Eating out with dairy free kids. I won’t lie – it can be awkward asking for dairy free options, or what is in this or that. Receiving blank stares when you ask questions such as: ‘can you make the pizza with no cheese please’ or ‘is there butter already on the vegetables?’ It can take the fun out of eating out. It doesn’t have to though. Being prepared can turn it into a much better experience.
Sometimes we are coming home from a day out and decide it would be nice to eat out and I forget for a minute the absolute pain this can be. Quite apart from trying to get my boys to behave in the restaurant, it can be a minefield trying to get them something they can have. They generally end up with total junk – chips and sausages or chips and nuggets if the nuggets are not made with milk. Then if they ask for nuggets and find they have milk there’s an inevitable tantrum.. you get the picture.
With the new European labelling legislation, from December 2014 all restaurants will be required to be able to tell their customers exactly what is contained in each item on their menu and whether or not it contains any of the main 14 allergens.
Initially I thought this would take a long time to filter through to restaurant experience, but on a rare occasion eating out with my husband lately, the staff were very well trained on allergens. My husband requested no onions on any of his salad or main course, the waiter asked if he was allergic or just didn’t like them. When my husband replied that he is allergic to them, the waiter double checked with the chef and he ended up not being able to have his main course as the chicken had been marinaded in something containing onions. Thorough staff, double checking. And clear, factual information. That’s all we as allergy parents want to be able to make informed decisions when eating out. I really hope this is a sign of things to come.
Definitely restaurants seem to have taken the ‘gluten free’ options on board. Many many restaurants now mark whether their menu items are gluten free or coeliac friendly. Hopefully we’ll see more restaurants look after the dairy free people too.
So between the two cow’s milk protein allergic kids and my husband being allergic to onions, eating out is a minefield. Here are some tips to make your life easier.
If you find a place that is good with dealing with allergens then stick to it. If you find a good local restaurant and you can get decent mains and dessert for the kids, then use it as the old reliable when you want to know for sure everything will run smoothly.
If you have a family occasion, a birthday or wedding or anniversary etc., make sure to ring ahead. This is really the best way to deal with a big occasion. It would ruin your day if your child was fed something accidentally or if it turned out there was no dessert available for them. Speak to the restaurant staff, explain your child’s allergy/allergies and ask what can they have from the menu. The restaurant will be doubly careful because they have had advance notice and if they are worth their salt they will make something specially.
If you have a baby or a toddler bring a jar or squeezy bottle of food for them that you know it is safe to have. In my experience potatoes are almost always mashed with butter and vegetables also tend to be cooked in butter. I’ll never forget how sick my little boy was after having mashed carrots in a restaurant when he was 2. Of course you can ask the restaurant to bring you out vegetables and potatoes with no butter but sometimes they say this is not possible.
At dessert time if there is nothing dairy free on the menu ask if they can prepare fruit salad or strawberries or sometimes they will have sorbet. I usually get better results if I suggest something rather than ask for something dairy free as they mightn’t think of these options. If they have eton mess on the menu sometimes they can make this up without cream for you.
Bring your own dairy free dessert in case there are no options. I have often done this, especially when the boys were toddlers, it’s no big deal to whip out a fruit pot or a soya dessert when you might be bringing your own toddler food anyway. I would still take along a soya dessert or a pot of jelly for the boys now though if I thought they were going to miss out. If there was something available I would get it for the boys, but if not I would have the alternatives in my bag. Although it’s never been an issue, I’d be prepared to argue with the staff if they made a fuss about them eating food not from the premesis.
Speak to your child if they are old enough to understand. Before you go to the restaurant, explain that they mightn’t be able to have their first choice, I find with my 5 year old that preparing him for something is half the battle. This is especially important now that he reads the menu himself, he tends to get stuck on an option that he MUST HAVE and that’s where the trouble can start.
I would love to hear about your restaurant experiences eating out dairy free.