Monday, March 12, 2012

My "Allergen Free" Red Robin Experience

Yesterday my family had to go out of town to purchase some essentials that we cannot get in our small town, or online. Because our daughter is still so young, this means an overnight stay and therefore eating out. This presents some challenges when you cannot eat gluten, dairy or soy! This was my first experience attempting to eat outside of my home since going free of these ingredients.

For breakfast my husband asked the cooks at the hotel we were staying at whether the eggs they were serving contained anything other than egg - turns out they did, some kind of processed egg product. (Yuck.) But then the cooks happily volunteered to just scramble some regular eggs for me! I appreciated this very much and was very surprised and impressed at the cooks willingness to accommodate me. We will be staying there (Homewood Suites) again. However, next time we will be bringing our own eggs, as one bite of the eggs revealed that they were battery hen eggs, which I can't stand the taste of, let alone the issue of animal cruelty. We picked up some mixed cut fruit from Whole Foods later, but it would have been nice to have them for breakfast, so that will probably be something else we bring next time too.

For dinner, we knew we were stopping by Whole Foods to get some things like unsulfured apricots, unsalted pistacios, and certain gluten free flours that you cannot get in our town, so I knew I could just grab a few things from their buffet. (I chose a Morrocan Style Salad on Spring Greens - Yum!) That just left lunch.

One of our favorite places to eat prior to me avoiding allergens was Red Robin. I have wanted a cheeseburger for a while, and remembered that they did a lettuce wrap and decided we would go there and figure something out.

We got there, worked out what I needed to have them take off my burger and started to order, asked if our waitress could please find out if the mayonnaise was made with soybean oil and explained why - and our waitress asked me if I wanted the gluten free bun! I was so shocked, I had no idea they even did this. Not knowing if it was any good or not, I said yes, figuring that if it wasn't any good I would just take it off. This would be my first taste of gluten free bread in many years. My previous experience was a health fair in England, and it really wasn't very good.

Our waitress came back and explained that the allergen free list said that their mayonnaise was not safe for people with allergies, so she told the cooks not to put it on. She explained that the mayonnaise is made for them so she wasn't sure exactly what was in it.

Soon the much anticipated burger arrived. The bun was much better than expected! It was a little bit spongy, so I understand that means it is made mostly with rice flour, but it was much much better than a wilted lettuce leaf, and it held itself and the burger together very nicely. My husband tried a bite and even he approved! (And he is very particular about how things should taste.) Overall a very enjoyable experience, and I finally got to have a burger for the first time since going free.

However, today I feel so so sick. If I was working outside the home, I would be taking a sick day, possibly three, and I hardly ever take sick days - something has to really be wrong for me to stay in bed. Unfortunately there were so many chances for something bad to end up in my body, I really don't know what it was that is doing this to me, and it could be a combination of some or all the things I ate!

I know for certain that the chicken nugget and two fries from McDonalds I ate on the way home before realizing what I was doing did me no favors, and quite honestly, that alone could probably do this to me. We usually never eat at McDonalds, but we needed a place to stop and entertain our daughter for a while and McDonalds was the first place available. As it was, our daughter cried for several minutes before we could pull over, and that left my brain a little frazzled, on top of being tired. The employees were starting to look at us funny for not buying anything, so my husband got a happy meal for the My Little Pony toy, and we dug in without thinking. Big mistake.

A few bites into the burger at Red Robin I realized they had put that processed cheese product on the burger, despite me asking them for no cheese, but I ate the rest of it anyway because there was no way for them to get me a new burger in time before we had to leave to get our daughter to sleep for her nap. My judgement was also surely compromised by the fact that is was now 2pm and the only thing I had to eat all day so far was one bit of scrambled egg. I have no idea if this was supposedly an allergen free cheese or something, but I doubt it.

And this is without accounting for any cross contamination that may have occurred at any of the places we ate at, including Whole Foods. We haven't figured out just how sensitive I am to these allergens, so I don't know if shared cooking equipment is a danger or not, and of course the grill at Red Robin would have had all kinds of things cooked on it, and I assume that is where they toast the gluten containing buns.

Later I discovered that if we go to Red Robin again, I can ask to see the allergen free menu, and decide for myself what I can and cannot eat. Some locations supposedly bring out allergen free items in yellow baskets instead of the traditional red, have dedicated frying oil, and there is debate over whether the seasoning on the fries is now gluten free or not. I suggest asking the location you are at for details, as apparently it does depend on the particular restaurant's manager and chefs as to how careful they are with handling food. Apparently most locations are very good at accommodating people with allergies, so I think we will give them another chance (perhaps at a different location) since I know for certain that I ate something else that does make me sick.

This was definitely a learning experience. It is incredible how difficult it can be just to find something to eat outside of your own home when you have allergies. It certainly makes me appreciate just how hard someone with a disability must have to work on a daily basis to get anything done, things like this really take the spontaneity out of going anywhere.

What obstacles do you face when eating outside the home? What do you do to overcome them?

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