Tag Archives: Eating out with allergies

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.

Checking it Twice: Adventures in Dining

It was a beautiful Saturday in July. The sun was shining, there was a breeze in the air, and Ottawa was looking particularly beautiful.

It had started off as a great day, and when a group of friends and I decided to venture down the street to one of my favourite restaurants in the city, I thought nothing of it. I usually call ahead to most places to ensure its safety, but this particular restaurant was consistently safe, I had even had discussions with the owner about allergens, so I felt confident just showing up on a lazy Saturday to have drinks and appetizers.

Business Celebrate Cheerful Enjoyment Festive ConceptAs we were seated I immediately noticed new menus and the twinge of anxiety chimed in; maybe I should have called ahead. As our server took our drink orders my heart sank and my stomach lunged into my throat. Staring me in the face was a burger compiled of pure nuts, cashews, almonds, and pecans encrusted with sesame seeds. Literally a burger constructed of all my worst, most severe allergens. I almost dropped my drink in shock. This was a safe place, my favourite place to eat in the city, literally down the street from my home! it had always been safe and now without warning it all changed. I had several emotions stirring inside me: Guilt because I choose this place. My friends had just ordered their drinks and barely had a second to enjoy them. Fear because of cross-contamination and the idea that those allergens were lurking around so openly. Anger because a place I trusted and felt confident in had let me down. It took my trust and broke it. And lastly, disappointed, not in the restaurant but in myself. I allowed myself to be lulled into a sense of security and familiarity and let my guard down.

Luckily, I was with people I trusted and who knew my food allergies well and noticed the burger a few seconds after me. I asked the server about the food preparation and she informed me that it wasn’t prepped in a special area and cross-contamination was a very real possibility. My friends asked me what I wanted to do, and we collectively paid our bills and left.

I could have let that experience ruin my attitude towards restaurants and new experiences, letting myself become bitter or scared of new things, or even places I felt safe. Instead, I let it be a very stern reminder that it’s okay to have trust, but you constantly have to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Even though I may have eaten there a million times or been there before, you always have to ensure it’s still safe. I now try to always call ahead or check their website before going out. It may be tedious but it’s a small task to do to ensure a safe meal.

– Arianne K.

Food Allergies at Hockey Games

Being Canadian and growing up in a family that both plays and loves hockey, I have been to my fair share of hockey games throughout my life. Whether it is at a local rink watching my brothers play or watching the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, I have always enjoyed the classic Canadian sport. At most hockey arenas, food is typically served, which brings an inherent risk for those with allergies, but if you make sure you play it safe you can enjoy a hockey night in Canada live in action.

I can only speak to my NHL game experience here in Toronto so make sure you check out your local arena before attending a game!

  1. There are a lot of options for food

Most arenas will have a wide variety of fast food options for you to choose from. They can range from your classic hot dogs and pizza to poutine and gourmet burgers. There are typically stands that are owned by the arena itself and often common fast food chains will have booths there as well. Therefore, you should have lots to choose from and might have some familiar brands that you know are safe to eat from.

  1. Plan ahead

If you know you won’t have a meal at home prior to attending the game, take a quick look at the website of the arena you are going to. Most of them will have information on their food services and will list what food vendors are there. This can help you plan an allergy-friendly meal in advance.

A bowl of popcorn with a glass of soda at a sports game.

  1. See if you can bring your own food

A simple internet search should give you some helpful information about food allergies at the arena. For example, the Air Canada Centre has a page on their website stating that fans with food allergies are permitted to bring their own food in and warn that they do sell peanuts in the arena.

  1. Be on the look out

Peanuts are not only a very common allergen, they are also commonly found at sporting events. Since most venues will likely not be peanut-free, if you are allergic to peanuts make sure to take a quick scan of the area around you to see if anybody is eating them. You are attending any game at your own risk, but if you are with a group of friends you can ask to switch seats to keep you away from any nuts.

  1. Have fun!

Going to watch the good ol’ hockey game is all about having fun and supporting your home team. Don’t let your food allergies limit you from attending a game!

– Lindsay S.

