Meal planning and dining out with my family is quite interesting. My youngest daughter has multiple severe food allergies, I eat only plant-based foods, my husband is a vegetarian, and my oldest daughter will eat anything based on her mood.
It was in 2010 in Seoul, South Korea that we learned our youngest daughter has food allergies. We were told by her foster mother that she had allergic reactions to sweet potatoes, eggs and flour. Flour?? What did they mean by that?? This was my first exposure to food allergies. We were not travelling with an Epi-Pen and had no idea what anaphylaxis or Epi-Pens even were. What would we do if she had another reaction? What’s all this talk about limiting the food we gave her? There were so many questions to come and we were completely in the dark managing this new condition.
Through food allergy testing and finding the right allergist that first year together, we learned that she is severely allergic to wheat, barley, rye, eggs, peanuts, walnuts, pecans and sweet potato. Ten years ago there were not as many choices in the grocery store. I spent hours in the grocery store reading labels and calling food companies to inquire about cross-contact on the manufacturing line and within the facility.
While my girl was growing up I was the one behind the scenes advocating for her safety and inclusion at school in the classrooms, field trips and the cafeteria. I was and am still the mom who bakes and packs safe treats for her while she attends a birthday party, or spends time at a friend’s house. I have trained countless babysitters and fellow moms on how to recognize and treat an allergic reaction. Most importantly, I have been teaching my daughter how to read ingredient labels, ask questions, and advocate for herself. It is a joy to see her handle her food allergy needs at school on her own. As she gets older she will be the one navigating her world with food allergies.
We are a family who likes to travel. Before any trip I would spend weeks researching restaurants near our destination. Reading menus and contacting restaurant managers to inquire about their willingness and ability to accommodate food allergies was second nature to me. We have been told many times that a restaurant cannot or will not make an allergen-free meal for my daughter. In that case I would thank them for their honesty and move on to the next one.
When we do visit a restaurant, we use a Chef Card. This card lists my daughter’s allergens and instructions on how to prepare her food safely. Due to her list of allergens, meals would often be custom-made for my daughter. But, could I really trust the restaurant to avoid cross-contact with her allergens when they were preparing her food? When a restaurant gets it right, it’s a win for our entire family, and we want to return to and support that restaurant again and again.
In 2016 I made the choice to eat only plant-based foods. I wasn’t really enjoying the same rotation of chicken, beef and pork. All I really wanted to do was to eat the potatoes, rice and vegetables. Watching the documentary Forks Over Knives made me realize that there are so many delicious flavors that come from whole-food, plant-based eating. More importantly, a couple of health issues that had been concerning me all went away after I stopped eating animals.
Restaurants are changing their menus to appeal to the plant-based movement. From fast-food to fine dining we are starting to see more vegan choices on the menu. It is more than just a salad. For example, chefs are adding homemade veggie/bean burgers, cauliflower ‘steaks’, build your own rice bowls, and create your own pasta dishes to their menus. Nuts and grains are being used in creative ways. The ever versatile tofu can be transformed into many things – even chocolate pie! There are so many great options out there, but it isn’t always easy to find them.
Working with Picknic and helping to make the dining out experience easier and safer for people with critical dietary restrictions is a natural extension of what I have been doing for my family for the past ten years. I love that I get to help everyone in the food allergy and plant-based community narrow down restaurant choices so that we can all spend more time with our loved ones dreaming up our next great meal or vacation.