Dining out. One of the small pleasures in life that we tend to take a little too much advantage of. Having food sensitivities typically makes dining out a little less pleasurable, though, and a lot more anxiety-riddled. Fortunately, that anxiety can be lessened when you learn these tips and are adequately prepared.
1. Do a little pre-game research.
Before I go any where new I always pull up the menu online. Thankfully, we live in a world where you have easy access to probably 99% of the world's menus online. A lot of time you can even find a menu that has food allergies on it. This makes it especially nice for hidden ingredients such as eggs or dairy. Unfortunately, it's not that easy to find very specific food sensitivities such as potatoes or tapioca, which are typically used in gluten-free alternatives. That's where number 2 and 3 come in handy.
2. Do not be afraid to ask questions
Asking your server, the manager, or the chef questions will allow them to recognize that you are serious while also assuring you that your food sensitivities will be avoided. The typical questions I ask when dining at a new restaurant include:
- Do you have a food allergy menu?
- Is there eggs in this recipe?
- Can I substitute this for this?
- Can I add protein to this salad?
3. Know your restaurant
I typically eat at the same 10 restaurants around San Antonio that I know do not cause me any sensitivity flares. Anytime I try a new place and it ends successfully then I add them to my ongoing list. The restaurants I frequent are very open about their menu and allow for substitutions. A lot of the places even recommend other options or will ask specifically which foods I am trying to avoid.
4. Go local
Local restaurants that also support local farmers (or better yet, grow some of their own foods) are GREAT because they tend to be very knowledgeable about their product. Some of these places may be a little more expensive, but their food is typically high quality and incredibly delicious. Since those of us with food sensitivities typically do not dine out on a regular basis, it is worth it sometimes to spend a little extra money on a high quality, amazing meal!
5. *Pro-tip: Try to find places that boast about being sensitive-friendly!
Looking through review sites for "Gluten-Free Restaurants" etc. can be incredibly useful and get you a long list of approved restaurants very quickly.
6. Avoid Busy time
When we get a little too busy, things tend to slip. I can admit that 100% with myself. Therefore, I try really hard not to put a waiter, manager, or cooking staff at risk of making a mistake by going out to eat at the busiest time of day. Especially when it comes to a new restaurant. I like to eat dinner early, usually around 6:00-6:30, so this typically isn't an issue. Typically restaurants are at their busiest between 12:00-1:00 and 7:00-8:00 pm. Trying to avoid these times by eating a little bit earlier can save you the pain of eating something your body hates.
*Bonus - no long wait to get a table!
7. Keep it simple.
This is likely the most important step to follow. Choosing a very complicated order that has some sort of sauce that may or may not have hidden ingredients in it may not be a great choice. If you cannot look at the ingredients on the menu and guarantee that it is good for you, then you may need to make another choice. Salads keep it very easy. If salad dressings are an issue, ask for either an oil and vinegar mixture OR bring your own (which I have NO shame in doing because I make some delicious salad dressings). Keeping it simple will guarantee that you will go home happy and symptom-free!
8. Be wary of "gluten-free" foods
A lot of things that are dubbed "gluten-free" are not always best for everyone. A lot of "gluten-free" foods (breads & pizzas in particular) utilize other foods that are also common food sensitivities such as tapioca, rice, potato, and arrow-root flour. Also, other ingredients such as eggs may be utilized. If you do not have any issues with gluten-free alternative flours then go right on! I have issues with both tapioca and white potato flour so I try to avoid these "gluten-free" foods as much as possible. It's best to always double check before diving in!
9. Do lots of research before traveling
Most people, including me, dine out for 100% of their meals when traveling. It is incredibly important to be prepared and not just "wing it" while on vacation. Wrap all of this information and put it together to ensure that you have a safe trip that is void of any nasty food sensitivity flare-ups. Research, write out, and even make reservations for several restaurants for your trip so that you are not wandering around trying to find food sensitive-friendly restaurant while on an empty stomach.
A little prep goes a long way in avoiding food sensitivities. That doesn't mean that we have to completely avoid dining out for the rest of our lives. Quite the opposite. We should be able to fully enjoy our lives and eat some really awesome food in the process. Avoiding food sensitivities do not have to be a pain, and I can show you how to thrive! Set up a FREE 15 minute phone consult so I can show you how!
The Functional RD