Cafe serving small portions

How to enjoy eating out

Eating out will friends and family is one of life’s pleasures. It will never be quite the same after surgery, however it is possible and not just on special occasions.

In fact the good thing about eating out after oesophagectomy is your next meal is never very far away, so you can fit in with other people relatively easily.

The first time I ate in a restaurant after surgery, I felt very self-conscious and got upset.  However it taught me that I must get over myself and not feel like that and accept this is me now and others will have to do the same. This was half the battle and I never looked back. I am now so indoctrinated with my new style of eating, when I look at the amount my friends and family have on their plates, I can no longer imagine myself eating that quantity of food.

These days, restaurant and cafe owners are used to people making all kinds of requests over food choices, allergies and free from requirements so there is no reason for anyone to feel embarrassed or awkward. Besides post-oesophagectomy patients fall under the Disability Discrimination Act so the law is on our side if someone is funny about asking for a small portion or wanting to charge an adult full price for a half portion.  The Oesophageal Patients Association have a downloadable card you can flash at cafe and restaurant staff to say you can only eat small portions.

Here are my top tips for eating out.

1. Avoid sniffy eateries

The worst places to eat are the ones that get sniffy about only having a starter or an adult asking for a child’s portion so maybe avoid if you can. A fellow patient told me that when asked for a child’s portion, it came on a child’s plate, which they found really humiliating. If an eatery does this kind of thing, do not go back. I find these have been chain pub restaurants or places that are not overly clued up on food allergies or offer any gluten/dairy free/vegan options.

2. Quantity

If you can, choose somewhere with a good choice of starters and sides as you can combine both of these. Menus are often available to view online beforehand. If others are having starters, then either order one and eat it with theirs or ask for it to be brought with the mains.  Waiting for the mains is no big deal as we eat more slowly so are likely to finish at the same time as those with normal portions. It is always worth asking whether a starter-sized portion of a main is available. Some Italian restaurants do this. Some places do smaller portions, which is great but to be honest, even a child’s or older person’s portion can be too much.  The perfect places to try are tapas bars as all the portions are small. If the meal is a long affair, enough time may have elapsed for your starter to have shuffled down enough to have room for a coffee/tea or a small amount of dessert.

3. Where and share

Cafes in supermarkets, large garden centres, National Trust properties or places with a communal eating areas like Altrincham Market are great.  The people serving or selling the food do not know the exact number of people in your party or who is eating or what. Ask for a small, clean plate and decant any excess food off your plate to ensure you are not overfaced. Equally, and I do this alot, share a main course. People who have todders do this all the time. Provided you are sharing only food bought at that establishment and not your own, there should be no issue.

As mentioned above, tapas bars are perfect for sharing. The Fumo chain do Italian type tapas called cicchetti where you can get one or two dishes to share and the food is delicious.

4. Ask for a doggy bag

It takes a bit of front to ask but I have done this a few times now and it has worked so well.

Pizza Express are very amenable to doggy bags for mains and desserts as are Toby carveries. I had an ordinary sized carvery for lunch and asked for a take out for later. I’ve not tried asking for a doggy bag in a higher class restaurant but to be honest, their portions tend to be on the smaller side so there is often no need.

5. Make time

When eating out, it is always a good idea to ensure you don’t have to rush off anywhere after eating. This gives you time to enjoy the food and that is has settled safely before you leave and there are no impending signs of dumping.

6. Quality

It goes without saying that you should choose somewhere with a good hygiene rating and decent food on offer. As we have to eat smaller sizes, eat something that tastes good and has been cooked to good standards. As we are more susceptible to stomach upsets, it is not worth taking the risk if something does not taste or look cooked or quite right. If in doubt, it is fine to leave it.

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