Living with food allergies: tips for dining out and cooking at home
May 11, 2014
According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), an estimated 15 million people in the United States, including 1 in 13 children, suffer from food allergies (http://www.foodallergy.org/facts-and-stats). A wide range of food allergens and reactions to those allergens can provide a unique set of challenges when dining out and even cooking at home. Culinary professionals from The Art Institutes system of schools provide tips for navigating menus and recipes.
“One of the most important things for people with food allergies is to be vocal about those food allergies,” says Chef Jennifer Brooks-Stadler of The Illinois Institute of Art – Chicago. She says to make your allergies known, not only because of substitutions, but also to ensure your meal hasn’t been prepared using cookware and utensils that have come in contact with the food you are allergic to.
“Ten or more years ago, the restaurant industry wasn’t very receptive to food allergies, intolerances and menu item substitutions. Today, this is not the case,” says Chef Andrew Dole of The Art Institute of Colorado. “The consumer is in the driver’s seat when it comes to ordering meal alterations.”
To make dining experiences easier, Dole recommends looking up the menu or calling ahead to ask questions. Diners should also keep in mind that if they make special requests, they should allow for extra cooking time.
Dole also advises having a few “go to” restaurants where you can get a meal without a hassle. “This doesn’t mean that trying out new restaurants is out of the question, but at peak meal times or on busy nights of the week, it doesn’t hurt to go with what one knows.
In the kitchen
Brooks-Stadler says there are three ways to work around a food allergy: reduce, replace or eliminate. “The home cook needs to know what they like and be willing to experiment a little,” she says. “There will be some fails.”
Eggs and nuts are two common food allergens, but there are ways to work around them when cooking at home. “The egg is a very versatile ingredient that provides structure, binding and leavening,” says Dole. “Substituting for one or two eggs requires knowing what role the egg is playing in the recipe.” For more than two eggs, Dole recommends looking for a new recipe that doesn’t incorporate eggs.
Brooks-Stadler says you can substitute fruit and vegetable purees such as applesauce, pumpkin or squash for breads and baking. These purees can also be used when making homemade pasta.
For eggs being used as a binder, Dole suggests using a mashed banana, Xantham gum or another thick mashed or pureed fruit substitute. Applesauce works well to contribute moisture, and if the egg is the leavening element in a recipe, a small amount of baking powder can be used.
“For nuts, which is a pretty big one, a lot of people have different levels of allergies. Maybe you can’t have almonds, but you can have peanuts,” says Brooks-Stadler. She recommends substituting seeds and seed butters for nuts and nut butters.
Dole adds that seeds are crunchy with a good fat content, making them a good nut substitute in salads, baking and for garnishes. To replace the healthy fats found in nuts, olives, olive oils, canola oils and avocados will do the trick.
“I’d tell anyone with a food allergy or intolerance to ask for what you want. Be up front, and don’t hide it. It isn’t worth the consequences,” says Dole. Brooks-Stadler agrees, “The best thing I would recommend to people is to be aware and hyper-vigilant. Listen to your body.”
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