Readers respond to Eat, Drink and Be Healthy column on food allergies

Friday, January 7, 2011; 12:13 AM

Readers respond to a recent Eat, Drink & Be Healthy column "A soup-to-nuts guide to eating out for people who have food allergies" (Dec. 16):

Allergies can take over

I have a 14-year-old child with food allergies, and we face tremendous challenges eating out. Those of us who manage multiple food allergies really wish that awareness was greater for our challenges. In November 2009, my teenage son was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis. Some children with this disease are unable to eat any food.

We feel blessed that our son can eat most foods, but in April 2010 we embarked on a food elimination diet. It initially removes the top six offenders: wheat, soy, dairy, egg, shellfish and peanuts. He will have at least seven endoscopies to obtain biopsies of his esophagus to identify the right allergens.

Trying to find soy-, egg- and diary-free foods is next to impossible. Forget it when you add wheat. We found very few restaurants that can accommodate his allergies. In addition to calling ahead to make sure they are amenable to preparing a special meal, I suggest dining at off-peak times. That way, the chef has time to prepare a special meal without it being an undue burden.

When you are managing multiple allergies, you know the very few brands of prepared breads that you can eat or the only "butter" substitute that is also soy-free. We bring safe foods for him everywhere we go, because most chain restaurants do not have an easy way to prepare allergen-free foods. For example, what would seem to be a good choice, a grilled chicken breast filet from McDonald's, contains hydrolyzed soy protein.

It's been a tough year, but he's been a trouper.

Donna Baker, Chantilly

Talk to the chef

I have been dealing with food allergies in my children for 20 years. It is helpful to have them eat at home before an event and then emphasize the social aspect of the gathering. We always bring a food dish to family gatherings (with a serving utensil) that we know will be safe for them.

You were spot-on with talking to the chef in a restaurant. If the wait staff says, "I don't think so," when questioned about nuts, we always ask to speak to the chef and tell the wait staff, "Nuts will KILL my child." We have found that phrase to be helpful.

One good Web site is Peanut Free Planet ( www.peanutfreeplanet.com ). It carries candy and other items that are nut-free. My boys would highly recommend the M&Ms substitute, Skippers, made by Vermont Nut Free. I also order Canadian versions of U.S. candy (Kit Kat, etc.) that are made peanut-free. Another site is for SunButter ( www.sunbutter.com ), which tastes exactly like peanut butter. The site has great recipes, such as chicken satay.

Debbie Thomas, Springfield

We welcome readers' feedback. E-mail letters to localliving@washpost.com.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company