Although I’m a huge proponent of eating healthy home cooked food, it is really nice to have options for eating outside the house when I travel, have crazy busy days or just want a night off from cooking. Somewhere near the beginning of this crazy diet to keep Colin safe, I searched and searched the internet looking for restaurants that offered items that were dairy and soy free. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to find something. Chain/fast food restaurants seem to be the most likely to offer allergen menus and ingredient lists, but it is rare to find anything that doesn’t contain soy. Over time I’ve found a few places I can eat, but before I go over them I need to add a few words of warning.
As I said in my last post, eating out is very risky. Even with the most detailed ingredient lists and promises from wait staff/kitchen staff, I can never know what is really in my food when I don’t prepare it. Did it touch something else on the grill that isn’t allergy friendly? Was there butter reside on the tongs they used to scoop up my steamed plain vegetables? I’ve ordered things that were supposed to be safe but when I got them they clearly weren’t ok, or I ate them but Colin had a reaction soon after. Although I eat at restaurants every once in a while, I don’t eat restaurant food if Colin is already not feeling well. I really feel that a plain salad with just fresh vegetables is the safest thing to order when out, but I hate paying money for something that simple and I have to bring my own dressing anyway.
So these are the restaurants I eat at but here is one more disclaimer: WARNING: What is safe for my family where I live may be unsafe for you. Always double-check the ingredients at your local restaurants since ingredients do vary by location for some restaurants. And I repeat- eating out is a risk. You can’t be 100% sure your food is safe unless you’ve made it yourself!
1. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers – Red Robin has an amazing document with recommendations for what is safe to order for a variety of food allergies. They’ve recently removed it from their website, but I emailed them and got a copy of their allergen menu, just like the old one online. I couldn’t figure out how to post it here. It is a huge pdf, so if you are interested, just shoot them an email: http://www.redrobin.com/contact_us. They now have a gluten-free buns (Udi’s brand) so I can actually have a bun if I want to (it is dairy and soy free). The Udi’s bun is a bit chewy but decent. Before the gluten-free bun, I just ordered a burger with a lettuce bun, which is actually one of the “bun” options on their menu. When I order my food I talk with my waiter/waitress about my food allergies and nicely mention that I’m aware they can make their food without the Red Robin seasoning on it. (The seasoning contains hyrdrolyzed soy protein so it has to go.) Then I order a Keep-It-Simple Burger with No Red Robin Seasoning and fruit for my side. Sometimes I order the fries with no Red Robin seasoning but the allergy document does say that the fries are cooked in a fryer with other things so there could be cross contamination concerns. Colin hasn’t seemed to have issues after I’ve eaten them, so we take that risk once in a while if he is doing well otherwise.
2. Panera – Finding safe items at Panera takes a bit of work but they list every ingredient in each of their foods, which wins big points with me since we have to avoid oats and other things. They have a nutritional calculator here. To see what is in a food, you must choose items to “add to meal.” You can then click on the word “ingredients” to see everything that is in the food. They do include a note about possible allergens in a food but they don’t count soybean oil as a soy allergen, so you must read through the list anyway to check for soybean oil. They do count soy lecithin as an allergen and will have a note for that. There are quite a few dairy and soy free breads: Country loaf, Country Miche, Sourdough Loaf, Sourdough Roll, Tomato Basil XL Loaf, French Baguette, French Miche, Three Seed Demi, Sesame Semolina and Stone-Milled Rye. I order turkey sandwiches when I eat at Panera, making sure they use one of these breads and NO Mayonnaise. The Turkey-Bacon-Avocado sandwich with no mayo is great. I tried it during an avocado trial. The moisture in the avocado makes up for the lack of mayonnaise.
3. Pei Wei – Pei Wei is the fast food version of PF Chang’s China Bistro. They have a great document here providing nutritional and allergen information. The only item I can order there is the Sweet and Sour – Stock Velveted with Chicken or Shrimp. Stock Velveted means the meat is cooked in vegetable stock instead of battered and fried. The dish is delicious and lower in fat since it isn’t fried.
4. Buffalo Wild Wings – I wasn’t sure whether or not to include this one since it isn’t as clear-cut as others. My decision to eat here was based on getting all the information I could and taking a risk. Buffalo Wild Wings has an allergen list for their foods here. They do note what products have dairy or soy, but the very bottom of the document states that they don’t count soybean oil that is in their dressings, sauces and products as an allergen. This made me a bit unsure about finding a truly safe entrée so I did a bit more digging around for information. Their sauce ingredient list is here and I was able to see what sauces/seasonings were safe. Also, the fry oil ingredients were listed in the main allergen list and I was able to see it is soy/dairy free. I ordered the boneless chicken wings in sweet bbq sauce and fries. We don’t eat here very often (not really a healthy meal) but I think its safe since Colin hasn’t had any reactions.
5. Five Guys Burgers and Fries – I really love the burgers at Five Guys and I love that I can get as many toppings as I want for no extra charge. The burger buns aren’t allergy friendly (egg, milk, soy, gluten) but the meat and veggie toppings are ok. Even the grilled mushrooms and onions, in all their greasy glory, are cooked in burger grease, not butter or soy oil. This was the restaurant I mentioned in my last post that we found between Orlando and Tampa that was such a nice surprise. If I am planning to eat at Five Guys I bring a pita pocket from home and stick the burger and toppings inside. If I don’t have any pitas, I order the burger with lots of toppings, throw away the bun and eat it all with a fork off the foil wrapper. A deconstructed burger salad I guess you could call it. Here is the only nutritional info I could find. EDIT: They now have a bun free option which is the burger, toppings and lettuce in a foil box served with a fork.
6. (Au Bon Pain) – I was recently in the Orlando airport where they had one of these restaurants. In their “To-Go” section I bought fruit, a Naked Juice and hard-boiled eggs. It was much better than the stale bagel I had planned to eat. Since we don’t actually have one of these where I live, I haven’t done a lot of research, but when I took a quick glance at their nutritional info online here I was impressed. They have icons for the allergens present in each item which makes it easy to scan items quickly. I didn’t see any safe bread, so sandwiches are out, but I did see some soups, apple cinnamon oatmeal, hummus and cucumber, a side salad with raspberry vinaigrette and several things on the hot/cold bar.