A major dilemma and source of stress when we want to eat out is ensuring safety of our son. Eating out can be a great source of experiencing new cultures, cuisines, meeting friends and bonding with family. Not to mention the celebrations and new experiences you get to enjoy. While we have had multiple experiences where things have gone wrong and we have had to administer medicines to our son after accidental ingestion of dairy products, we have not banned eating out. We have only learnt from it and today I would like to share some tips with you. These could help you not just if you are dairy free like us but also if you have other dietary restrictions or preferences.

Choosing the right cuisine/ restaurant

It is quite clear that certain cuisines are resplendent of milk and related products. Take for example Italian cuisine with the use of cheese, butter etc. in most of their pasta dishes. Same goes for Indian food. Even if milk is not the star of the dish, the addition of the simple ghee tadka on top can make the dish unsafe for people with dairy free needs. While there are many recipes that do not contain any form of dairy , even the use of a common kitchen with shared utensils etc. can make things difficult. Take the case of a “Vegan” Ayurvedic restaurant which shared space with a mainstream kitchen thus giving my son an allergic flare-up upon consumption of just a few spoons of white sauce pasta.

Hence it is vital that you choose a restaurant where you know milk and allied products are rarely or not used. We have found most success in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Sushi is a godsend, but yes do steer clear of the California roll which usually includes cream cheese in their fillings. Our go-to cuisine therefore is Oriental food. These cuisines usually use oil and not butter (some dumplings/momos being the exception) and the soy based ingredient tofu abounds in soups, main course and the like (do ensure the restaurant is not cutting cost by using paneer instead of tofu. Yes there are all kinds out there.)

Many restaurants now have vegan variants including pastas and pizzas which use plant based cheeses. However the risk of exposing the food to other non-vegan varieties still exists and so proper checks must be done. Aligning and informing the restaurant staff about your needs should come as first priority when dining out.

Are there any other cuisines which you know are perfectly safe for dining out dairy free? Do let me know in the comments.

Aligning all staff members about your dietary restrictions

No matter which cuisine or restaurant you choose, ensure you do a complete alignment of your dietary requirements. This will include a rattling off of all ingredients which are unsuitable for your consumption. It may seem frustrating to repeat again and again but it is a must do and additionally also drives home the point that this is serious business.

Most of our conversations at restaurants while ordering go like this – “We would like to have the Green bean stir-fry. Are you sure there is no milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, cream or milk powder in it? No? Ok great, you can get us one of that. Also we would like to have the salmon sushi. Are you sure there is no milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, cream or milk powder in it? No? Ok great, you can get us one of that. Also remember not to add the aesthetic mayo sauce on top of the sushi, we want the no-frills version. For main course we would like the egg fried rice. Are you sure there is no milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, cream or milk powder in it? No? Ok great, you can get us one portion of that too. Oh and do remind the chef that we don’t want any milk, butter, cheese, yoghurt, cream or milk powder in any of the dishes.”

You may end up sounding like a broken record, but if that saves you a trip to the medicine cabinet or worse the ER room at hospital then so be it. šŸ™‚

Ordering the right foods

It is relatively easy to transform mainstream food preparations into safe ones if you are indulging in a dairy free dining out experience. Take for example, salads – ask the restaurant to use only olive oil, salt and pepper instead of mayonnaise. Ask them to provide the dressing on the side so that the dairy free eater can take their pick. Other accompanying diners can choose to use the dressing on their own portions.

Ask for “no cheese” and “no sauces or mayonnaise” on burgers in fast food joints. Places like MacDonalds or Burger King would be happy to oblige. Even in dishes like aglio-olio pasta, ask them to skip the cheese – makes for a great dish on your table. Ask for sorbets instead of icecreams. Slush instead of smoothies. Do ensure you continue to ask the right questions in terms of what goes in to the foods. Its your right and the restaurants are only happy to share the information when they know you have an allergy.

Just this week, I went out for a solo lunch at an Indian thali restaurant. The aamras or mango extract was to die for. Had me instantly wishing that I could pack it up for my son.

So when I spoke to the restaurant staff, they were glad to make a dairy free aamras option for me. I never would have thought that an Indian thali restaurant which prides itself in its use of ghee, paneer and yoghurt would go to this extent for my requirements.

Taste testing to ensure safety

When your food arrives, indulge in a bit of taste testing. We have the 5 minute rule where we ask our child to taste a spoon or two of the dish and then wait for 5 or more minutes to check for any flare-ups of his allergy. This can look like a rash around the mouth, coughing, itchy feeling in the throat or a stomach ache. If all is clear and there are no signs of such symptoms then he is free to dig in. But we still keep a watch and ensure all is well.

Carry your medications

This one is a no-brainer, but I will admit there have been instances where we stepped out without our medications and had to rush out to find the nearest chemists. This has usually happened when we stepped out for reasons other than dining out but somehow ended up feeling up hungry and wanting to eat. Your medications should have been prescribed by your doctor. In countries where available it is recommended to carry epi-pens. We don’t have this in India yet but we do have anti-histamines or prescription drugs which contain hydroxyzine or fexofenadine.

Please consult your doctor about what is required for you in case of allergic exposure. Do not self-medicate. If you think you have an allergy but have not taken medical advice yet, then please put it on the top of your must-do list. Do remember grave exposure will need emergency help and the topical medications only work to buy you time. So think and eat out accordingly. I can share an instance where we were out at a jungle safari and ensured our son ate only safe packaged foods. This was because we were miles away from a hospital or medical centre. Dining out in such circumstances can be a gamble. A path you don’t want to go down.

Carry some snacks

As mentioned above, there are also instances where you may not find suitable restaurants or the menu items in line with your requirements. One such place we experience this is movie theatres which only make butter or cheese flavoured pop-corn. Carry some dry snacks or homemade packed food along and align the wait staff, security, including speaking to the managers because some places may not allow the carrying of “outside food.”

Know where to go to in case of emergencies

Be alert and aware. As I mentioned above in case of substantial allergic exposure, the emergency medications may only work to buy time. You may need to go see a doctor or rush to an ER room in a hospital. This usually happens in case of anaphylactic shocks where over-exposure to your allergens can be grave and even life threatening. So even if you are travelling ensure you know where the nearest doctor or hospital is.

These are some of the precautions we use when dining out. Dairy free is a way of life for us and we have to ensure we are careful. We have also ended up in emergency due to a compounded exposure (dairy + other allegens). It has made us more alert but not dampened our spirits to try and enjoy new dairy free dining experiences.

Do you have any other tips and tricks you follow to ensure your dairy free dining out experience is safe?? Do share with us in the comments.

This blog is part of theĀ #BlogchatterA2ZĀ Blogging Challenge and my theme isĀ Our Dairy Free Life