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Southern New Jersey

I am a Mom to 2 amazing and fun daughters and wife to a great guy and a wonderful father!

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Kayla, my oldest. She is 4 1/2 and is a sweet, loving and silly little girl. She took us 2 ½ years and 3 IVF’s to conceive. Kayla is allergic to dairy. We manage her allergy and work to balance her safety with giving her a normal childhood. Kayla loves to read books and play games - she amazes me every day.

Alysa, my youngest. She is 3 years old and is a silly little spitfire. She’s our monkey and loves to climb on everything. She was a “natural” baby, but it was only b/c of my wonderful doctors that we were able to stop an impending miscarriage. Alysa suffers from Acid Reflux Disease and sleep apnea. She may be little, but she has a big personality. She adores her big sister and is so much fun to be around. She keeps me laughing every day.

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Monday, May 18, 2009
Eating at restaurants
Michelle asked me about eating out. Specifically if we ate out often and how we handle it when we do. The first part is easy. No we do not eat out often. Overall my comfort level is pretty low. I know parents of children with food allergies that do eat out fairly often (relatively speaking of course) and even some who will go to fast food restaurants. Personally, I can not see myself ever taking Kayla for fast food. The risk factor in those places seems just too high for me. And my kids would then want to play in the play areas and with Kayla’s contact-reactivity, that is a big no-no for her. Play areas where food is served is just “asking for” a reaction.

Aside from Walt Disney World, the only restaurant we take her to is PF Chang’s. It was a gradual process for us. J and I were taken there by friends years ago and really enjoyed the food. That first time and every time after when we went, the wait staff always asked us if we had any allergies or special dietary needs. Finally, one visit, I asked our waitress about it and she said it is their policy to be extremely food allergy aware and they take it very seriously. She also told us they do not cook in peanut oil (even though peanuts are not a concern for us, Kayla was not at that time eating peanuts). Gradually we started bringing Kayla with us even though we did not have her eat anything there. Before letting her eat anything, we spoke to the waitress and then spoke to the Manager who used to be the Head Chef. In actuality, there are only a couple menu items that have dairy in them. But they also have lists to printout for each allergen. So each time we go, we get an updated copy of the items free of dairy (and usually we do not even have to ask to speak to the manager, he just comes over). We typically order off of this menu. But, there are some items on the main menu that she can eat. I believe some items not listed have more of a cross-contamination risk or they are able to be altered to be safe for her. A perfect example is the Mongolian Beef – one of my favorites. It is never on the dairy-free list, but is always able to be made safely for her. So, yes upon every visit, we speak to the manager and everything is verified with the head chef. When cooking for an allergy, all of their pots/pan, utensils are thoroughly cleaned for those meals. They are also great about making all of the dishes for our table dairy-free so we never have any worries about cross-contaminating anything once it is served.

Another reason I like taking the kids here is that BOTH of them will eat there. Alysa loves their northern style spare ribs. And when I say loves, I mean she licks the bone clean. Kayla will eat their northern spare ribs, Mongolian beef, crispy honey chicken and calamari. So it’s a guaranteed good meal for both of them.

Aside from the food preparation, we clean, clean and clean! I bring wipes with me everywhere. I clean the table, the chairs, both bottom and back and anything on the table the girls or we may want to touch such as salt and pepper shakers, etc. If we sit at a table with chairs, I also bring in our own booster seats so I don’t have to clean the boosters they give you. If we sit in a booth, we forgo the boosters and just clean really well. We do not want Kayla reacting from touching the table or something on it or contaminating her food the same way.

Are there other restaurants out there that we could eat at safely? Yes, I’m sure of it. Have I researched any and tried them out? No. Part of that is the anxiety involved in trusting someone knew to feed Kayla. But another part is their age. They are 3 and 4 and in all honesty it is just not worth the hassle to eat out with them. They are not all that used to it and the hassles involved don’t make it worth our while. Packing up things to keep them busy and entertaining them for a sit-down meal in a restaurant is just not our idea of fun right now. So as they get older, I hope to push the limits of my comfort zone a bit to find some safe restaurant variety for our family.

Michelle also asked why I brought my own tea to the Tea Party. When eating out, I never know what is in the ingredients of something served. Although I doubt there would have been any dairy in the tea served, you just never know. Dairy hides in the darndest places (including medications, glue, juice, clothing, ice melt, etc). So I always like to err on the side of caution. Even if I was able to check the tea packaging and verify its safety, the tea was already brewed and put in pretty tea pots. Served by the same people pouring the milk, cutting the cheese served on the same platter as the grapes and arranging the cookies on the platters. So the risk for cross-contamination was extremely high. And it is those exposures that are harder to manage because they are so “hidden” and misunderstood by many. So unless I have 100% trust in where we will be eating and what, I pack Kayla’s food and only feed her what I brought. It keeps her safest and gives me the peace of mind to enjoy myself (even if only a little).

This may seem a bit much to some, but with food allergies you can never be too careful and it is always better to err on the side of caution. The flip-side of not being diligent or careful enough has too great of consequences. And I believe there is a reason that Kayla’s last reaction from dairy was when she was 11 months old. Mistakes can happen but we try our hardest to avoid them!

Thanks for the questions Michelle!

For those interested, here is the dairy-free list from PF Chang’s (click to enlarge).

posted at 8:32 PM  

At 7:36 AM, Blogger ChupieandJ'smama said...

Eating out with food allergies is just plain scary. We do Burger King: Only go inside, for take out, for fries, give big allergy talk, fries are dedicated fryer and we use one specific Burger King and they are good with us. Outback Steak House: Good luck there, and tried Chipotle: Don't recommend for dairy allergy but they are nut free and wheat allergy aware. Boys hated it because it was too spicy.
Other than Disney, that's our dining out experience.
J is tooooo picky to try anywhere else. I don't think he'd like PF Changs, although we *think* we may give it a try this summer.
Oh, and I've found wheat, barley and nuts in tea. Scary stuff.

At 4:04 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

thanks for taking the time to explain what it is like; there are so many little things I wouldn't have thought about you having to do like cleaning the salt/pepper shakers! I imagine how hard it is w/being contact-reactive that would make me very uncomfortable going out to eat thinking of all the things she could possibly come in contact with.

How awsome about PF Changs! I didn't realize it was there policy to ask ahead of time about allergies or special dietary needs; I've never eaten there before but have heard such good things about that restaurant.


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