Eating Out with Food Allergies

By Shae

Hi, my name is Shae and I am 13 years old. I was diagnosed with a milk allergy when I was a baby. Since then, I have had several anaphylactic reactions and have spent many hours in the emergency room. My family and I work hard to advocate, educate and raise awareness about food allergies. I have a website and Instagram @shaeallergy_07 dedicated to raising awareness about food allergies. Thanks so much to @foodallergyyouth for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

Eating at restaurants can definitely be a challenge for people with food allergies. For me, it’s been quite a challenge since the majority of my reactions have been due to mistakes made at restaurants. When I was younger, I was more confident going to restaurants with my family because my parents were the ones advocating for me. When I was 3 years old, I had a bad experience at a restaurant.  We had made it through the meal safely and it was time to order dessert. My mom had asked the server if there was any type of ice cream that did not have dairy in it. We were advised that the sherbert was safe and that there would be a note on the ticket stating that I have a severe dairy allergy. Not having a ton of experiences with restaurants, we accepted that answer and ordered the sherbert. You can probably guess what happened next. I immediately went into anaphylaxis. Thankfully we always carry 2 epipens. After my mom administered the epipen, I was rushed by ambulance to the ER. We later found out that sherbert does in fact have milk in it. This experience made it hard for my family and I to work up the courage to go back to any restaurants. 

Eventually over time and becoming more educated about food allergies, we did go back to eating out and we have had many positive experiences. We learned that researching the menu prior to eating at the restaurant was a big help. We also would call the restaurant ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate my allergy. When we arrive at restaurants, the first thing we do is ask for a manager or the chef and explain about my allergy and go over the menu to see what is safe for me to eat. My confidence with restaurants got better and better and I found that I even formed a good relationship with certain restaurants and felt comfortable eating there because they knew me. Until…. When I was 8 years old, my family and I went out of state for a day trip. Before we started to head home, we stopped at a restaurant for dinner. We did everything right, including asking for a manager and going over the menu. We were assured that what I ordered was safe. I ordered a hot dog and applesauce. My mom asked to see all the labels and then she even called the hotdog company just to double check. We were once again assured that everything was safe. Unfortunately I went into anaphylaxis with just a few bites. This particular experience was scary because we have no idea why I had a reaction. We decided it must have been due to cross contact from an unsafe food or unwashed hands but I guess we’ll never really know. As you can imagine, we decided restaurants were off the table for us. The only place that we felt comfortable was Disney and even then, it took a while to work up the courage to eat there. Thankfully we have always had such positive experiences there and I am so thankful for them.

Nowadays, I don’t eat at a lot of restaurants. I still have some anxiety about eating out. I will happily go to vegan restaurants because I know the entire restaurant does not have dairy in their foods which makes it safe for me. To be honest, even with vegan restaurants I still ask to speak to a manager and explain my dairy allergy and I always make sure that whatever I order does not in fact have dairy in it. I want to be able to enjoy my food so asking these questions makes me feel safer. 

Overall, I find that bringing my own food wherever I go is the best choice for me so being able to cook safe food for myself is something that I had to learn. What I have learned from these experiences is that I love to cook! I enjoy learning about new allergy friendly recipes. The food allergy community has been amazing at sharing recipes, especially on Instagram. In the beginning, I was intimidated by cooking. I found that I would make the same meals all the time because I was comfortable with it. When I discovered that most recipe ingredients can be substituted for allergy friendly ingredients, cooking and baking became more fun. As I experimented and got better and better, I learned to cook with ingredients that are safe for me like using almond or oat milk in place of dairy milk, or using plant based butter like Earth Balance instead of dairy butter. I’ve been able to experiment with different flours too. I am not gluten free but some of my family members are so I’ve learned how to bake with gluten free flour. It’s so great to have so many options when it comes to cooking allergen free in the kitchen. It’s also great that a lot of allergy friendly companies have recipes on their websites. When I discovered Hungry Harry’s products, I was so relieved that they have a ton of recipes to try. It really helped me to gain more confidence baking for other people. As an added bonus, cooking and baking has allowed my family to spend more time together. 

I hope that as I get older, I will become more confident eating at restaurants but in the meantime, I am so happy to have the ability to cook amazing meals at home and bring them along with me when I am hanging out with my friends or traveling.