Eating out with food restrictions is becoming less of a challenge now that more restaurants are adapting to the growing number of customers with special needs.

Millions of Americans have food allergies, and the CDC estimates that allergies among children have increased 50% in recent years. Plus, millions more diners are managing diabetes, avoiding animal products, or seeking other accommodations.

Whatever your preference, you can dine out without ditching your meal plan or feeling conspicuous. Take a look at these tips for eating well when you’re away from home.


General Tips

Clarity and tact will help you navigate food trucks and sushi houses. Educate yourself and work with the restaurant staff.

  1. Call ahead. Start the conservation while you’re making reservations. Ask questions about the menu and making modifications.
  2. Check online. There’s plenty of information available online. In addition to menus and contact information, there may be a corporate website for larger chains. Read online reviews to see what diners with similar diets think.
  3. Be specific. Your server may think regular cheese is low-salt and eggs are vegan. Spell out exactly what ingredients you want to avoid.
  4. Go undercover. Find out what’s in the sauce or salad dressing. Learn the multiple names used for similar ingredients. Some restaurants even have special menus available by request for glucose-free dining or other needs.
  5. Order creatively. Tweaking the standard menu is often the easiest approach. One addition like beans or seeds can turn a salad into a meal. Multiple sides may make a satisfying main course.
  6. Eat beforehand. On the other hand, your options may be limited if you’re attending a party at an oyster bar. In that case, enjoy a hearty lunch and devote the evening to conversation.

Dealing with Food Allergies

Allergies involve potentially severe autoimmune responses. Take extra care because previous experience is no guarantee that your next episode won’t be more intense. Fortunately, federal law requires clear labeling for ingredients related to the most common allergies.


Consider these strategies to help you avoid allergy-related emergencies:

  1. Pick the place. Larger restaurants and corporate chains often educate their staff on being allergy-friendly. They may also be trained on how to respond to emergencies.
  2. Print out cards. Carry business cards describing your condition that you can give to your server. It will enhance communications with the kitchen.
  3. Bring medication. Keep epinephrine and an antihistamine with you. Each second counts in an emergency.
  4. Understand limitations. There’s only so much even the most diligent restaurant can do. Cross-contamination is common, and suppliers may change ingredients without giving notice. Play it safe if you have any concerns.

Dealing with Other Food Restrictions

Non-allergy food restrictions may involve practicing your values or avoiding digestive discomfort. Unlike allergies, you may be able to tolerate small amounts of the related foods.

  1. Losing weight. Downsizing portion sizes may allow you to sample any food you love. Look for words like grilled, baked, and boiled.
  2. Controlling diabetes. Time your meals so you stay on schedule, especially if you take medication. Focus on choices that fit your meal plan like low-calorie and low-fat meals.
  3. Gluten-free. Some foods are naturally gluten-free so indulge in plain meat or fish. Other meals may be adaptable like leaving the bun off your burger.
  4. Vegan or vegetarian. Ethnic restaurants often provide a variety of delicious choices for those who avoid most or all animal products. Vegans may also want to double check processed foods that often contain skim milk protein or animal fats.

Try out that new Indian place or celebrate your parent’s wedding anniversary at their favorite restaurant. Whether you’re allergic to nuts or cutting back on salt, you can dine out with food restrictions as long as you plan ahead and communicate clearly.