Travelling Across the Pond to England and Ireland with a Food Allergy

Hello mates! This summer I travelled across the pond to the beautiful, historically rich countries of England and Ireland, where I spent two weeks sightseeing with my family. As they were English-speaking countries, travelling with a food allergy was much easier since there was no language barrier to overcome when communicating my allergies. That being said, I still needed to take precautions, starting with flights and accommodations.

Silhouette of passenger in an airport lounge waiting for flight aircraft

Beforehand, I called the airline to advise them that I would be travelling with them and they kindly noted my allergies and set up a buffer zone, which allowed me to feel comfortable and safe over the duration of the flight. I truly appreciate that airlines are putting more procedures in place and are taking precautions to accommodate allergic-individuals. I recommend that you too check the different airline policies prior to booking. I also made sure to pack lots of food and snacks for the flight as well as extra snacks for the remainder of my trip, such as granola bars and individually packed oatmeal. Most importantly, I packed four Epi-Pens®. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared, especially when you are overseas.

When it came to accommodations, I stayed in a “flat” as the British say, or an apartment-style room that contained a full kitchen. I also made sure to choose a flat that had a grocery store nearby so I would have easy accessibility to pick up essentials. I was greatly surprised to see that they pre-package all their fresh produce in addition to breads and other snacks. I was also surprised to see that all packaged food had extremely clear and detailed ingredient labels with priority allergens bolded. This definitely made me feel comfortable that the foods were safe, as they also clearly outlined which foods were not suitable for individuals with certain allergies. When travelling, I stick with making breakfast in the room and packing a lunch, so that I only have to worry about eating out once a day for dinner. Not only is this safer, but it’s also healthier, more cost-efficient, and less time-consuming! When it comes to eating out for dinner, I like to ask for the menu and look through the items, seeing if there is an option on the menu that’s allergy-safe. I soon learned that the menus at restaurants also made allergens easily seen as they used a universal coding system. Nevertheless, I still made sure to explain my allergies and the notion of cross-contamination to the servers and restaurant managers. I found that most restaurants and food service staff were aware of severe allergies, cross-contamination, dietary restrictions, and the precautions they need to take to ensure the safety of their customers. If I felt uneasy about a restaurant, my family and I simply relocated to another that we felt more comfortable with.

View of a vintage restaurant menu on a rustic wood background

Additionally, there are a few interesting things I encountered on this trip. While in the UK, I learned that traditionally, fish and chips are fried using peanut oil. Make sure to always ask the server what oil they use in their fryer before trying this traditional British dish. Also, while visiting popular tourist spots such as Big Ben and the Tower Bridge, I noticed a lot of stands of the street selling roasted tree nuts. These stands were not enclosed, allowing the nuts to fall onto the surrounding area. My family and I made sure to keep an eye out for these stands to make sure I was a safe distance away from them. Also, be mindful of fellow tourists around you who may be eating the nuts and disposing the shells around them. This could lead to an unwanted cross-contamination scenario.

Furthermore, if you’re a coffee-enthusiast (like me), you’re aware of the increasing popularity of almond milk. I always make sure to ask the barista if they use almond milk before ordering, and let them know about my allergy and ask about potential cross-contamination. I was happy to find two coffee chains I could rely on, as they did not have almond milk on their menu: Caffè Nero and Pret A Manger. I also learned that Caffè Nero had a wide variety of pre-packed sandwiches with ingredient labels outlining the priority allergens in bold, just like the products in the grocery store. It was nice to be able to grab and treat myself to a peanut and tree nut-safe sandwich on-the-go. Having these allergy-friendly chains at my disposal was very convenient as I was guaranteed to find a location near any major tourist attraction.

Overall, travelling to England and Ireland with an allergy was very manageable, and I would definitely recommend adding them to your travel-list!

– Michelle D.

