Food Allergy Counseling

Food Allergy Counseling
Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, Psychotherapist; Specialist in Food Allergy Management, Speaking At Mylan Specialty / EpiPen Event (© Noel Malcolm 2013)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chains, Food Allergies

I get this question a lot about dining out with food allergies: “Which chain restaurants are great with food allergies?” My experience with chain restaurants is sporadic and happens usually only when traveling. Even then, I usually stick to places I know and trust already like Chipotle (see this post about Chipotle in Canada). However, I was super excited to receive an email from an industrious 15 year old, Emily, who has started a site called EZeatings. From their press release:

"I am excited to announce that I have just launched
EZeatings. Chain restaurants provide varying amounts of ingredient information on the web, ranging from no information to full ingredient lists. To help food allergic diners with the constant challenge of eating safely, EZeatings. has compiled the links to the ingredient information provided by over 50 major chains nationwide. EZeatings. is an efficient, one-stop destination for food allergic people, friends, and family to learn what chain restaurants have safe options for them.

While other helpful websites and apps provide food allergy information about restaurants,
. is unique in providing links directly to the ingredient information pages of restaurants' websites. These links offer the most complete ingredient information available."

Great idea Emily and thanks!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Keg, York Street, Toronto

You're like a celebrity! my Canadian food allergy coaching client said, bowled over.

I was in Toronto recently for the Jazz Festival and to dine out with my Canadian food allergy coaching client. My client, a young professional woman, is native to Toronto and anaphylactic to peanuts and some tree nuts. As part of her coaching, we made a plan to try a new restaurant together. (We had dined together once before when she was in New York City for work – we had a great and safe time at The Strand.) During part of our sessions leading up to my trip, we did research on possible allergen-aware restaurants. (I wrote about how I started the research here). The Keg came up multiple times in our searches, especially on Allergic Living magazine’s free forum, an excellent tool that covers North America and beyond. We made a reservation at The Keg to practice dining out, using the new skills we explored in our coaching sessions.

We entered as virtual strangers to The Keg staff except for a few pleasant calls and emails about food allergic needs; and we were both still unsure if our health needs were going to be fully understood and met. After two hours, one mistake and a dinner do-over, we left, having eaten well and food allergy free. We also laughed and received waves and hugs from multiple staff members as we had made new food allergy allies and friends all throughout the restaurant!

How did we do that?  

We used the tools that I use every time I dine anywhere.  Those tools are fully explored in my book Allergic Girl (on this blog, natch), during one-on-one coaching sessions and will be in webinars coming soon. But instead of going through those tools again, I’d thought I’d focus on one of the defining moments of this evening – the mistake.  

First, some tools I always have in play whether dining solo with food allergies or when dining with a food allergy coaching client:

My client kept saying to me, How do you do that? They love you but you’re really clear about your food allergy needs, too. I use some essential, often overlooked-as-too-basic interpersonal skills when approaching a restaurant. I always have them on hand, and they are totally free! The approach:

-Use your pleases and thank yous
-Flash a warm and genuine smile whenever you can – it really makes a difference
-Exchange names with the restaurant team (e.g. Hi, I’m Sloane. What’s your name? Nice  to meet you. Thank you in advance for ensuring our meal is food allergy safe)
-Connect with the restaurant team members as people first (e.g. a genuine compliment or finding common ground works well)

We called the local Keg outpost down the street from my hotel (there are 88 locations Canada-wide). We spoke with the manager and then emailed them a follow up with the specifics so everyone was on the same page. This email would turn out to be a turning point for the restaurant and how they understood our needs. The email included my list, pre-written, on letterhead, of my cannot haves as well as can haves as well as my client's list. I recommend that my clients create a list of their own - written clearly, concisely and ready to send out to restaurants, chefs, hotel groups, caterers, etc.. The Keg's management wrote back that they had our lists and would be all ready for us.

The basics of my food allergy  plan that I use for myself and recommend to my coaching clients:

-Always carry emergency medication on your person at all times
-Know when and how to use them i.e. your emergency action plans as well as emergency phones numbers on hand
-Communicate needs firmly, clearly and politely to a restaurant before arrival
-Repeat needs when onsite and assess the risk in situ
-If at any point, you don’t feel safe, don’t risk it


Manager Eric met us at the host's station of The Keg York Street, greeted us warmly, and said the kitchen was all prepared for us. He joined us at our table to go over their preparations and our potential order. Here's when my email came back into the conversation. Eric said they had gone through their menu and picked out which dishes seemed best for our needs, given my email. He was holding a copy of the printout in his hand for the entire evening. His suggestions were exactly what I had listed in my "can eat" section of my food allergy list: a clean protein with just salt and pepper and olive oil, baked potato and steamed or sautéed greens if we liked. We thought that sounded great and ordered one large steak to share with two plain baked potatoes. We repeated our allergies, even though he was holding the email in his hand, as it is always our responsibility not the restaurant's to have special requests and needs memorized. We also repeated our order: one steak with baked potato; no sauce, no rub, just plain.

The steak came out looking luscious. And underneath the steak was a bed of steaming button mushrooms. We hadn't ordered mushrooms. Neither of us are allergic to mushrooms but why did something that we didn't order show up on our lovely allergen-free plate? I called the manager over and I asked him what happened.
"We always serve steak with mushrooms and as it wasn't on your allergen list, so we thought it would be okay.” He backtracked and admitted it was an error, an oversight – they always plate the dish that way and since it wasn’t on the list they thought it would be alright but hadn’t said anything to us, their guests.

