Children With Allergies

Traveling with children can be harrowing enough, but what do you do when your children have severe food allergies and can't eat off the menu. Some tips for consulting with restaurant staff about safe foods for those allergic children.

When a member of the family is afflicted with food allergies, the idea of travel often becomes one of grave concern. Yet the truth is, it is very possible to travel with an allergic child and still keep them safe and healthy. Travel abroad may pose some different concerns but staying within predonominatly english speaking countries (for english speaking allergy sufferers) allow an ease of communication that will facilitate the issue.

One of the easiest ways to ensure safety at a hotel or restaurant is to call ahead and discuss the special needs with the chef or cook. When the situation is fully explained, most restaurant staff are happy to accommodate special needs, and will cheerfully prepare a meal off menu for this purpose. Amusement and theme parks, like Disney, often have many staff to facilitate these needs.

Another method of ensuring safety when traveling is to prepare a wallet-sized card, which lists the allergies and which offers suggestions for safe foods. Our's look something like this:


I, Joey Smith, am SEVERELY allergic to the following foods: gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats, hydrolyzed plant protein, modified starch), dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, casein, whey), all legumes (including peanuts and soy), banana and pork.

Some of my safe foods are: rice, beef, chicken, turkey, fresh fruit and vegetables.

A card like this can be presented to serving staff, or the host/ess when you arrive, and the chef will often come out to speak with you about the special needs of the child. Most cooking staff receive at least a minimum of food allergy information during their training, and will be able to identify which of their dishes will be acceptable for your special needs. If the staff is not knowledgeable (for example, what may, or may not be used for filler, in prepared hamburger patties and hotdogs) it is advisable just to stay away from those products.

In a Chinese restaurant, for example, the gluten allergic can usually find a rice or rice noodle dish to replace the chow mein. In some cases, the restaurant will have this alternative on the menu as chow fun, in others you have only to ask, and the product is probably kept in the kitchen for use in speciality dishes, or the owner's family's own meals. If you are allergic to gluten, be sure to ask your server to check the soy sauce, oyster sauce or the like, for a wheat component. Battered dishes will also, usually, be out of the question.

Indian restaurants may also be well able to accommodate the gluten and dairy allergic. Many of these restaurants offer vegetarian meals, so be careful to explain to your server that cross-contamination is also an issue and that products like vital wheat gluten (used in vegetarian dishes as a protein) must be kept well away from your child's food.

Surprisingly enough, fast food chains, like McDonald's and Wendy's, are also good sources of allergy safe meals for children. McDonalds will happily make your hamburger without a bun if you are wheat allergic, and their fries, wedges and hashbrowns are free of gluten and dairy products. As well, restaurants like these have arrived at the conclusion that potato products like their fries should be cooked in separate fryers from their breaded fish and chicken products, and as long as this is the case, the risk of cross contamination is removed in this area as well. If you have concerns about a particular chain, visit their websites before you leave, and then while you are away, ask the manager question pertinent to the safety of the child (what kind of oil do you fry in, are there separate fryers for potato products and breaded products, do the fries have a seasoning or coating which contains any of the allergens, are the same surfaces used to prepare wheat and meat or vegetables, and so on?) If the manager is not willing to answer your questions, than this is not the restaurant you need to be in and while it might be difficult to explain to your child why you have to leave and seek a safer establishment, it will be worth it for your peace of mind in the long run.

In many North American favourite restaurants, the options can be quite limited for the allergic child, for example if you are visiting Chucky Cheese, there will not be much on the menu. The risk of cross contamination will also be high and if the child is anaphlyactic to his allergen, you might wish to avoid this kind of establishment.

One final concern or possibility, depending on how one approaches it, may be the salad or hot buffet bar. Again, if your child is anaphylactic to one or more allergens, you will wish to keep him away from this option, but if not, the ability to choose components for a meal that are freshened frequently and from which you can pick and choose will be a relief.

One thing is for certain, an assertive parent will always find something safe for a child to eat. The key will be in being prepared, and ready to clearly and concisely answer questions about what the alternatives are, and why your child's needs should be carefully taken into consideration during the preparation of his meal. In the end, traveling with an allergic child will be no more difficult than traveling on a diabetic, low sodium or low cholesterol diet - as long as you are prepared to make yourself stand out from the crowd.

© High Speed Ventures 2011