Travels to Peru- Allergies Included

From stunning mountain tops, to lush rainforests and deep canyons, combined with a remarkable history, rich culture, and of course Machu Picchu itself—the hard question is, what isn’t calling you to Peru? South America has long been on my list of places to visit with Peru at the top of countries to explore within this vast continent. So needless to say, as soon as the time was right, I purchased my ticket! While travelling to a new country in a continent you’ve never been to causes a great deal of excitement and anticipation, it also leaves you with some unknowns to be discovered. This holds especially true when travelling with food allergies. With that said, I am a firm believer that you should not let your food allergies hold you back from new and exciting experiences! I found that with the right preparation, I was able to accommodate my allergies to wheat, eggs, and peanuts, and not have my allergies hold me back from making the most of my travels to Peru!

Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu
Llama in front of ancient inca town of Machu Picchu

When planning any trip/vacation there is always extensive preparations beforehand. From booking your flights, to nailing down your itinerary, and of course packing a strategic suitcase, there is always something to be planned or done. Of course, there is always an extra degree of planning when you have to consider your allergies. Whenever I am picking a country to travel to, I need to look up what their typical cuisine is and assess the likelihood of finding some allergen-friendly food options. I found that when researching common Peruvian dishes, most consisted of grilled meats, potatoes (over 300 varieties…yay!), grilled vegetables, quinoa, and soups. Luckily, most of these work well with my wheat, egg, and peanut-free diet! I also ensure that whenever I am travelling to another country where English is not the primary language spoken, that I bring my allergy cards.  These allergy cards are laminated cards that I’ve ordered online which are the size of business cards and state in whatever language I order (in this case Spanish): my allergies, pictures of the specific food allergens, and also feature a specific card that states I need immediate medical attention and need to be taken to a hospital where they speak English. I’ve used these cards in the past in Tanzania, Nepal, and throughout Europe and have had very positive results. I also like to always have Google Translate on my phone, as another means of translation if needed.

When it comes to planning my itinerary, I again take some extra considerations. For this particular trip to Peru, the first part of my trip that I planned was a four-day trek.  When researching trekking companies, I considered their ability to accommodate dietary restrictions. The company I decided on was one that actually asked clients to list their dietary restrictions on their initial intake form. After further communication with this company they assured me that they regularly accommodated food allergies and would be able to provide meals during the trek that would be allergen-safe.  Since this trek was only four days out of my two weeks of travelling, when I was planning what other cities and sites I would be visiting, I also looked up what health services were closest and the presence of any English-speaking hospitals. I kept a log of the name and locations of these hospitals and health services hoping not to ever actually need them, but knowing just in case!

Holiday suitcase

Finally, when it came to packing for my trip, along with trying to strategically fit enough clothes and supplies for two weeks in one hikers backpack I also ensured I packed allergy-friendly snacks for what I thought might last the better part of two weeks as well as multiples of my auto-injector as well as anti-histamine pills.

After months of lead up, the day of my trip finally arrived!  After two long plane rides I arrived safe and sound in the city of Cusco— a city in southeastern Peru.  This is the city you are likely to visit if you are trekking to or planning to visit Machu Picchu.  Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, Cusco is a city that is very traveller-friendly.  I spent two and a half days in Cusco as I acclimatized to the high altitudes. During my stay, I found I was able to eat out with relative ease with waiter or waitresses either able to speak English or by using my allergy cards. One of my favourite restaurants had to be a place that specialized in vegetarian/vegan dishes and used only organic ingredients grown in the sacred valley (and believe it or not, this was also probably one of my cheapest meals eating out!!).

After the two and a half days spent in Cusco it was time for some trekking!  The trail that I hiked is known as the Salkantay trail and is a 64 km hike over three days that leads you to the base of Machu Picchu, where on the fourth day you actually spend the entire day visiting Machu Picchu. The trek was everything I could have wanted and more. The days were tough first hiking up through the Andean Mountains until finally reaching the Salkantay Pass and then hiking down into the forested valleys below.  Every type of weather and degree of temperature seemed to be experienced and every form of clothing worn. The scenery and dramatic landscapes were absolutely spectacular and humbling at the same time, not to mention made every blister and worn out muscle worth it. Food wise, I always had food options I could eat on my trip. While the trekking company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which I was able to eat, they also provided trekkers with a snack— which I found more often than not I could not eat. I definitely under-estimated how many granola bars I would go through while hiking 20+ km a day. One near miss at the end of my trip came after my trek was finished and when I was out for dinner and drinks with my fellow trekkers. Arguably the most popular alcoholic drink in Peru is known as a “Pisco Sour,” a cocktail consisting of pisco (brandy commonly found in Peru and Chile), lemon juice, and bitters all shaken together with a creamy froth added on top. It wasn’t until I had my glass and was about to take my first sip when a friend of mine listed the ingredients of this drink again and added that meringue was the finishing feature on top of the drink. This of course meant that the white froth I was about to slurp up was just beaten egg whites and would have lead to a less ideal end to my trek. So, instead of this drink, one of my fellow trekkers got an extra drink and I got to try the pisco sour minus of course any egg whites.

