How to Build an Allergy-Friendly Menu

Consumers today expect restaurants to accommodate dietary restrictions, whether they're gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, or something in between. Here's how you can adjust your menu to make sure every diner can enjoy eating at your restaurant.

63% of Americans last year said they were actively trying to eat healthier. Healthy, allergen-free, and sustainably sourced food has all become part of the mainstream and consumers have come to expect alternatives on your menus.

There is a wide range of menu items that you can, and should, offer these niche customers. The availability of safe, wholesome options will expand your customer base, and make your business stand out in a sea of chicken tenders and fries.

Meet the Demand for “Gluten Free”

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body has an extreme reaction to gluten, is on the rise. In most parts of the world, the prevalence of Celiac disease in a healthy adult population varies between one in 100 and one in 300. In the U.S., it's close to 3.5% of the population. People diagnosed with this malady face a challenge when dining out. Gluten can be found in foods containing flour, or any grains of wheat, rye, barley, or oats. People with Celiac cook with starch alternatives found in corn, potato, and rice. They can also eat meats, fish, eggs, dairy, and produce. They must be cautious of foods prepared with bread crumbs or breading, batter, and certain sauces.

According to the food delivery website GrubHub, gluten-free restaurant orders have climbed nearly 60 percent in the past year in the United States. Among the top five most frequently ordered “g-free” menu items are pizza, sandwiches, and burgers. Coincidentally, these are also among the most popular kids’ menu items.

Gluten-free recipes are as close as your nearest internet connection, and many reputable sources, such as the Celiac Disease Foundation in the United States and the Coeliac UK organization in the United Kingdom, have pages dedicated to kid-friendly foods like pancakes, macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, meatballs, and a variety of desserts.

Options for Customers with Peanut Allergies

More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergies, and about 1 in 13 children have at least one allergy. A food allergy results when the immune system mistakenly targets a harmless food protein – an allergen – as a threat and attacks it. Peanuts and tree nuts such as almonds, cashews, and walnuts are at the top of list of most common allergens. Peanut allergy symptoms can range from a minor irritation to life-threatening anaphylaxis.

When serving people with peanut allergies, what you don’t offer on your menu is more important than what you do. Safe foods are those with absolutely no traces of peanuts or peanut oil in any of the ingredients, nor in the food preparation area or on serving utensils. For recipe ideas, search sites such as peanutallergy.com, allergykids.com, and allergychefsinc.com (available in English). You’ll find baked mozzarella sticks, veggie pizza, cookies, and more. You can also utilize sunflower seed or soy nut butter for a safe version of “PB&J.”

Selections Suited for Lactose-Free Customers

Milk allergies and lactose intolerance are different, but with both, dairy products should be avoided. Milk is another top food allergen, causing sufferers skin irritation and hives, wheezing, vomiting, and in severe cases, anaphylaxis. Lactose intolerance is primarily gastrointestinal; causing bloating, stomach aches, and nausea.

There are many dairy substitutes out there, like soy-based yogurt, coconut milk, and dairy-free margarine. Therefore, you can still prepare popular kids’ dishes, like pizza with soy cheese, and rice milk “ice cream.” Also, vegan foods are dairy-free, so vegan “hot dogs” and similar products are fair game. Websites like godairyfree.org, kidswithfoodallergies.org, and theveganmom.com (available in English) provide a multitude of recipes. 

Healthy Substitutes for Familiar Foods

Even though the majority of Americans claim they want to eat healthier, they still gravitate toward familiar items they know and love. Meet them in the middle with twists on no-fail, recognizable selections. Consider multi-grain waffles, turkey burgers, and apple or sweet potato fries. You can broaden the appeal of naturally sweet fruit smoothies by offering them with not only a dairy base of milk or yogurt, but also soy, coconut, almond, or rice milk.  

Actually, You Should Still Have Chicken Tenders

Chicken tenders are a tried-and-true stand by, and many parents depend on them appearing on the children’s menu. Sometimes, they’re the only reliable source of protein in their child’s day. However, you can offer them baked instead of fried, or with breading alternatives. Challenge your chefs to get creative with crushed almonds, whole-wheat flour, cornmeal or corn cereal flakes, or gluten-free all purpose flour mix. 


Make Sure Potential Diners Know You're Allergy Friendly

Whether you've recently changed your menu or have always offered allergy-friendly and kid-friendly options, make sure potential diners can find your restaurant. Once you've claimed your listing — which is free and easy to do here — you can update your details to show that your menu will satisfy picky eaters and diners with allergies alike.

To make changes:

  1. Log in to the Management Center.
  2. Choose "Cuisines and Amenities" under the "Manage Listing" tab at the top of the page.
  3. From there, update your cuisines if needed by clicking the "Edit Cuisines" box. You can choose categories like Healthy or Vegetarian, for example, in addition to traditional cuisine types like French, Italian, or Barbecue. Make your selections by ticking the boxes next to the category you wish to select.
  4. Once you've made your choices, click the orange "Ok" button.
  5. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click "Submit" to make your changes live on the site.

Claim your listing or log in to update your cuisines and more!

Posted by:

Traci Suppa

Traci Suppa

Travel Blogger

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Claim your listing or log in to update your cuisines and more!

Last Updated: October 24, 2018