These next three tips can help you eat well away from home even with food intolerances and allergies.
1. Food intolerances and food allergies make it difficult and stressful to eat out.
Eating out with a food intolerance or allergy is tough! But still doable.
Legally, restaurants do not have to place a food allergy warning for the top 8 allergens (wheat, peanut, egg, fish, soy, milk, shellfish, tree nuts) but many chain restaurants do share if any of the top 8 allergens are present and are accommodating to individuals with food intolerance or allergies.
Your best bet is to check the restaurant’s website. I have found chains are more likely to share this online. Smaller restaurants where you can speak with the owner or chef are helpful and usually very happy to accommodate.
My youngest son (with a cow’s milk protein intolerance) and I (still nursing) have been avoiding all forms of the cow’s milk protein (milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, and anything containing dairy) for over a year now. I’ve had great success with this method. I am honest with the waiter and state we cannot have any form of dairy in our meal. A key I have found to have a pleasant experience is to state the full consequence of what happens to my son if he gets dairy.
The exchange goes like this:
“Hello. I have a couple questions regarding the menu. My son and I have a dairy allergy (*easier than explaining an intolerance or how the protein crosses through breastmilk) and can’t have any dairy in our food. I know this is an inconvenience to you and I don’t want to come off as crazy, but we have to be careful or he might have blood in his stools from his intestines reacting to the dairy. Thank you for your help in figuring out our menu choices.”
Depending on the intolerance or allergy, you can find guides and links online to the restaurant. I use godairyfree.org to find out what restaurants have dairy-free food options (sit down or fast food). Their website has a compilation of links to visit for many restaurants nationwide and updates regularly. There are similar guides for other intolerances and allergies.
You still have to place quite a bit of trust in the restaurant. I double check for visible dairy when my meal comes (cheese sprinkled on a soup or salad or obvious butter). I’ve caught this a few times.
I recommend trialing eating out with an intolerance/allergy when the restaurant is not busy as kitchens can get hectic and stressed during peak times.
Call ahead (during non-busy time) to ask questions to the owner or a chef to help decide if you can trust the restaurant. You can usually get a good feel for their competence which helps me trust them more with my food items.
I have left restaurants (or just had a beverage) when I felt they were too busy and/or unable to ensure our food would be dairy free. Please praise and thank the restaurants, waiters, and chef when you find one that goes above and beyond! I have my faves and they know it. Everyone loves to be valued and praised for their work.
2. I’m so hungry by the time I get to a restaurant I overeat!
If you’re hungry when you arrive at a restaurant, you may end up eating too much. One way to prevent this is to eat a healthy snack before you get there. A higher-protein (10-15gm protein) snack could make you feel more full and help prevent overeating.
lower sugar (10-14gm of sugar) yogurt or Greek yogurt
hard-boiled egg and small piece of fruit
1 tbsp peanut butter and small piece of fruit (apple or banana)
2-3 tbsp hummus and veggies
Handful (20 ish) of nuts like almonds or walnuts
Slice of hard cheese and some whole grain crackers or small piece of fruit
3. Try eating mindfully (previous blog post on this topic)
The premises of mindful eating are:
Eating slower with less distractions
Listening to your body (Am I hungry? If so, do I want crunchy, savory, etc.? Am I full?)
Determining if eating is based on emotion or true hunger
Using all your senses to enjoy food
Appreciation of food and how it got to your plate
4. Order first. We are influenced by other’s choices sometimes without even noticing.
Be ready with what you have planned ahead to order. Be brave and order what is best for your health and life. If others critique your choice, ask them to help support you in making these small but challenging food choices to meet your life and health goals.
5. Drink plenty of water before and during the meal.
This can help reduce over-eating as your stomach fills with water. It takes about 20 minutes for signals from your stomach to reach your brain to state you are getting full. We tend to eat too fast for these signals to reach our brain before we eat past our hunger. Drinking water can help slow down your food intake.
This will also help you balance the higher sodium (salt) intake found in foods when eating out.
6. Order an appetizer (or two) or order a la carte for your meal instead of a large entrée.
You can order specific side dishes and an appetizer for a more balanced option. Appetizer versions of meals you like (like smaller chicken nachos) can be significantly less calories and just as filling as the full size entrée which likely is a portion for 2-3 people.