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« Organic? All Natural? GMO’s? What’s Happening to Our Food? | Main | 6th Annual Gluten Free Food Fair: May 19, 2012; Grand Rapids, MI »

Dining Out with Your Young Food Allergic Child


Guest Blogger, Melanie Potock of, lends some advice on eating out with your little ones.

Do You Dine Out?

Many parents feel overwhelmed at the thought of bringing their child with food allergies to any restaurant for fear of exposing him/her to an allergen that could make them horribly ill or worse.  Yet, according to Restaurants USA Magazine,  Americans eat out for 4.2 meals per week! Dining out with our families and friends is part of our social routine.  It’s possible to enjoy this time together as a family, but it requires a bit of planning. One strategy that may soothe some fears is assembling your own “Restaurant Backpack” filled with everything you need to create a safe and fun dining experience for your entire family.


Setting Up

While it might be tempting just to wrap the chair in your coat, as this parent has done (above picture), start instead with a washable highchair cover to shield your little one from those germy, possibly allergy-laced wooden restaurant highchairs.  Fisher Price™ makes a padded version that includes tether straps to attach to toys so they won’t fall on the equally dirty floors.  The carry pouch is included.  Tuck a package of sanitizing wipes in the carry pouch so that when you arrive at your seat, the first thing you do is wipe down the table, highchair and anything that is within reach of your child. Then add the cover, then add the kid. Speaking of toys, it’s ideal to bring quiet toys that won’t disturb the other patrons, lightweight toys that keep the backpack manageable and socially interactive toys that focus on you and your child being together and enjoying the moment.  My top three favorites?


Mess-free Creativity!

Aquadoodle Travel N Doodle  is a soft, mess-free, portable and foldable drawing mat that includes a refillable “water pen” that magically makes red appear on one side of the mat and blue appear on the other.  The most your child gets on him/herself is a bit of water.  One suggestion: store the pen in a re-sealable plastic baggie or empty it before going home.  It can leak in the backpack.


Flexible Fun!

Wikki Stix™ are colorful, bendable, reusable, knitting yarn coated with non-toxic, microcystaline  wax for hours of endless-fun!  They stick to almost any smooth surface, including the Wikki Stix Book of Wiggles, Squiggles and Curlicues. (Gotta’ love that title!)  This hands-on board book has adorable illustrations that all hava a little something missing.  For example, piggy has no tail!  Wikki Stix can be repositioned over and over to give piggy a tail or perhaps to add a curly-cue of smoke to the top of the train’s smokestack.  According to their website, Wikki-stix “do not contain gluten, latex, no peanut or other nut oils and byproducts.”   For your child’s unique allergens, be sure to check with the manufacturer.

A Rainbow of Possibilities! offers a set of 6 multi-colored, durable and transparent plastic paddles bundled on a ring and sized just right for little fists. Your little munch bugs will be thrilled to play “I Spy”,  watch their food change colors or peer at the waiter while he takes your order!


Safety when Ordering is an excellent resource for a Chef’s Card, which is becoming commonplace in restaurant kitchens today.  Please don’t be shy and ask your waiter to give it directly to the chef, so that he/she may see in writing the exact ingredients and preparation methods that he/she must be aware of in order to keep your child safe. offers a template for your Chef’s Card and recommends printing it on brightly colored paper and laminating it so it will stand out in the chaos of a restaurant kitchen.  Make three cards so if one gets lost, you always have a spare.


Emergency Safety

Include an epinephrine auto-injector in an outside pocket of the back pack that is clearly marked so you can easily find it in an emergency.  This is an ADDITIONAL auto-injector and not the one you carry day to day.  If you have the capability in your phone, program a reminder 2 weeks prior to expiration to replace this auto-injector with a new one.


Key to Success

The key to the success of the Restaurant Backpack is ONLY using it for dining out.  It’s not to be brought out for “Mommy needs 5 minutes to make this phone call” time, or for “Play with this while I do laundry time” or in response to Mommy, I want to do Wikki Stix!”.  If you truly want your kids to be enamored with what is in the pack, save it for dining out.  That way, it’s always new and fresh and, the essential safety items remain in the pack, like the Chef’s Cards and the epinephrine auto-injector. Once you return home, toss the high chair cover and carry pouch in the washer, refill wipes and other necessities and hang the backpack in an easy to reach spot for the next outing!  Be sure to store the backpack where it will remain at room temperature to ensure the viability of your epinephrine auto-injector.


Pre-teens and Teens

FAAN has some excellent videos specifically for pre-teens and teens.  Check out the video of this independent teenager being responsible for her own health when dining out with friends.

Tell me some of your ideas to make dining out memorable and safe!  I would love to hear from you!  Until then, here’s to creating happy memories dining out as a family… bon appetit!



About Melanie

Melanie is speech language pathologist who specializes in feeding.  Her work brings her into the homes and schools of her clients, kids, who for various reasons have difficulty with food or with eating. She works with kids and their parents to develop effective strategies that help children become “more adventurous eaters”.  At least 50% of her clients have food allergies or intolerances, and for them, “adventurous eating” takes on a special meaning.  Melanie is also the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids” and the executive producer of “Dancing in the Kitchen.”


More Posts from Melanie

The 12 Days of Christmas -- My Favorite Lunchtime Things (Part 1)

Tips to Help Your Food Allergic Child Belong During the Holidays

How to Talk Turkey (and Food Allergies) at Thanksgiving

How Can Parents Feel Less Stress with a Food Allergic Child in School?


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Reader Comments (1)

Checkout for example of chef cards.
April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike

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