"My name’s Jenny and I’m a foodie. I love nothing more than going out for dinner after a long week at work, but having food allergies can at times make this a bit of a challenge…
At 23, I recently took the plunge and started my own blog, AllerJenny, to post my reviews of restaurants, cafes, products, allergy-friendly recipes and my tips on all things allergy for other people like me with allergies.
I’m allergic to the majority of the most common food allergens with a couple of random ones thrown in there for good measure; dairy, eggs, nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, banana, kiwi, melon and avocado. My allergies have always been a part of me, but I try my best not to let them define or limit me.
When I was younger, my parents did the food shopping, cooked my meals and were there when we went out for dinner. However, as I got older and started to become more independent, I had to take more responsibility for my allergies. I started to go out – and eat out – with my friends a lot more.
As an awkward teenager you want to fit in with the crowd so I hated that my food allergies attracted unwanted attention. At first I was embarrassed to make a fuss about them when I went out for dinner, so I would play down how bad they really were. But, after landing myself in a couple of far from ideal situations (including when I swelled up like a puffer fish on my first date with my boyfriend…!), I realised that being open and practical when it comes to my food allergies makes meals out far easier - and more enjoyable - for everyone involved!
With this in mind, here are my top tips for eating out with food allergies:
- Phone ahead to warn the restaurant about your allergies. It’ll only take 2 minutes and it could make your experience a lot easier and more enjoyable. I know from working in restaurants that chefs appreciate it when they know about customers’ allergies in advance instead of it being sprung on them during a busy dinner service
- Don’t be embarrassed to bring up your allergies in front of your friends. Generally they’ll be understanding and supportive and anyway, it’ll be a whole lot more embarrassing if you start swelling up in the restaurant….I speak from experience!
- Don’t just take the waiting staff’s word for it. Always ask them to double check ingredients with the chefs rather than accepting their ‘I think it should be ok…’
- You don’t need to go into the gory details of your allergies but make sure the waiting staff are aware of the severity of them. Let them know that even if the dish itself is safe, you could become ill if there is any cross contamination in the kitchen e.g. pizzas being cut with pizza knives already used to cut cheesy pizzas, ladles being used for more than one soup, shared chopping boards etc.
- Make friends with the staff in your local café/restaurant. If you’re a regular and you’re nice to them they may be more likely to do you favours, take your views on board and alter their menus
- Be aware of staple foods in certain cuisines e.g. the use of fish sauce and nut oils in Thai cooking
- If you decide on a whim that you want to go out but you haven’t booked anywhere and therefore you haven’t had the chance to phone ahead, chains like Zizzi, Pizza Express and Wagamama are relatively safe options as they have good allergy protocols in place. Recently I went to Zizzi and they provided me and my friend Lorna, who is coeliac, with a separate menu with all the allergens present in each dish…winner!
- Fingers crossed that you shouldn’t need to use it but remember to always carry an your adrenaline injector, inhalers, antihistamines and any other medication you’re prescribed whenever and wherever you go out and about, even if you’re not expecting to be eating out
The most important thing to remember is that you shouldn't be afraid to eat out with food allergies. As long as you’re sensible, you should be able to enjoy eating out like everyone else, with a few extra precautions and some forethought."
For more from Jenny, take a look at her blog AllerJenny Featuring her reviews, recipes and tips.
PLEASE NOTE: While the content of guest posts is checked for validity and accuracy at the time of posting, the Anaphylaxis Campaign is not responsible for the contents of, nor endorses the advice or information held within posts written by guest bloggers. Official information and advice can be found at www.anaphylaxis.org.uk.