Even before Arizona was diagnosed with autism, I was already experiencing a life of having a child with differences. Food allergies meant that we couldn’t go out to restaurants without a lot of preparation. Even when we did plan in advance and brought her special food, there was always a worry that she might risk contamination from food left behind – on the table, booth, floor, etc. Once, we had to rush out of a burger joint because Arizona broke out in huge hives and a rash after touching the table that hadn’t been properly wiped down (it was probably some kind of cheese or dairy left behind).
Now, at age 8, Arizona still has multiple food allergies but her reactions to them have become much less severe. There was a time early on when Arizona couldn’t even TOUCH a toy that another child had touched with contaminated fingers (after holding string cheese, for example). It was frightening!
Needless to say, I have learned a lot from our experiences and wanted to share my Top 5 Tips for eating out with an allergy child :
1) Bring Your Own Food – Always : Last year, my Mom took me and Arizona to the American Girl Café, a truly MAGICAL experience for a young girl. I knew they had a gluten free menu, but because Arizona is also allergic to dairy and eggs, I called ahead of time to make sure the pasta was vegan as well. They said yes over the phone, but when we got to the restaurant, I asked them to double check. I even had one of the cooks come out with the list of ingredients. Turns out, there was egg in the pasta. Arizona was devastated, but I had secretly brought some quinoa pasta in a separate container that we were able to serve Arizona instead. Crisis averted! Bonus : they did have one true gluten free + vegan item on the menu : french fries! So, Arizona got to indulge in those as well.
2) Bring Disposable Food Mats : When Arizona was younger, I carried a bunch of disposable food mats in the diaper bag. These stuck directly to a table top setting and kept the potentially contaminated area covered up. There are a lot of fun options to choose from on Amazon.
3) Carry Diaper Wipes With You : These are so helpful to have in general, but for an allergy child, they’re especially useful. These can be used for wiping down surface areas before your child touches them, wiping your child’s face or hands right after they accidentally touch something they shouldn’t and also wiping YOUR hands after you’ve eaten something you don’t want to expose her to. I love The Honest Company wipes.
4) Research Restaurants & Menus : Although it’s easy enough with the right planning, to bring special food for your allergy child, it’s also very fun to have your child order something from the menu and be able to eat it along side everyone else. I find restaurants with menu options for Arizona and recommend those when we go out with friends. Even when your child wants a snack and you’re far from home without any with you, it’s good to know of nearby places that can offer something safe for your child to eat. Our favorite go to spot is In ‘n Out for a “French Fry” treat.
5) Eat Food Together : Sometimes, when you have a child who has such a limited diet, they tend to get picky about trying new things. When you are at a restaurant with limited options for them, participate in taking a few bites of what they’re eating and don’t make a big deal about it. This tends to take the power out of that food and makes it less unknown and scary to the child.