It’s always been a problem for people with food allergies all over the world, there is little safe choice for lunch or snacks when you’re on the go. And if you are brave enough to try, there are fewer and fewer options available. I’d love to hear your suggestions because I really struggle. I often end up with an apple and packet of crisps. Long live the trusty oat cake!
It also seems that choices have reduced dramatically since lockdown, products that have previously been available are no longer stocked on the shelves. Both brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic have meant many food service establishments have focused on their core customers. You can’t blame them, there is also no risk of litigation if you don’t offer free from food, but that doesn’t mean you’re safe from risk to your business.
The allergic consumer is still visiting you
There are a large number of people with allergies who don’t always declare them or ask about safe options. These are predominantly young adults, who will choose what they ‘think’ is a safe option, but it may well not be. This means you STILL need to label all allergens and should do so even on products that are made on the premises.
Just because an accident isn’t your fault, imagine how you would feel is someone was seriously ill or tragically died after eating food they bought from your restaurant?
Allergic consumers – please always check, check and check again
It’s up to us allergic consumers to be open, vocal and explain our allergies simply and confidently to ensure we remain safe. We do take on a lot of the responsibility, please always check food is safe before consuming and ALWAYS CARRY TWO!
Do you always check? I know when I was younger I’d often choose something I thought was safe and not ask, like a chicken salad. It often went wrong due to garnishes, dressings or cross contamination.
If people don’t know you have a serious allergy they can’t be blamed for not taking adequate care.
What choices are there for the allergic community?
Whilst choices have shrunk, there are still places and options that might be safe for you.
- Cafes – Independent cafes can have some great safe options. I’d suggest opting for simple things like:
- Plain jacket potato and safe filling
- Ask if they have wheat free bread – Ask if they are able and willing to clean down and use clean utensils to make you a sandwich.
- Simple salad, check cross contamination and go through each element to check it’s safe
- Get to know the owners – They can often be more accommodating than the larger chains. In my local cafe, The Kitchen Larder, they can make me a safe salad which is delicious and safe for me. Just take the time to explain your food allergies to the staff and avoid really busy times.
- Chain lunch cafes
- Pret – The only thing I can get is sometimes a salmon salad but often these all contain some allergen or other. Sometimes there is an egg and potato salad that’s OK. I also opt for Sushi as I love it. I have a soya allergy but the little soya sauce pot is optional.
- Starbucks – You can get a coffee and a packet of crisps. If you’re coeliac there can be some sweet cake/biscuit options, but these are not always suitable if you have a nut or dairy allergy too.
- Leon – Leon used to be amazing but has since become very limited on choices and the owner has been very vocal about customers with allergies not taking risks! He spoke out 2019 so I doubt things have got easier since then. You can read what he said here: Leon tells diners with allergies NOT to eat in their restaurants because they ‘cannot guarantee dishes are allergen-free’. Personally, I don’t feel safe eating there and have had the spiel from staff that they can’t guarantee etc. etc. but it does sound like they do have safety procedures in place.
- Supermarkets – there used to be one option at most supermarkets for a gluten and dairy free sandwich. They are hard to find though. On one recent visit to London this was my experience:
- Marks & Spencer – currently two gluten and dairy free sandwiches
- Tesco – just some sushi, not much else
- Sainsbury’s – not much, but you can make a lunch with fruit, crisps, humous etc..
- WH Smiths – nothing
- Coop – not great on food to go… Free from section has options for sweet treats
- You can always grab a pack of cooked meat, salad etc. and tub of humous, as long as you have some cutlery!
- Waitrose do have good options also but there are fewer of these stores around.
- Street food – I would usually urge extra caution with these as staff may not have English as their first language and may not fully understand all the ingredients. However, with that said, I’ve come across some amazing mobile vans at music venues, shows and in my local area. You can usually get to speak to the owner and find out what’s safe and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with some. e.g. the Well Nice Food Company fish and chips. Always phone them and ask them to check all sauces, fryer protocols etc. If you’re going to a festival, see if you can find out ahead of time what food options will be there. It is often prohibited to bring in your own food, but if you can prove you have serious health concerns you can get permission but do this early as it can take a month to sort out.
- Exhibition venues – Don’t count on finding anything safe at large exhibition venues, even if you’re going to a specialist foodie show. You should always bring your own safe lunch with you or you’ll end up with a packet of plain crisps again.
It takes planning, preparation and involves often taking your own food it you’re not able to suss out the options ahead of time.
Research shows over two thirds of takeaways flout the laws
It’s worth using caution when eating out at takeaway venues, they really could be dangerous so please use extra caution.
You can read more about the allergen regulations and how take away establishments are matching up.
What do I take for lunch on the go?
I’ll usually go prepared with the following:
- Bottle of water
- Sandwich or bento box with left overs
- Apple or similar firm fruit!
- Oat cakes for snacks
- Lazy Days snacks for a treat
- Creative nature protein bars (Gnawbles when I need a treat)
- Angelic biscuits are amazing
- Packet of plain crisps
There are loads of companies making safe free from crisps, snacks, biscuits etc. like Angelic biscuits, Creative Nature protein bars and Nairns. Keep a stock in your cupboards ready for those days out, because they aren’t always easy to find on the high street or in supermarkets.
Advice for mums with allergic kids
Always take snacks, I know you all do, but it’s doubly important for children. We adults can miss a snack of a meal and not get too hangry but it can ruin a day if your kid is hungry and fractious and it’s so hard seeing them miss out. Here’s a few suggestions you probably already do:
- Keep snacks separate in small tubs or bags so you can get out one portion at a time to help ration snacks
- If you know what everyone else is having, try to find a safe replacement for your kid, or something even better. It’s hard for them for to be on the side lines and always missing out.
- Stick to more robust snacks, not bananas and pears and things that deteriorate.
- Pre-cut fruit into small hand portions
- Get the small snack size lentil chips, carrot sticks etc. You can get some great healthy options
- Make safe sandwiches to take
- Take a flask/water in case they get thirsty
- Take some wet wipes or go eco and keep some damp ecloths in a tubs so you can easily clean up.
- Don’t forget snacks for yourself too!
What do you take? Do you have favourite go to snacks?
Free From Food Awards – Food on the go
If you are in the free from industry and would like to enter the Free From Food Awards 2023, Entry opens 10am Tuesday 3rd January 2023. Let’s hope the entries wow us and give us allergic consumers more choice. At the moment you can see it’s a little limited though some places are getting better. For inspiration of amazing award winning free from foods for all occasions click the link above to see past winners.
I’d love to hear your thoughts
Do you struggle to find safe lunch and snack options when you’re out and about? Where do you go? Or do you take a packed lunch each time?