You Don't Have to Make *Everything* Yourself
Once you develop an allergy or dietary restriction, it can be easy to focus on all the foods you *can't* have anymore - or all your favourite restaurants, bars, cafes, and bakeries that can't serve you any more. But it is still possible to eat out (or order in) - I promise! It just takes a little more work and preparation until you find your new go-tos and favourites. :)
Here are my top tips for eating out (or ordering in) with dietary restrictions:
1) Stick to classics that, by default, are safe for you. When I first went vegan I reached out to an old friend, who I knew had been vegan for a while, for any advice - and the first thing she said was "You don't need to reinvent the wheel". In other words, start by looking for foods that already adhere to *most*, if not all, of your dietary concerns.
What do I mean by this? Let's use veganism as an example - there are certain types of foods that are likely already unintentionally vegan (if they are meat-free). These include most vegetarian Indian, Mexican, and Italian dishes. Tomato sauce and pasta? Already vegan! Bean-based chili? Already vegan! Eggplant vegetable curry? Delicious, and already vegan! And the same can be true for gluten-free people too - you'll most likely be able to eat everything other than the bread/toast at steakhouses, breakfast/brunch joints, and many seafood restaurants!
The point is, start by looking for places that serve the kinds of food where you'll have a good number of options by default, and only need to make a couple minor requests (like, say, hold the cheese). You don't need to try reinventing the wheel - there are still lots of options out there for you!
2) Support the changes the food industry is making. Have you also noticed the influx of alternative choices and allergy-aware language in even fast food joints these days? Or maybe how 'trendy' it is to be vegan, or gluten-free, or 'organic', 'non-GMO'? It's a *very* different food landscape now than it was back when my mom had to go gluten-free a decade ago and there were no options anywhere. So take advantage of the trends, and support the ones you want to see continue.
If you're vegan and you notice a new restaurant is starting to offer a vegan option, go try it! If a local Italian restaurant offers gluten-free pasta, there's no harm in seeing how it is. And the more we show there is a demand for these kind of options, the longer they're likely to stick around!
And of course, be on the lookout for places that specialize in your dietary restriction. I'm very lucky - in my neighbourood there is an EXCELLENT 100% vegan authentic Mexican restaurant, a gluten-free bakery, and a nut-free bakery too. And if there aren't any near you, there may be soon - as awareness around allergies and common dietary restrictions increase, the availability of alternative dining will too. I always try to support small & local, but you bet your buns I am that Mexican restaurant's #1 customer - especially because they are nut-free, have a bundle of designated gluten-free menu options, and take my soy allergy seriously. They've taken excellent care of me every time I've ordered, and they'll have basically all of my take-out business as long as that continues. Places like these are small, usually independently-owned, and might be a hidden gem in your community - but they are out there, and their numbers are growing!
3) Get (more) comfortable talking to people. This is a tough point for me, because I would so much prefer to lock myself in my cottage in the woods and make soups and never talk to other humans ever. BUT that doesn't stop me from asking questions about different food items, requesting servers let the kitchen know about my allergies, and calling in advance check their allergy policies and see if small changes to menu items are permitted.
Try to practice advocating for yourself and your safety, and eventually you'll develop almost a script that you'll be able to recite every time you order out. And you can make sure people understand the severity of your allergy without feeling like you're preaching at them or derailing the nice dinner you're all about to enjoy, I promise. If it helps get you started, mine sound something like this: "Hi, I'm looking at this item, but I have a soy allergy - can you check if that's a safe dish for me to order?", or after I order an item I'll add; "Also, I have a severe nut allergy - I've eaten this item here before, but if you can the kitchen know about my allergy, I'd really appreciate it. Thank you!"
4) CALL AHEAD to protect your heart, and your stomach. I'm willing to bet every person with a major dietary restriction or allergy has a story about sitting down in a new restaurant and opening their menu only to find that there's not a single thing they can eat there. Or, even being refused food service by the business once they're told about your allergies. (You'd be surprised how many restaurants will refuse you service in New York City when a nut-anaphylactic lady (me) tries to go out for lunch with her shellfish-anaphylactic business partner). It's frustrating and disappointing at the time, but in the end you just have a safer and more delicious meal elsewhere - though you might be quite hungry by the time you get there! If you are able to look the menu up online or call ahead, you can avoid pinning your hopes & hunger on a place that can't safely feed you.
If you're in the mood for some home-cooking and eating in for the night, here's one of my favourite easy & delicious comfort-food recipes - Garlic Cauliflower "Alfr-YAY-do" Pasta!
GARLIC CAULIFLOWER "ALFR-YAY-DO" PASTA
(vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free)
- At least 4 cups of cauliflower florets, chopped
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavoured coconut milk
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 3/4 tsp fine ground sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Fresh or dried parsley for serving
- Your favourite gluten-free pasta (pictures are of GF spaghetti, but we've used GF linguine, penne, rotini, and more)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: any additional veggies you’d like to add on top (we've liked adding pan-fried zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, and mushrooms!), vegan bacon (this pinto-bean-based one is my faaave), and/or dairy-free 'cheese' shreds (these are my go-tos: Nafsika's & Violife)
1) Steam all the cauliflower florets for 10-15 minutes, until you could squish them with a fork (or boil them if you don’t have a steamer for 8-15 minutes and then drain super well!)
2) Meanwhile, cook pasta to package directions. Drain well, pop it back into the pot, and set aside (off heat).
3) Add oil and minced garlic to a small frying pan and sauté over low heat for maybe 4-5 minutes – be careful not to burn it, so err on the side of a shorter cook time!
4) Add the cooked cauliflower florets, sautéed garlic, coconut milk, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, sea salt, and pepper to a blender or food processor and blend until a *very* smooth sauce forms.
5) Add the cauliflower sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta and heat over low-medium heat until all pasta is coated, and sauce & pasta are heated through. Feel free to add a tad more seasonings at this stage to taste (we usually add more pepper, more nutritional yeast, another splash of lemon juice, or some dried or fresh parsley).
6) For serving, divide the coated pasted into bowls. Feel free to top with any of your favourite sautéed veggies, vegan bacon bits, and/or mix in some dairy-free 'cheese' shreds too!
7) Extra sauce (this recipe does make a hearty amount!) and any leftover 'sauced-pasta' will keep in the fridge for a few days, no problem - and it all reheats beautifully in the microwave. :)