My husband and I loved dining out, I became more of a foodie when I got married. Then our son Ash came along, soon after he was born, he was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. Almost 10 years later still one of the hardest things is being able to find restaurants where we could go and dine out and do normal stuff that all families do.
In the earlier years of Ash’s allergy diagnosis, we used to eat out just a handful of times a year, on a special occasion for example a family birthday or at Christmas. This was manageable whilst he was little but over time my anxiety around food got worse and we stopped eating out.
We are constantly influenced by so many people/things in our daily lives; our families, our friends, social media, diet culture, celebrities, books we read, music we listen to, etc., the list goes on and on. These then become needs, when we have a need, we will also have a feeling associated with that need. Often what happens when our need is not fulfilled, we look for someone or something else to fulfil them which can result in disappointment.
Take dining out for example, if you have a non-allergy family sitting at another table enjoying their food, the immediate thought would be “That family is so lucky they don’t have allergies”. Our desire is to be like that family without allergies and have the freedom to eat whatever we want to. Then there would be no need to plan, no need to constantly be feeling anxious, stressed and scared and the biggest one is not having to put our children’s life at risk.
Sometimes we can be let down by the restaurant and that can hurt emotionally& mentally, because they could not meet our needs and then we react in that situation, be it stress, anger or frustration, all of these feelings are valid. Only now am I able to step back and assess the situation and guide the conversation to the resolution that I want.
Ash’s food allergies have been life changing, even today over 9 years into our allergy journey we still struggle to find foods that are safe for him. We struggle to be able to eat out as a family, worry as soon as we drop him off at school where we have no control over his safety.
I am very clear about what kind of life I want Ash to have but also, I want him to be comfortable around food and confidently speak up about his food allergies should he not outgrow them.
Another big life changing event was when my brother Bob was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, being told your loved one has only 5 years left to live is news that you cannot process. In supporting Bob and my family, it meant I had to push past my comfort zone, as much as Ash’s allergies and his safety was important, supporting Bob and creating memories were also as important for me.
What did that look like for me?
Well, firstly I had to accept I needed help, if I had left this for too long I was only going to spiral downwards. This was a huge realization for me, the way I was living could not continue. I could only support both Ash and Bob if my cup was full as they say, “You cannot pour from a half empty cup”. So, I qualified as an NLP Practitioner in 2015 and then as an NLP Master Practitioner in 2021 and now I am coaching allergy mums. To find out more book in a call with me.
As well as supporting allergy mums in my free Facebook Group The Allergy Club I also support other families in a separate local allergy support group which was formed in 2018.
No matter how well you learn to do something there will always be ups and down which we can reflect on and change. After Bobs diagnosis, we went on many family holidays, that also meant eating out a lot more and I learnt how to effectively communicate Ash’s allergies with confidence. The more I did it the more I sharpened my skills, sometimes now we do not even call up our local Pizza Express or Nando’s because we know they will cater for Ash. I am in control.
The Jubilee weekend
Over the Queens Platinum Jubilee weekend, we did not have a lot planned apart from my sister who came to stay with us for a few days. On the Friday we had BBQ at home, I thought as my sister was here why not take everyone to lunch. Ash enjoys it too and it gives him the opportunity to gain experience how to communicate his allergies when placing orders.
For the past few months, we have been visiting one of our local pubs. When we questioned if they cater for allergies they have always said yes and have always been reassuring, with this in mind I thought why not try them, it will be change from our regular restaurants it is a beautiful pub with lovely food. Having recently gone gluten free myself it is hard to find places that will cater for both Ash and I.
I rang the pub on the day before and spoke to a member of staff, I asked if they catered for food allergies, I communicated the list - Dairy, Eggs, Soya, Sesame, Shellfish, Tree nuts and peanut (Ash has outgrown peanuts but the allergy nurse advised that he only has peanuts at home). They told me yes, they could cater, there was no sesame on the premises and there are quite a few options from the kids’ menu too. I asked if they could guarantee the risk of no cross contamination and they confirmed that everything will be cooked separately. Sounded great so I booked the table for Saturday.
At the pub!
We arrived at the pub, we told the host that I had called the day before and booked the table I also confirmed that they could cater for food allergies. The manager was brilliant at seating us and taking a note of Ash’s allergies straight away.
We went through the menu and Ash wanted a chicken burger with chips I was told over the phone that Ash could have a burger without the cheese, which to be honest I felt was too good to be true.
The story at the restaurant was hugely different, the manager took everyone’s order including Ash’s and said, “I will put this order through and check with the chef”, we waited for about 10-15 minutes for the manager to come back to us. As he walked towards us, I knew we had been given incorrect information.
“I am sorry unfortunately your son will not be able to have chips because the oil is contaminated with sesame and the oil in the other fryer is contaminated with milk” he said.
