Eating out in a nice restaurant always feels like a treat doesn’t it. The ambience, the company and, of course, the food. Most birthdays, marriages, births and exam results have been celebrated in my family with a night getting dressed up to go out to dinner and indulging in delicious food that is far fancier than I ever manage to make at home.
A few years ago, going out to dinner became a little more complicated when I was diagnosed with MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome) and began to follow a low histamine diet. Eating out on a low histamine diet became something stressful that I would worry about, and not really enjoy anymore. Reading the menu shifted from being a positive experience wondering which of the many choices to pick, to one spent discounting most choices for their problematic ingredients. It seemed as though everything contained tomatoes, spinach or avocado!
I’m not going to say that it is easy to go about eat out in a restaurant, because often it isn’t. While I have become more and more comfortable making low histamine recipes at home, having someone else cook where you have no control over the dishes being served is far more of a challenge. There are a few ways to make the experience a little easier though, and I hope you find these helpful.
- 1. Look at menus
- 2. Ask for substitutions
- 3. Plan in advance
- 4. Look at sides and starters
- 5. Look at vegan and vegetarian options
- 6. Skip a restaurant altogether!
- 7. Take a histamine list with you
- 8. Don't forget your medication
- 9. Do something calming before your meal
- 10. Re-frame your thoughts
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1. Look at menus
Look at menus online before you go out. Most restaurants, and some cafes, now have their own website with menus listed. It is much easier to choose where to go having already looked at different options. It saves the stress of either having to look at menus in the window of multiple restaurants or scouring the options once you have already sat down at your chosen place.
2. Ask for substitutions
Ask for substitutions. If you can’t find a dish that suits your dietary needs then ask for some ingredients to be omitted and replaced with others. I often do this with salads, and ask for peppers instead of tomato, or a fresh cheese instead of an aged one. My post on easy low histamine diet food swaps may be of help here.
3. Plan in advance
If you haven’t got a choice as to where to eat, such as for a friend’s birthday for example, then plan in advance. Looking online at the menu is a good idea, but you could also phone ahead and ask the restaurant if they are willing to accommodate your dietary needs. Hopefully, they will make substitutions or omit an ingredient or two from a dish, or perhaps you can suggest a simple meal using ingredients they already have on the menu.
4. Look at sides and starters
If the main dishes aren’t suitable have a look at the ‘sides’ and starters and see if you can have a few of those. I have had a portion of roast potatoes (or fries!) with a side of vegetables many times. If I know that is going to be the case, then I will have a little snack before I go, and maybe another one when I get home!
5. Look at vegan and vegetarian options
I often look straight to the vegan and vegetarian options on a menu. This doesn’t always work due to the tomatoes, spinach and avocado issue already mentioned, but I often find there are more suitable choices. I don’t trust a fish dish as I don’t know whether it is fresh fish (usually an issue) or, if it is frozen, how long it has been left to thaw and so increase histamine build-up. So vegan and vegetarian feels a bit more reliable if there are options with ‘allowed’ ingredients.
6. Skip a restaurant altogether!
Skip a restaurant altogether and suggest alternative places to eat out for a social occasion. Instead of dinner in a restaurant, why not suggest a lunchtime picnic? As a family we now do this all the time, and it usually works out really well. Whether it is at a local park, the beach or in the countryside, a picnic is always fun and kids love it too. Make the foods you enjoy earlier that day and take a coolbag full of delicious salads, sandwiches, fruits and snacks. Have a look at my low histamine recipes page for some ideas! Or have a flick though the SIGHI cookbook – Mast cell-friendly and low histamine cooking: diet guidance and recipe collection.
7. Take a histamine list with you
If you are new to eating low histamine and are still a bit unsure of restricted foods, then download or print a histamine list and take it with you. There are lots of different histamine lists, so choose the one that is right for you or that a medical professional has advised.
Personally, I follow a diet based on the Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance. Downloading a copy onto your phone as a PDF can make it easier when out and about.
8. Don't forget your medication
This is probably a little obvious, but make sure you take your medications with you, including any emergency medications. Better to be safe about this. I carry my medications with me in a Sistema pot as it is discrete and goes in a tiny handbag! For me personally, I also take some quercetin tablets with me, which is flavanoid that can help some with mast cell disorders. Of course, check with your doctor before taking a new supplement.
9. Do something calming before your meal
If eating out is stressful, then do something you enjoy and is restful beforehand, whether it is reading a novel, a little yoga or meditation (check out the Calm app) or just some good old Netflix. Stress and histamine disorders don’t go well together, so try and relax as much as possible so you aren’t all tense.
10. Re-frame your thoughts
Re-frame your thoughts. There have been times (many times, actually) when I’ve been out for dinner and ended up eating a green salad and some fries. It felt depressing to see other people enjoying a nice meal and I ended up feeling bad about myself for being different due to my medical conditions. But then I realised that while I may not have been able to enjoy the food, I could enjoy the company. This shifted my thinking to a night out at a restaurant being about my friends and family, not the food. I could enjoy my time with them, and that is more important to me at least anyway. And you can always eat at home afterwards.
Hope those strategies will help make dining with friends and family an enjoyable experience rather than a stressful one. Comment below if you have any other ideas for eating out on a low histamine diet!
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