Silhouette of people near the mountain.

The rest of my travels took me to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru— this lake being the highest navigable lake in the world. I began my travels in the lakeside city of Puno, I visited islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, before following the coast down to Bolivia where I spent several days on the Bolivian side of the lake (I highly recommend giving a visit to the Bolivian side if you ever find yourself visiting Lake Titicaca!) Now being away from the popular traveller city of Cusco, it was definitely a rarity to come across locals who knew English and I either relied on using my allergy cards when eating out or fellow travellers who happened to be able to speak English as well as Spanish. I also was out of my packed snacks not long after my trek was finished.  When it came to purchasing allergen-safe snacks, I quickly learned that bananas and avocados not only taste a million times better in South America but stay ripe for days longer and pack well without bruising as easily as they do in Canada. I also ate way more Pringles then I care to admit. With all of that, I am happy to say that I did avoid any allergy incidents at all of the restaurants that I visited and was still able to indulge in some fantastic Peruvian cuisine! For anyone visiting Peru/Bolivia my top food recommendations have to be their Ceviche quinoa soup and for anyone super adventurous perhaps some Alpaca steak!

Anyone with food allergies knows the extra hurdles that come with travelling, but that’s not to say allergies should be a barrier to getting out and exploring the world a little more! Comment below with your favourite travel destinations and what you did to ensure you stayed safe while travelling with allergies!

– Caitlyn P.

Anxiety and Your Allergies

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re sitting in a restaurant or at a friend’s, or even on a plane. You’re minding your own business, when you see your allergen walk by in the hands of someone you’ve already made aware of your food allergy. You also made sure that any food around you was be allergen-free. But, there it is, walking around within smelling distance or maybe, scarily enough, within touching distance. You start to panic; you watch the food as it travels around the room, it looms closer and closer. You wonder, is that my allergen? Is it coming over here? Am I just imagining it? Do I say something? A million thoughts swirl around your head, you wonder if you should say something or just leave, but you’re stuck, the words form in your mind but can’t seem to make the journey to your mouth. And then it starts, the panic sets in as the food is placed near you, or you watch the same person handle your food with the unwashed hands that touched your allergen. You shrink into your chair, and try to fold into yourself, you can’t make a noise, your breath becomes short, and you’re frozen in that moment.

Portrait of young man suffering for depression

I’ve been in this situation one too many times, and sometimes the feeling of panic still creeps up on me unsuspectingly. You so badly want to speak up for yourself but you feel deflated and beat since they didn’t listen the first time. It’s enough to make you want to never venture out for food again. It can be hard to put into words the panicky feeling you get when your allergen pops up un-expectantly or in a situation you can’t remove yourself from, and even more so to voice that feeling and ask for help. It seems like anxiety and food allergies can sometimes go hand-in-hand, but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. It took me a long time to find my voice, and express my concern in risky situations, and yes sometimes its uncomfortable or even awkward but I’ve discovered it’s a fleeting feeling compared to the anxiety and dread of not saying anything or feeling trapped. It takes time and practice but expressing your concerns out loud and making an effort to rectify the situation will leave you with a little more confidence each and every time.

Trust the people around you and the people you care about, practice the situation with them, or have a statement prepared.
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before, you’re in the same situation, you see your allergen coming close to you. Instead of backing down, you find your voice, confidently express your concerns and instead of dread, you feel happy and satisfied with not only the situation but also yourself.

– Arianne K.