Steph La Rochelle has become an expert at managing food allergies away from home, being on the road with the national tour of Dear Evan Hansen.
When living with life-threatening food allergies, dining out can be daunting. There isn’t always an allergy-friendly option, and when there is, it’s often highly possible that it’s been cross-contaminated by ingredients from other items on the menu. Sometimes, a restaurant can just be too busy to take the time and care to make sure your order is prepared safely.
To avoid stress and anxiety, I find it much easier to eat ahead. Prepare my own food at home, have a quick bite, and join my friends/family at their restaurant of choice. Enjoy the company, not the food, right? Most of the time, yes. But sometimes it’s nice to be included. I mean, skipping the meal also has its cons. People often ask,
“Why aren’t you eating? You can have salad, it’s just lettuce. At least have a bite of bread?”
I know that these remarks come from a place of goodwill. People don't necessarily understand the severity of food allergies and want to make you feel included. This is where knowledge is power. It’s great to educate others, but sometimes, I’d rather not have a long conversation about cross-contamination and how my throat will swell if I ingest peanut dust. It’s times like these where I wish I could bring my own food and enjoy the outing. It’s definitely possible.
Here are my Top 3 Tips for Bringing Your Own Food To An Event…
1. First off, make sure the venue allows outside food in their dining space.
I once attended a meeting with work colleagues over dinner at a restaurant. The server came around to take orders. I informed him that I had brought my own food and would not be ordering due to allergies. He stated that I was not permitted to eat outside food in the restaurant. He called on his manager who proceeded to tell me the same thing. They offered to prepare something for me but there was no way I felt comfortable eating from their menu. More than half of the dishes had some sort of peanut sauce or nut crumble topping - the risk was too high. At this point, I let it go.
I was prepared to put my food away and eat when I got home. All eyes were on me and I did not enjoy the uninvited attention. Turns out, a colleague of mine insisted, and they ended up coming to an agreement, so I was able to eat the food I brought with me. All this to say, to avoid an awkward situation, it’s best to call ahead to see if the venue will accommodate.
2. Invest in a great reusable container and travel cutlery set.
You don’t want anything too heavy or bulky. It’s best to bring a small reusable bag to store your food - easily tucked away under a table. Depending on the event and how long the food is going to sit out, a small ice pack will come in handy. I recently found a great container (which I mentioned in my previous blog) that is lightweight, dishwasher safe, and it’s also microwaveable! Great for occasions such as a home dinner party, when you have the option to quickly heat up your food!
3. What kind of meal should I bring?
My go-to is either some sort of salad, maybe a quinoa and veggie medley, or perhaps a vegetarian chili! I like these options because they don’t necessarily have to be stored in a fridge. They are fairly simple to prepare, not too messy, and keep really well! Small ice packs are always handy but these meals are perfect enjoyed at room temperature - no need for reheating!
Since I was a kid, I’ve been bringing my own food to events. My mom is the sweetest and would always bake me a cupcake to bring along when I was invited to birthday parties so that I could enjoy cake with the other kids. I’ve brought my own food to restaurants, weddings, dinner parties, work functions, you name it. It can be awkward at first. Give it a shot and you’ll find it’s way more fun! You get to enjoy the company and a meal, and it’s always worth it for the peace of mind.