Eating Out With Food Allergies: A Lesson Learned

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Eating Out With Food Allergies:  A Lesson Learned~Mom Vs. Food Allergy

We went to Red Robin last night for dinner.  We’ve been going several times a year for about two years, and allowing Superman to have their french fries from the dedicated, gluten-free fryer.  Only french fries are cooked in this fryer, in soybean oil.  We bring the rest of his meal, usually chicken nuggets, that they gladly heat in the microwave for us.

It was BUSY.   The waitress was about 5 months pregnant, and looked tired.  She didn’t look friendly or happy either.  Usually we have great servers that are outgoing and willing to chat a bit.  Not this girl.  It made me nervous.

We ordered, starting with my husband.  Next, I ordered for the kids stating, “They both need fries from the dedicated, gluten-free fryer. My son’s allergies are dairy, egg, and peanut.”  She didn’t write it down, and some annoyance flashed on her face and in her eyes, so I quickly added, “So if you’d please write that on our ticket we’d appreciate it it.”  She did.

Our food came, and the fries from the dedicated fryer were in yellow baskets, just like usual.  But they looked different.  I examined them, thinking there was seasoning on them so my husband tasted them to confirm there was seasoning.  I was right.  I can spot that fry seasoning a mile away at this point.  See my note at the bottom on why the seasoning isn’t safe.

In the meantime, my husband had sent the chicken nuggets with the waitress, asking that she just microwave them in the container.  When the chicken nuggets were sent to be warmed, someone at our table had requested a side of ranch and a side of campfire sauce.  We had also requested an extra plate, but didn’t say why.  We also sent the wrong fries back, requesting the corrected, gluten-free fryer fries without seasoning.

A few minutes later, Superman’s chicken nuggets from home returned…

ON A PLATE,

OUT OF THEIR CONTAINER FROM HOME,

NEXT TO A SIDE OF RANCH AND CAMPFIRE SAUCE.  TOUCHING THE RANCH AND CAMPFIRE SAUCE.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

So, initially my husband starts cutting off the portions of nuggets that are touching the ranch and campfire sauce.

Here’s what starts going through my mind….

No big deal, we’ll just cut that part off.  He’ll be fine.

I can’t believe she put them on the plate.

WHAT IF SHE TOUCHED THEM WITH HER HANDS!

At this point, Superman had started eating them.  And then, my mind took off….

WHAT IF THE PLATE WASN’T CLEAN TO START.

WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT BEFORE WE LET HIM START EATING.

WE CAN’T LET HIM EAT THESE.

IT’S NOT WORTH IT.

SHE’S SO STUPID.

WE DIDN’T ASK FOR THEM TO BE PUT ON A PLATE.

I’M MAD AT MYSELF FOR NOT THINKING THIS THROUGH.

I grabbed the chicken nuggets that we had put back in our container from home, stopping Superman mid-bite.

Eating Out With Food Allergies:  A Lesson Learned~Mom Vs. Food Allergy

“Is everything OK?”, the waitress asked, snapping me out of the whirlwind of thoughts.

“Um….not really.  Did you touch the chicken nuggets with your hands?”

“No.”

“Well, he’s got a severe dairy allergy.  And you put his food on a plate touching the ranch and campfire sauce, which is dairy.  We didn’t ask you to put them on a plate, and that’s a big no-no”.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t even think about it.”

Of course you didn’t.  And I’ve learned my lesson.  And I’m mad at myself that my son only gets to eat french fries tonight for dinner.  I want to cry as I stare at him across the table.  He’s 5 and got the weight of the world on his shoulders.  He’s resting his chin on his hand like an adult would when they’re overwhelmed, a sad look on his face, slowly munching on his seasoning-free french fries.

The lesson?  Pretend every waitress, manager, or restaurant staff is none other than Amelia Bedelia.  Yes, that’s right-Amelia Bedelia.  Say exactly what you mean, and don’t assume they know what you’re talking about, or you’ll end up with a mess of a problem like in an Amelia Bedelia story book.  Spell it out, clearly.  There’s one other thing.  Always, ask for a manager.  We had gotten out of this habit, and we paid the price.

