People often ask what we are up to these days or what exactly we’re doing with ourselves. Justin and I are collaborating our efforts for the first time in an attempt to create something together. Actually, we have three kids, so maybe not for the first time. Nonetheless, here is the backstory… [hazey fade in to three years ago]
In the spring of 2011, we went on a nice family vacation to Key West, just the three of us. I was pregnant with our second daughter. We had already been through our big dining out scare and had learned a lot about how to find safe meals in restaurants. We knew all about asking for allergen menus and talking to managers. We also knew that chain restaurants were more likely to have specific allergen information available. We got a room with a kitchenette so we could put together safe breakfasts and snacks, but we didn’t worry too much about finding safe meals.
Elena had just turned 2 years old. On our first night at our destination, we decided to go out for dinner. We hadn’t had a lot of time for call aheads, so we decided to go to a chain restaurant with an allergen menu. We looked up the menu online before we left the room, picked out a few options, then headed to the restaurant. We spoke with a manager and they brought us the print out of the allergen menu. Immediately we realized the info was different from what we had seen online. Uh oh. It appeared that the things we had chosen were either not on this menu at all, or were listed as unsafe for Elena’s allergens. After reviewing the menu with the manager, we determined she could safely have steamed broccoli and italian dressing. That was all. Obviously, we had to leave. She was melting down and we drove around looking for another option. We were all pretty hungry by this point. We eventually found a grocery store and just went in to get something we could eat while having hunger induced meltdowns and tantrums in the aisles. After all, I was pregnant. We left with a few odds and ends and went back to the room to put together a terribly disappointing dinner. There had to be a better way.
[Not so hazey jump back to today] My special effects are pretty low tech.
One problem is that it takes a lot of time to read allergen menus when you have more than one allergen to consider. We are usually handed four separate menus, one for each allergen, and we have to cross reference to find something that is labeled safe on all four. Sometimes we sit and read for quite a while before we complete the puzzle, just to find that nothing is safe for her. We had to figure out something better.
Initially our only goal was to solve the problem of puzzling through the menus to find a safe dish. Our solution was allergenmenu. We created a tool that would do the work for you. The idea is that you input your profile, based on your allergens, and it sorts through the menus for you and tells you which dishes fit your restrictions at restaurants near you. It returns actual menu items, based on the information provided by the restaurants, so you know what your options are before you step in the door.
Then we realized we needed more information. We wanted specifics. We didn’t just want to know what the corporation says they can make without these ingredients. We want to know if the servers and managers demonstrate competence with food allergies. We want to know how willing they are to take extreme precaution. We want to know what modifications can be made to dishes to make them safe. Most importantly, we want to know if the food is good. Every time we actually visit a restaurant, we leave with more information than we could ever gain through researching online. We want that level of information without having to visit to get it. We need a tool where everyone can review and rate what they are eating in restaurants. I only want to see the dishes that are safe for us and I want to know details about the location I’m considering visiting. This is the beginning of Noshed It.
Noshed It is a free iPhone app that addresses these more detailed needs. Rather than compiling information provided by the corporations alone, it compiles reviews from actual diners from specific visits. I review what we eat and if a dish I reviewed fits the restrictions you indicated in your profile, you will see what I had to say about the food, the service, and exactly how I ordered. This is not only for those with food allergies. It’s also for vegetarians, vegans, and gluten free dietary restrictions.
We have been using the app for several months now and love that all of our experiences are documented to look back on. We know exactly how we modified our dishes to make them safe and whether or not the food was good. We still use all of the same precautions as always, such as speaking with a manager, checking ingredients, and asking for clean careful preparation, but now we have a huge advantage when we’re eating out. Based on the reviews other people have submitted, we have found several safe meals for Elena in our own home town that we did not know about and might never have found.
To review a meal, you just snap a photo with your phone, then review right away or save it for later. It’s very simple. Sometimes we start chowing down before we take a photo. No problem. Reviews can be written without a photo as well. We have even been known to use a photo of a half eaten dish. Anything goes. Follow these links to see some actual reviews on Noshed It.
We have noticed a trend among people living with food allergies. There is a question that pops up on message boards, facebook pages, group sites, and all over search engines. We constantly see people asking and answering the same question over and over. “What/where do you eat in X city with an X allergy?” Everypone is seeking the same kind of answers we were seeking. They don’t just want to know what the allergen information on the website indicates. They want to know where other people with similar restrictions have eaten successfully. They want to know what they ate and how the management handled allergies. They want to know exactly how others are ordering. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of those answers were compiled in one place with all of the details and ratings? It might have saved us an ER visit when we were first learning to navigate food allergies.
So this is what we’re doing now. After much soul searching, Justin left his corporate job of 9 years, which he loved, and we are focused on creating tools that will lessen the burden of living with dietary restrictions. Hopefully Elena will never have to go through the challenges we have faced in finding meals for her when she’s out navigating the world on her own with food allergies as an adult….or even scarier, a teenager (gulp). She will have these tools to help make it easier to be safe and to live a normal life.
But that was all too simple. For a few reasons, which I won’t go into, we have decided to change the name of Noshed It. By the end of the month, Noshed it will become….drum roll……………………..wait for it……………………….. YoDish!!!
(Download the app on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod. Did I mention, it’s FREE?)
We are so excited to continue rating our meals and to see what others add to YoDish. Go ahead and start dishing your favorites. Actually, dish the meals you have hated as well. Knowing what to avoid is every bit as important as knowing what to nosh. (See what I did there?) Let us know what you think and how we can make it better. Your feedback will help us build a tool that will change dining out with food restrictions. Our hope is that the next generation of food allergic individuals will have it easy. Come on! What are you waiting for? YoDish!