Aah, as Elvis prances around singing New York, New York, my heart races with anticipation! Psst – if you haven’s already guessed, I am a total city girl at heart 🙂 And, New York City is undoubtedly my favorite city in the world – museums, skyscrapers, eclectic stores, jazz bars, theater and for a foodie like me – the incredible smorgasbord of restaurants! Dining out in New York City with one of my favorite people in the world, my dearest friend, Bindu…’a perfect evening’ !
Since I became mom, holiday-time socializing has become bitter-sweet. Seeing the wonder of festivals through the eyes of a 5 year old is priceless. But, ensuring that he does not get excluded from enjoying festive foods because of his multiple food allergies is emotionally draining. I spent most of my youth in India and most my adult-life in the US of A. What does that translate into? Our family celebrates all the Indian festivals that begin in late-August and go on till early-November and also celebrates all the festivals in the US – Halloween through New Year 🙂
When Arjun was younger, I would make allergy friendly versions of goodies at home and carry safe food for him to all gatherings. As he is growing up, he has outgrown a few allergies which has made eating out a little easier. However, the challenging part is – though he is aware that he needs to be very careful about what he eats, he is a little boy who wants to feel that he is as normal as the other kids. He understands that he cannot eat everything from the festive spread but he does hope that there are at least a couple of items he can eat. Fortunately for him, most people who have us over go out of their way to ensure that he has something more substantial than chips to eat. Thanks to all of you who are considerate to food allergy sufferers.
As a rule, eating out is better avoided by food allergy sufferers though an increasing number of restaurants do have ingredient statements and allergen declarations. Despite that, cross contamination can make dining out hazardous. However, there are times when we want to give our children a small treat or need options when traveling. So, I have short-listed a couple of national chains where there are a few choices apart from juice and soda. Even before I enter a restaurant, I look up their website and minutely go through their ‘Nutritional Information’ pages. Burger King (www.bk.com) was the first place my son had the joyous experience of sitting down like other kids and enjoying a meal. Yayy for BK! Though the options are limited, even that is more than what they can get elsewhere:
1) French Fries: Burger King Fries don’t have wheat in them. Oh yes – fries are not just potatoes! Most often they have wheat and a million other chemicals added to them to enhance flavor and texture. So, check the ingredient listing very carefully. BK is also one of the few places where the fries are fried separately.
2) Tendergrill chicken: Even a piece of grilled chicken is never just chicken. Soy protein is a common lurker in many chicken dishes. Thankfully, soy flour is not used in BK’s grilled chicken which goes under the name ‘tendergrill’. It is really tender and delicious – just ask my son J
3) Apple Fries: Plain old slices of apple with a preservative. However the caramel dipping sauce that comes with it is an absolute no-no!
Couple of things to keep in mind before dining out are:
1) Keep in mind that restaurants change their recipes without notice so look up their website every time or you can even ask for it at the counter in many places. The latest BK ingredient statement can be accessed at: (http://www.bk.com/)
2) Always check the food before consuming it. I found an Onion Ring (contans wheat) once in the BK Fries!
3) A reader brought up a very good point – ingredient statements are different in different places (especially different countries) even within the same company. Thanks Karen 🙂
Wow – the human race does eat out a lot!!! Birthday, Mother’s Day, friends from out of town, kid on the honor roll – we use the slightest excuse to celebrate with food 😉 However, dining out can be nerve-racking for someone with multiple food allergies. But, eating out has become so synonymous with celebration, relaxation and socializing that being armed can sometimes be a better solution than being paranoid because feeling part of the larger community is also very important. The moment we leave our kitchen, the outside world is fraught with potential food pitfalls but there are some pointers I have found useful. I will keep updating this list too because I seem to learn something new every day about managing allergies. Readers – do add to this list from the lessons you have learnt managing your own or a family member’s food allergies. The more we know, the better we can keep allergic reactions at bay…
Always have medicines handy (Epinephrine shot and Antihistamine dose): One cannot repeat this often enough – we just cannot afford to forget EpiPen and Benadryl even once. Ensure that the medicines have not expired and they have been kept under temperature conditions specified on the packaging. Be armed with meds even if you are not planning to eat anything outside.
Even safe is unsafe: Even eating something that you have not been allergic to in the past does not mean that you will not have a reaction today.
Do your homework: When possible, check out ingredient listings, menus and potential choices beforehand. Call the restaurant or the parent company if ingredient listing is not available. You will be surprised what things can go into even a simple dish! Even a techno-phobe like me switched to a blackberry so that I have instant access to online menus, nutritional information and ingredient information.
Stick to known and simple dishes: As a lifelong vegetarian, I had no clue that chicken could be marinated in yogurt. Therein I made the mistake of giving baked chicken marinated in yogurt to my son who is allergic to dairy. So, when in doubt stick to the relatively simple and the known!
Beware of genericterms in ingredient listings: An ingredient like ‘spices’ may include allergenic items like sesame, mustard, sunflower seeds etc. The term ‘dry fruits’ includes one of the most dangerous food allergens – nuts…scary!!!
Remind the server: Do not expect the server to remember that you have allergies when ordering dessert just because you had mentioned it an hour back when ordering entrees and appetizers.
Be wary of every dish: Something as innocuous as a fries may have been deep-fried in peanut oil or a loaf of bread could have milk in it! Why have we stopped making simple food?!? 😀
Mentally alert: Despite all these measures accidents may happen any time and that’s why it is good to be mentally prepared for the worst. I remember seeing on a TV show about self-defense that under moments of extreme stress people react at the lowest level of their training. So the more prepared we are, the more likely that we are to take quick and correct action.