Dining Out with Food Intolerances

I'm pleased to announce our new feature writer for this month is Taryn Hall-Smith who is the Director of The Contented Body www.thecontentedbody.com

Taryn is going to share with us some fantastic information about dining out and travelling with food intolerances.

Taryn it's over to you...

Dining Out & Travelling with Food Intolerance

When you are first diagnosed with food intolerance it can be a very confusing, frustrating and intimidating time. It’s not just the issue of what foods you need to avoid but also how this is going to impact your life! Where do you go to get the right types of foods that you need? Can you still socialize, eat out and travel? Will people think you are being fussy, awkward or even antisocial with your special requests? How do you incorporate your new dietary requirements into your life with the minimum of disruption?

You will soon discover that you do not need to be so daunted when eating out at restaurants. With more and more people suffering from food intolerances, restaurants are becoming far more familiar and adept at catering for special diets.

Don’t be shy or apologetic about your requirements - restaurants have a responsibility to provide food to suit each customer’s needs, and whether your needs are dictated by personal preference or intolerances is irrelevant. If a restaurant doesn’t have something on the menu that suits your needs, then they should be happy to adapt their dishes and menus to prepare something that does.

When eating out the main things to remember are to inform the staff of your specific needs. Phone ahead to check the menu, ask if they cater for restricted diets and if they don’t then ask for the menu to be adapted to suits your requirements, and check all ingredients you are uncertain of, especially sauces and dressings. Many restaurants will already have gluten free or dairy free options marked on the menu which can make the process much easier. It is probably best to avoid buffets and chain restaurants since there is a higher risk of cross contamination.

If possible try to build a relationship with the staff, always be polite and patient as they will be more willing to help you and try to understand your needs, and complimenting their efforts and tipping is likely to ensure that any subsequent meals are equally successful. If there is a mistake with your meal be understanding to ensure your next meal is more successful. If you suspect something isn’t as discussed, don’t be afraid to check – politely.

A final backup option is to take some of your own food – many restaurants are happy for you to bring your own, or other ingredients to help accommodate your needs. Call in advance and check, of course.

You can also apply many of these principles when eating at friends houses but with a few subtle differences. Be sensitive to the hostess to avoid intimidating them, explain clearly which foods you need to avoid (particularly hidden ingredients that he or she may be unaware of and cross contamination issues) and offer to bring your own food to make it easier on them. It is not a good idea to ask for the menu to be changed specifically for you – it can be too stressful for the host and may mean that you don’t get invited back. Sometimes it can be more helpful to provide a list of foods you can eat and then they can devise a menu from that list rather than trying to alter other recipes.

Additionally you should not be put off travelling because you have food intolerances. You manage it at home and you will be able to manage it away from home, even if you are in a different country. Fortunately, there does appear to be an increasing awareness within the travel industry (including airlines, hotels, resorts, cruise ships, grocery shops, restaurants, cafes and other attractions) of the importance of catering for people with food intolerances, although this does vary enormously from company to company and throughout the world.

The following advice may help you manage your food intolerances whilst travelling. Be organized – start building a travel list that you can check off each time you make a trip, carefully consider your destination to be sure it is a place you can confidently visit and manage your diet, research and plan your trip with regard to where you can eat and shop, and again, don’t be afraid to take your own food with you. If travelling overseas, educate yourself on the local food laws to ensure that you are allowed to take your intolerance-free foods and snacks with you.

Be positive about your food intolerance – your awareness of your problem foods allows you to eat in a way that enhances your health and therefore your life. Be organized, plan ahead and then you can enjoy as full and happy a social life as anybody else!

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