Apps to Help Manage Meals for Different Dietary Needs

What it does: Meant only for people following a gluten-free diet, FindMeGlutenFree makes it easier to locate restaurants that offer gluten-free options. Users can filter by restaurants that are dedicated gluten-free—meaning they don’t make anything that contains gluten—or restaurants with a separate gluten-free menu. Restaurants are peer-reported, so if you find a good one that isn’t in FindMeGlutenFree’s database, you can recommend it via the app. (At the same time, this means that you should double-check at the restaurant to be sure you get food that’s safe for your gluten intolerance.)

This app also offers a gluten-free product database and a bookmark feature to save listings you’d like to check out later. The premium version of the app includes additional search filters like “open now,” “most celiac friendly,” and a directional search that finds restaurants on your route. My gluten-free friends have told me this app was an absolute savior to them in the first weeks and months after being diagnosed with celiac disease, helping them eat out and discover new products during a very stressful transition.

Blind spots: Obviously, this isn’t the app for you if your food allergy/sensitivity is not gluten. Also, the data in FindMeGlutenFree is only as good as the people who add to its knowledge base, so restaurants with good gluten-free options may still not show up in the results if no one has taken the time to enter them.

Cost: Free

IOS only

What it does: Spokin makes it easy to find a restaurant, bakery, or ice cream parlor where it’s safe to eat for someone with your allergy or restriction. Plus, the app has hundreds of resources on allergy research, safe foods, and travel advice. Once you fill out your profile with the foods you’re avoiding, the app will show you all the potentially safe places you can eat on a detailed map of your area. My mother-in-law recently moved to a new town, so I used Spokin to search her neighborhood for restaurants where I could safely order takeout. We were thrilled to find a local pizza place that offers dairy-free or regular cheese on their pizzas, giving us a fun option for everyone.

Spokin even allows you to connect to other users with food allergies in your area (assuming they have agreed to make their profiles public) and lets you write reviews of the restaurants and products you use and enjoy.

Blind spots: This app is only available on iOS devices. The FAQ on the company’s site claims it’s working on one for Android, but there’s no estimated launch date. Also, though most restaurant listings include a link to the restaurant’s website, you’ll typically have to leave the app to see a menu.

Eating out when you are trying to manage food allergies is always likely to be a little bit scary, but these apps will hopefully give you a running start before you show up to an unvetted restaurant and share your concerns with the waitstaff. Because I have a potentially fatal seafood allergy, I’ve perfected my “restaurant shakedown” speech. I call and say, “I have a really serious allergy to all fish—shellfish and regular fish. Can you make me something that doesn’t have any fish or shellfish—not even fish sauce or oyster sauce, and made in a clean pan? I promise to give you a great review anyway, even if you say you can’t feed me safely. Trust me, an ambulance outside is really bad for business.” Plus, when I travel overseas, I try to add a note to my phone, in my destination’s language, explaining my allergy.

The devices we carry in our pockets have the potential to help us manage everyday life, even when that life includes challenging dietary restrictions. From planning a holiday meal at home to dining out or managing a whole new range of grocery items, these apps belong in your toolbelt.

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