“But I was told over the phone that you don’t have sesame on the premises, and that he would be able to have chips”.
“I am sorry you have been given the incorrect information and I was not informed of the conversation”, you could see he was getting nervous.
“What is the alternative option?” whilst trying to keep my calm as I could see Ash getting upset.
“We can do boiled new potatoes”.
“What, with a pan-fried chicken breast burger?”.
“Yes” he said but I have to check about the buns.
I told him “As long as the burger buns don’t have his allergens and don’t state “may contain” sesame dairy and eggs on the label etc.”. He said OK let me check with the chef and he left.
We waited and waited; he never came back to us, at the back of my mind I thought maybe the buns were Ash friendly. About 20 minutes later a plate of food arrived for Ash; new potatoes, with a pan-fried chicken breast and green peas - no burger! As the manager placed the plate of food in front of Ash, Ash looked at it, then at me and responded.
“What is this?!, It’s not what I ordered”. Immediately Ash pushed his plate away saying, “I am not eating this!” in front of the manager.
For a moment I froze not knowing what to do, do I attend to Ash, or do I tell the manager what I think of the service.
So, in other words do I react, or do I respond, the choice was mine whilst bearing in mind Ash was watching me. How do I let them know that they have let us down but most importantly they messed around with my child’s feelings? On top of this having to justify myself to my husband to say “I went through all of Ash’s allergies and asked them if they could cater” as he looked at me.
Yes, I was really upset for Ash, the restaurant set our expectations and they could not meet them, it changed the whole vibe. It was such an unfortunate situation as this has not happened to us in a long-time. Most of the restaurants we have eaten out at have always been brilliant at accommodating Ash’s allergies.
In that moment, my emotions took over and I was fully aware of what I was feeling and was able to focus on the situation rather than letting my mind take second guesses as to what might be going on. Our mind makes up stories that are not true as it does not have the full facts to conclude what is going on.
Sometimes when we face negative situations or unfortunate situations, often our emotions take over and we end up getting angry or stressed which than causes resistance, so we are unable to think past what we are feeling.
We all have choices, having choices is better than having no choices. That day I chose to focus my attention on Ash because for me it was important to let him know that firstly it’s okay to feel angry and upset and secondly our perception can be different to what reality really is. Sometimes there will be situations that do not meet our needs. What is more important is how we react or respond in that specific situation.
During the meal Ash chose not to talk to any of us, having his brother Aran sit at the other end eating fish and chips was just heart wrenching because none of this worked out how we had planned it. After giving Ash the time to check in with what he really was feeling he agreed to eat his lunch and equally he made sure the manager knew how he was feeling.
Yep, there were many awkward moments not for us, but for the manager!
Dessert time, the moment every allergy parent dreads
How much do you dread dessert time? Due to Ashes allergies to dairy, eggs, tree nuts, soya milk, sesame, and shellfish a lot of foods are a no no, and usually so are desserts. What child doesn’t love a good dessert after a meal? Sometimes I watch other children enjoying a dessert, I wish Ash could too. Aran doesn’t have any allergies so when it comes to dessert if it’s Ash friendly Aran would have the same.
So going back to the story, it was dessert time and to my surprise the manager came over and said Ash can have the mango sorbet with mixed fruit as its dairy and soya free and it had no ”may contain” warnings, at this point I knew that he was feeling bad about the whole experience too and why would you not feel bad after seeing Ash’s little sad face.
In the end Ash had the mango sorbet and Aran had a normal dairy ice cream. Whenever Aran has non-Ash friendly food, we always check with Ash too see if he is okay with it. I want Ash to understand that people will eat different foods around him. I am already planting the seeds now and what better way of doing it starting from your own environment. As much as I would love to bubble wrap my Ash, the reality is I cannot and one day I will have to let go, by doing it slowly now, it makes the whole process less painful and easier for all of us.
Having one child with multiple food allergies and another without any is challenging. I have to consider so many things whilst trying to balance everything. It’s not fair on Aran that he misses out on foods he can eat, it requires work, but you do eventually find your own balance it has to work for the whole family.
In the end Ash was okay, he had his dessert and we all said thank you and left the restaurant with a bittersweet feeling. Would I take Ash there again possibly not, because there are other restaurants that will cater for him.
Remember not all experiences are the same, not all restaurants are the same so when we go through any negative experience as humans we tend to generalize i.e., all restaurants never cater for me. There are some who do a brilliant job to cater for the allergy families you just have not found them yet.
What are the leanings from this whole bittersweet experience?
I would say always be aware that there will be situations that can be out of your control, so lowering your expectations or setting realistic expectations can prevent you from being disappointed or being hurt.
Lots of love