Superman never had an allergic reaction last night, but it was a close call-TWICE.  Trust your instincts, and PLEASE learn from our careless mistakes.

Will we go back to Red Robin?  Yes, we probably will.  In the future we’ll be more clear and ask for a manager-EVERY.  SINGLE.  TIME.  Because Superman is worth it.

NOTE:  See the Red Robin Allergen Menu here.  **At our location they have a dedicated fryer for the gluten-free french fries, where just french fries are cooked.  When working in their interactive allergen menu, fries come up as a safe side with gluten & peanut allergies, but disappear when I add milk as an allergy.  I’m thinking there must be some sort of issue with the fry seasoning and milk.  Typically the gluten-free fryer fries come without seasoning.  We’ll be asking about this on our next visit.

 

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Managing Food Allergies & Eating Problems: The Picky Eater, Part 2

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Over the past week and a half, I’ve been trying to get my picky eater and food allergic child, Superman, to eat.  Some of you might know that Superman is underweight and he struggles to gain weight.  We’ve met with a dietician and a GI specialist to try and figure out the reasons why he’s not growing properly, but in the meantime, I’m still on a mission to encourage him to eat well.

Managing Food Allergies & Eating Problems:  The Picky Eater, Part 2~ Mom Vs. Food Allergy

Last week in my Part 1 of my Managing Food Allergies & Eating Problems “series”, I tried changing up where my kids eat.  I know this isn’t the solution for every meal, but it can sure break up the monotony that even we as adults suffer from.  In our house, even turning a snack into a picnic alleviated some of the boredom from the day to day.  I encourage you to give it a try and see if it can help get your child to “forget” that they’re a picky eater.

In the past few days I’ve learned something, and I want to share it with you.  What I’ve realized is that our food allergic kids need to be involved in their eating.  In the words of the dietician we met with, kids need to “own it”, and this is especially true of food allergy kids.

I really feel that Superman’s pickiness was his way of controlling his eating, more specifically, his food allergies.  He may be feeling stress about his food allergies now that he’s older, realizing his different than his peers.  Being picky and refusing to eat is his way of acting out against his food allergies, because he doesn’t know how to express his frustration.  

What’s a food allergy mom to do?  Give them control over their eating.

How?  Involve them in the planning, preparing, and cooking.

Here are some things I/we did this week that will spur your inspiration:

1.  Improved the presentation of their food.  Just by adding toothpicks and cupcake liners, they were more excited about their lunch.  I put it on plates we don’t typically use, and they loved it!  I’ll be the first to admit, I had gotten in the habit of just plopping healthy food on a plate and expecting them to eat.  Even I appreciate a plate of food that has been thoughtfully placed rather than plopped on a plate.  Visually stimulating food will always seem more appealing.

Managing Food Allergies & Eating Problems:  The Picky Eater, Part 2~ Mom Vs. Food Allergy

Managing Food Allergies & Eating Problems:  The Picky Eater, Part 2~ Mom Vs. Food Allergy

2.  Included them in the preparation of their food.  I put out the ingredients, showed them what we were “building” to make pizza bites with leftover pizza…and put them to work!  This was probably one of the best meals they ate all week.

Managing Food Allergies & Eating Problems:  The Picky Eater, Part 2~ Mom Vs. Food Allergy

3.  Gave them choices.  It’s as simple as, “Do you want blueberries or strawberries in your smoothie?  Once you choose, you can help put them in the blender.”  Don’t say, “What do you want for a snack?” because they’ll undoubtedly shout “COOKIES!”.  Instead say, “Do you choose grapes or crackers with Sunbutter for a snack?”.  This is the magical part and really helps them feel in control of what they’re eating-something that is perfect for food allergic kids that yearn for independence.

Here are a few more tips to including your child in the planning, preparing, and cooking:

-Ask them what they’d like on the weekly menu.

-Let them help cut soft fruits and veggies like bananas or mushrooms if they’re young.

-Set out ingredients and let them get creative!

-Encourage them to help pour and mix while baking.

-Buy a chef’s hat that they can wear while in the kitchen, or even an apron or chef’s coat.

What ideas would you add?  Comment below! 

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