Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Challenge of Eating Out

If you are like me, you are probably sick and tired of being chained to your own kitchen for a good meal.  Anyone with food allergies or intolerances understands the challenge of trying to enjoy a meal out.  Most of us just resign ourselves to the fact that we will have to always eat at home or bring our own food. Or just be hungry.  If you even manage to find an allergen friendly restaurant that others in your group or family want to eat at, you still have to make sure the wait staff actually understands the menu and your requests. I am tired of living like.  I used to love eating out with my husband or friends, and I want to be able to do that again.

Up until recently I had found 3 restaurants in my area that I could eat at worry free. Two are higher end establishments, which means the food is always outstanding but it also means the price is a little higher than what we would like to spend on a regular basis for a family of 5.
 For the occasional date night we like to go to a place called Food for Thought. We actually go there so often the manager now knows me, and checks my food before it is brought to our table.   Because of where they are located they offer a few vegan options, even on their dessert menu.  I find it is easier to order vegan to ensure my food is "safe".   For family events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, or Mother's Day we go to Al Fresco's, an outstanding Italian restaurant. We request the same waiter every time so he knows exactly what I can and cannot have.  For our takeout nights we order sushi from the Japanese sushi restaurant near our house.
Three options for the past 4 years, that's all. While I am thankful that these options even exist, it's nice to have a little variety now and then. It's also nice to able to go with a group out to eat.  Food allergies/intolerances can be alienating because most social events include or revolve around food.  And who wants to eat just a salad every time they go out?

Up until rather recently most restaurants did not list their ingredients online, nor did they list allergens in their foods. It was like to playing Russian Roulette with my stomach. NOT fun.  However, over the past few months I have noticed more and more of the chain restaurants sharing this information.  There is always a disclaimer, of course, but at least they are getting the information out there for those of us that need it.

Here is a short list of  what my husband and close friends would call "Stephanie Friendly" options:

Chick-Fil-A:. While their menu is one of the least allergen friendly, there are a few things dairy free people can enjoy- and I did the other night for the first time in several years.  Their char-grilled chicken sandwich is Dairy Free, as are their fries, fruit cup, hash browns, oatmeal, carrot and raisin salad, and coleslaw.  For their complete list go to their Allergen guide. It's a great option if you are out and need a quick meal.

Chipotle: I have eaten here several times in several different cities with no problems at all.   I tell them I have a dairy allergy (no one understands what severe intolerance means) and I ask them change their gloves. Each time the server has washed their hands after taking off their gloves before putting on new ones.  I also ask them to use a fresh guacamole since it's next to the cheese.  The only dairy on their entire menu is in the cheese and sour cream- everything else is dairy free.  They are also great for people with nut allergies- they don't use any in their food.  For a complete list click Here.

Starbucks: They have redone the nutritional information on their site and now have the allergens and ingredients listed for most of the their products.  They seem to have added some more food options, such as a couple Bistro boxes, salads, and 2 dairy free baked goods.  There is also an iPhone App you can download and keep a list of your favorites.  For more information you can go to their nutrition page. 

Applebees: GoDairyFree.Org just posted this information the other day.  I have not yet eaten there, but I now know the option exists. And there are Applebees restaurants everywhere.

U.S. - Multiple Locations - Applebee's
Go Dairy Free - Thursday, 02 February 2012© Go Dairy Free

Panera Bread: Several of their breads are dairy free, as well as their plain bagel and blueberry bagel.  You can go to their site and use their nutrition calculator.  You have to choose meal options to get the information, but they do have lists of ingredients and allergens once you build your meal.

ZPizza: They have a vegan cheese option, and their crusts do not contain dairy.  I have not yet tried their pizza, but it's definitely on my list to try soon! I am just happy there is a pizza place I can enjoy too. You can go to the Ingredient list to see what is safe to eat. (they also offer Gluten Free options)

This is a very short list so far and I intend to write more posts like this about my experiences eating out.   There are more and more places catering to dietary needs, and we need to share the information as we come across it.  If you have eaten somewhere I have not listed, please leave a comment, email me, or leave a note on my Facebook page. I would love to hear about your experiences eating out.

My disclaimer: This is simply information I have collected personally over the past few months.  If you choose to eat at one of these establishments, please look at their allergen lists yourself to be sure the information has not changed.


  1. Love it. I have hated eating out since going dairy free because so many restaurant employees are ignorant as to what is actually in the food. We do sushi pretty often but that's about it, haha.

    I also get a Subway sandwich sometimes. They have a very comprehensive list of allergens on their website too and they have a lot of dairy free options.

    1. I always forget about Subway but I need to add them to the list. Thanks! The one near our house is not very good so I never think about them!
      There are several places I won't eat because the people they hire just don't get it. I once told someone I had a dairy allergy and they still asked if I wanted cheese on my meal. Ummm.... nope. I am very careful where I eat still.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I used to eat dairy with no issues, but after the birth of my first baby I get hives anytime I eat any. I haven't even thought about how chaotic eating out is going to be now.

  3. Panera's pumpkin muffin is dairy free, so is the black bean soup!

    Olive garden's minestrone soup is dairy free and their bread sticks can be made dairy free if you ask them to be made separately on new wax paper and left plain on top ( no seasoning or butter)

    Carraba's has great options

    If you can find any middle eastern food in your area they usually have falafel with a tahini dressing

    call around regular pizza places that deliver, i found a place that does not put cheese in there pizza sauce and has a vegan dough...i order a plain pizza with no cheese, just sauce, kind of like a tomato pie whenever we order pizza delivery.

    ruby Tuesday's guacamole dip is dairy free and so is their tortilla chips. Don't get the croutons in the salad bar though..

    1. PLEASE BE ADVISED: Panera's pumpkin muffin is no longer dairy-free. It seems they changed the recipe :( ...and have done a poor job notifying customers.

    2. Thank you! I have found that a lot of companies change ingredients and add dairy to things that used to be dairy free so I ALWAYS double check everything I eat or buy.

  4. I too am very lactose intolerant after being able to eat all things dairy relate my whole life.
    I have found that panera now has power salads that are dairy free. I think they are paleo?