“Would you like me to redo the order?”  

“Yes, please. That would be great.”

"I totally get it,” he added. “You’re wondering, if we serve you something that we didn't discuss, what else we didn't hear or listen to. But it was my error for not communicating the mushrooms to you, I just assumed. We will get this right. It was our mistake." He whisked the steak away and the chef remade the dish, with a new steak. Our server, Derrick, came over too, and also apologized for their oversight.

It had been over an hour since we first sat down and finally the steak arrived. It was delicious and allergen-friendly perfection. And no mushrooms! Our server, Derrick, and the manager, Eric, came by again to check in on us, and apologized again. Everyone was all smiles and laughs, including me and my client.

During this meal, what I didn’t describe was how multiple servers (not even our own) came over to talk to our table: about food allergies, about visiting New York City, about Danny Meyer and dining out in New York City, about Toronto and even just the weather. They were a friendly restaurant team; in truth, I found all of Toronto very friendly. Even though we could have been deemed a “difficult” table, the overall atmosphere that my client and I created was one of fun and enjoyment, plus food allergy requests that need to be, and were, taken seriously. This was why when we left, it seemed like the whole restaurant bid us adieu. Like celebrities.

You can create this kind of experience for your self or your family or bring a potentially worrisome experience back from an emotionally precarious brink. (The mushrooms were perfectly safe, we just didn’t order them nor want them.) Consider an experienced coach to partner with you or your family about dining out with confidence and contact me at

A heartfelt thank you to The Keg team members, especially Eric and Derrick for keeping us safe with a smile.

165 York Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5H 3R8
(416) 703-1773

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Chipotle, Yonge & Dundas

Chipotle on Yonge & Dundas at lunchtime
As Chipotle uses no nuts (peanuts or tree nuts or derivatives) or fish or shellfish anywhere on their menu, they have quickly become my safe quick meal on the go in NYC or when I travel in the US.  So, I was thrilled to discover two outposts near my hotel in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I looked on the main Chipotle website and it seemed they use the same website for the US and Canadian outposts. I Tweeted to @ChipotleTweets and asked them if all was the same, including ingredients and allergen policies in Canada. Yes, they said, exactly the same.

After I landed mid-morning and checked in to my hotel, I took my first walk in this great city, past The Bay, past the Old Town Hall, past the Eaton Mall, up Yonge to their Times Square at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas to find Chipotle. It was lunchtime and busy but still I asked to speak to the manager about food allergies. I was told that the manager was occupied but the server brought me out the allergen list, the same one they use in the US, it even quotes FAAN.

The same allergen card they use in the states.

He said if you have more questions, the manager will come out. No, this is perfect I said, just what I wanted to see. I got in line and ordered my usual quickie meal: rice and chicken. It was great and safe and yum!

Oh Chipotle, I heart you and am so glad I can find you in North America. It made my trip that much easier having an inexpensive, food allergen-free for me back-up place to eat - thank you, Chipotle!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Whole Foods, Yorkville, Toronto

There's been a Whole Foods in Toronto for the past ten years in tony Yorkville and I was curious what Whole Foods in Toronto had in their allergen-friendly foods category.  So, I wandered through the aisles to see what I could find. Whole Foods, like most large retail grocery stores, hasn't quite figured out where to put allergen-friendly foods: in their own aisle or mixed amongst regular foods, so they do both. Here are some picture of the old friends I found here, with French subtitles, mais oui.

Enjoy Life and Canada-based Glutino
My fave, Enjoy Life min-chocolate chip en francais!
Udi's, whee!

I picked up one new product below, from Righteously Raw. It says it's chocolate made in an allergen-free facility out of California. I'll be emailing them later. If you've tried them, let me know!


And I bumped into these cookies in the bread section (which makes no sense
Whole Foods!), pictured above by New Moon Kitchen. They had contacted me via Twitter and are sending samples of their GF, nut free line.

Checking out a local supermarket is one of the first things I do in a new city; you can tell a lot about a person, a group or a culture by what they eat. Whole Foods in Toronto is different because it's American-based but still they had local specialties - the dairy section alone was fascinating. 

Nice to meet you, Whole Foods, Toronto!


Monday, July 02, 2012

Toronto Jazz Festival, 2012

A few months back when I was dating a jazz musician, we were talking new artists and he introduced me to Gretchen Parlato. Since then, I've been listening to her debut album non-stop. When I was saw that she was opening for Esperanza Spalding at the Toronto Jazz Festival, it was the impetus to check out a new city, see some music and do a dining out session with a food allergy coaching client who lives in Toronto.

The Toronto Jazz Festival is ten days long, most concerts are free or very low cost, many outdoors, are all over the city and in small clubs. There were signs everywhere about the Toronto Jazz Festival and upon arriving at my hotel, they had a Toronto Jazz Festival fold-out pamphlet with all the concerts listed by club. Gretchen and Esperanza were playing in the main stage on Thursday night. It was general seating. At 7:50pm, I walked into a packed house for a sold out show and found a seat in the third row center. Allergic Girl luck! Gretchen Parlato's voice was in fine form even in the extreme heat wave and the additional heat of the white tent. Here are some pictures of the evening:

Entry to main stage at Nathan Philips
Gretchen's band setting up
Gretchen singing her heart out!
Esperanza wails on the upright bass

Great job, Toronto Jazz Festival!