discussed with my date since I love giving surprises and the picnic lunch was the main surprise. By packing my own food, I had full control of what foods I would eat and what foods my date would eat. I asked her ahead of time what kinds of food she liked so she wouldn’t be disappointed by my surprise. Then I made sure I prepared some of those foods with little tweaks to ensure that they were allergen-free. I also clearly explained to my date the severity of my allergy and how to properly administer my auto-injector before date night. The important word there is before date night. Introducing my food allergy early is something I try to do as I find it keeps things more comfortable for both of us on date night. The last thing I did while planning this particular date was visit the area to make sure that there were no surprises (like a peanut café or a beach full of nut shells). If there are ever surprises, I would have to re-adjust my plans and it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.
  • Take a pottery class together. This is literally on my bucket list of dates-to-do. Taking a class like this is great because you get the chance to talk but you also work on something together that you can take home as a memory. Plus it just looks fun. The other bonus? Pottery class doesn’t have much risk for food allergy reactions. That being said, if you choose to do this, make sure you call the pottery people ahead of time to get a rundown of the process. Ask questions like, does everyone wash their hands before handling the clay? Do you have a vending machine on site? Think about any risks you can think of and ask if they may be present. Then just plan ahead and have some fun!
  • Homemade cooking/baking. For this one, the ball was completely in my court for planning. First, I brainstormed ideas about what my date and I wanted to make (oreo chocolate cheesecake brownies, of course!). Next, I looked up recipes. At this stage, I try to find allergy-friendly recipes but they don’t have to be. When I stumble upon a recipe that sounds undeniably delicious but contains my allergen, I immediately look up alternatives on the internet (Google is a huge help). Next, I went to the grocery store and picked up all the necessary ingredients and read each ingredient list carefully to ensure that nothing even “may contained” my allergen. With these steps meticulously complete, I was able to relax on date night and the final product was delicious!
  • Attend a baseball game (or other sporting event). This one was tricky since peanuts are everywhere at the ball park (or any sporting event for that matter). To plan, I called the venue ahead of time to ask if they had any allergy-safe sections for that match-up. Sometimes a venue will host a game where an entire section is peanut/nut free in the stands. So I try to keep my eyes out for those and plan my date night around them. When they told me they didn’t, I went to plan B: caution. I packed two auto-injectors, just in case. I made sure both my date and I had a hearty allergen-free meal before the game so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy food at the game. This was a relief for both my wallet and me. That being said, we were both snackers at events like this so we snuck in a pack of candy I knew was safe. When we decided to snack, we both washed our hands at the washroom and made sure not to touch anything before eating the candy. As for drinks, we stuck with bottled water! Simple planning for a great date.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon. This one will likely never ever happen but I can dream. Planning a movie date night is simple and can be really fun. Put a bunch of movie names in a hat, then pull one out and watch it. I like to add in silly movies that I’ve never heard of because it adds to the fun of pulling one out of the hat. To make it more engaging, make it a themed movie hat night and only add movie titles into the hat that fit the theme (for example, Leslie Neilson night). I asked my date to bring the hat and volunteered to think of snack ideas. Again, this kept me in control of what we both ate, just in case my date let my allergy slip her mind. By this point in our relationship, she was already quite familiar with my allergy but it never hurts to remind them not to eat your allergen within 24-48 hours of seeing you. Then just kick back, maybe cuddle, and enjoy the movie!

Sometimes date night is extravagant and other times it’s really simple. Just remember to plan ahead, always bring your auto-injector, and enjoy the little moments. Happy date night!

Dylan B.