Out and About with Food Sensitivities

Make living with food sensitivities easier wherever you go.


By Aimée Suen, NTP


Every body and digestive system is unique and handles foods differently. While some of us can handle dairy, gluten, nuts, or other foods fine, there’s a growing number of people who feel better when they avoid eating certain foods. Some people also choose to go on an elimination diet or sugar detox to help get their digestive system, autoimmune condition, blood sugar or some other health condition under control. Those can last several weeks to months, depending on their protocol.

Even with a more restricted diet, life continues to go on with parties, events, and travel. Rather than avoid going out because of it, there are ways you can work with those restrictions. Most of it comes down to planning, asking questions and getting a little creative.

At Parties

There are a number of ways you can work with your sensitivity or food protocol at a party.

Dinner Parties: If you know the host of the party, let them know you have a sensitivity as soon as possible. Ask them if you can bring a dish, or if they’re open, let them know food or ingredient swaps. If you’ve got a more extensive protocol you’re eating under, make them aware and see if they would be okay with you bringing your own food.

Other Parties: If you don’t know the host or if you know the party doesn’t revolve around food, you can also eat enough beforehand so you’re not hungry. You can also bring some small snacks with you just in case. Ask questions to the host or servers about what’s in the food that is available. When in doubt, pass on food you’re unsure about.

At Restaurants

While making your own can be the easiest way to make sure you avoid foods you’re sensitive to, you can still go out to restaurants and find food to eat.

Do Your Research: When you’re going out to eat with a sensitivity, doing your research on the food can make enjoying your meal that much easier. When you find a restaurant you’re interested in, check their menus and Yelp pages to see what they offer. If you’re gluten free, you can also search on Find Me Gluten Free to find a map of gluten free friendly restaurants in your area. The site and app highlight places that clearly label and call out gluten free friendly dishes. If a restaurant has one or two gluten free friendly dishes or most of their food is naturally gluten free, it’s possible they will not be listed. If you’re dairy free or have lactose issues, Go Dairy Free has a list of recommended restaurants you can consult with. If a restaurant is vegan, you’ll be able to eat freely if you just have issues with dairy.

Communicate and Ask Questions: Once you’ve picked a restaurant and are there, make it clear to your server of your intolerances and the severity of it, if that applies. Ask what’s in sauces and what can be put on the side, substituted, or left out. Work with your server to see how you can get a meal that will work for you and that’s doable for the kitchen. This will be a lot easier in certain restaurants than others. If the menu has dietary preferences and restrictions labeled, they’re more likely to be easy work with to modify their dishes to work for you.

At Events

Whether it’s a work event, conference, or something fun like a fair or festival, you can enjoy the day without being concerned with what you’re going to eat.

Do Some Investigating: If food is being offered at this event, see if you can find out who will be there (i.e. food vendors or catering) or what will be served. If they’re serving food you can’t or don’t want to eat, see if there are restaurants or grocery stores nearby that you could get a bite from during a break or before the event starts.

BYO: If the event doesn’t last all day, bring some snacks to tide you over. If it does, consider bringing a meal that you can enjoy at room temperature. You can pack in an insulated lunch bag to keep it fresh until you’re ready to eat.

Ask Questions: If you want to enjoy food at the event, ask questions about how the food is prepared and see if they’re willing to make substitutions for you.

On Trips

When you’re traveling, whether it’s just for the weekend, few days or even a few weeks, there are lots of ways you can find food that works with your sensitivities and/or protocols.

Pick the Right Lodging: When you’re looking for a place to stay, consider vacation rentals like AirBnb or extended stay hotels that will have kitchens. This way, you can bring some food and easily store it and reheat it. If you have a more restrictive protocol, you can also cook most of your meals easily with a kitchen. You may also need to bring other tools with you if you’re planning on cooking.

Make a Meal Plan: Make a meal plan before you leave on your trip to see how many meals you’re going to cook and eat out. This will tell you what to buy, as well as how many restaurants you’ll need to find that can easily accommodate your sensitivity.

Cook Ahead of Time: You can also cook food ahead of time and bring it with you on the trip. If you’re driving, you can prep and cook as much as you want to. If you’re flying, consult the TSA safety list of foods they will allow and will not allow you to bring on board. When you’re going through security, make sure to separate the food out and anticipate being flagged by security. They could take some food from you, but most of the time they just want to see it.

Go Shopping: For the foods you can’t bring through security or that you’re not cooking, find a grocery store near where you’re staying and shop there. If possible, try and find one that you have at home as well to improve your chances of finding all the foods you need.

If the food you need is shelf stable, you can also look for smaller or travel size versions to ship to where you’re staying. If you’re staying in vacation rental, check with the host before you ship to make sure someone will be able to pick it up.

If Traveling Abroad: If you’re traveling abroad, especially where English is not the first language, find out what the foods you don’t eat are called so you can easily spot them on menus. Look into if the local cuisine heavily features the foods you avoid. You can also find allergy travel cards that have a statement saying that you have an allergy or intolerance to a certain food in the country’s native language that you can hand to server when you go out to eat.

Wherever you’re going, you can find a way to eat food the way that works best for you and without the foods that don’t work for you. With planning, prepping, and clear communication with servers and chefs, you have lots of options to eat just as well as you do at home. The more you go out and find ways to make it work, the more comfortable and confident you’ll feel away from your kitchen and favorite spots.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Main Photo Credit: TassaneeT/; Second Photo Credit:; Third Photo Credit: SG SHOT/; Fourth Photo Credit: Rudmer Zwerver/