By Amy L.
At just a few months old, and following weeks of unexplained and upsetting symptoms, my son was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, egg and soy. This was swiftly followed by the diagnosis of a wheat allergy a few weeks later. At the time I was exclusively breastfeeding, and as he had shown strong reaction to the foods I was eating, I had to strictly cut his allergens out of my diet. I was launched – anxious and sleep deprived – into a whole new world of ingredient checking.
At first I just didn’t want to eat out at all. I didn’t know allergy menus even existed and had some extremely confusing conversations with serving staff. With hindsight, I didn’t know the right questions to ask, and my worry about being a bother made the whole thing needlessly complicated. On top of that there was still the issue of what felt like a widespread lack of awareness amongst restaurant staff (this was in 2015). More than once I was just handed a dairy free menu, as if that was an answer to my questions about all the ingredients I needed to avoid.
I knew that having to cut so many foods out of my diet would be practically difficult, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would affect me emotionally. I desperately wanted to join in having coffee and cake with other new mums, but instead I stuck to herbal tea – which didn’t hit the spot! After a particularly sleep deprived night I remember pushing my son’s buggy past a local pizza restaurant with a sign outside saying “At least pizza will always be there for you”. I had to duck down a quiet side street and have a little cry, because I wanted nothing more than a pizza with real cheese!
When I did manage to find suitable places to eat, I was SO happy, and ended up going back again and again. Shout out to the Blackbird Bakery in South East London who do an amazing dairy & egg free chocolate cake, and were giving the option of Oatly Barista in coffee long before it was fashionable! Nando’s was also a firm favourite in those early days.
I‘ve now had 6 years of experience of eating out with allergies, and have two children with food allergies. Between them we need to avoid dairy, egg and soy (my son outgrew his wheat allergy just before he turned 4 – there is hope!). The focus has shifted from me being able to have cake, to the food being appropriate for them. I have such happy memories of eating out as a family when I was a child, and I don’t want my kid’s allergies to stop us having those experiences. Luckily, I have found that over the last 6 years levels of awareness and information available have improved a lot, along with my knowledge and confidence.
I quickly learned that the whole experience of eating out with the kids was much better if I could check full allergy information online beforehand. Trying to examine an allergy menu while entertaining a toddler or baby is hard work! I always check in advance that there will be something suitable for them, and know exactly what I will be ordering for the kids before we get there! Even so, I always take backup snacks just in case I arrive and have any concerns after talking to the staff, or find that there has been a menu change.
We have got some firm favourites that we go back to again and again as a family. We now have some excellent vegan friendly pizza options in our corner of South East London, and our favourite is Dinner for One Hundred. We get one every week! They have a prominent sign up front asking about allergies, approachable staff who are flexible about toppings, and the vegan cheese is actually nice!
Our other favourites include Honest Burgers, Wagamama and Wahaca. They both have good allergy information online, and simple but tasty options for kids, which are easily customisable. For a quick and yummy lunch we really enjoy Leon; they have lots of allergy friendly options on the menu, and it’s a relaxed place to go with kids.
When we want to try something new, I step up the research, getting suggestions from other allergy parents – and now I can check on the Allergy Companions website! Recently, my three year old and I visited Plants by Deliciously Ella for the first time. It was a great experience – the Manager took our order when I said my daughter had allergies, and the allergy labelling was extremely clear. As it is a vegan restaurant there is no dairy or egg to worry about, and it was such a treat to have free reign over most of the menu!
For this reason we used to love Yorica, an ice cream parlour free from the top 14 allergens, which sadly closed during the pandemic. It was amazing to take the kids out to eat and to be able to say with confidence “choose anything you like”. Such a nice feeling, and exciting for them. I really hope that Yorica, or something similar, manages to open again soon. Fingers crossed!
Blog by Amy from The Allergy Mums Club