Eating out… 1

Yesterday before we went to see the Paediatrician, we went out for lunch. Last hurrah of the Easter holidays. We were meeting a dear family friend who lives in North London and is soon moving to Australia. I used to love to eat in restaurants, Sophia my daughter loves it too and I hate for her to miss out, so every so often I make myself do it. It is always a bit of effort because of the lack of catering for a ‘free from’ child, or adult come to think of it. He gets bored very quickly and I feel slightly embarrassed ‘bringing lunch’ to a restaurant.

The night before, I had a think about where to meet. Where might offer at least some choice? We recently had a lunch in Wagamama’s, well I did. Zac had his usual packed lunch of marmite sandwiches made with gluten free, wheat free bread with a dairy free spread. We also took some ‘free from’ breadsticks, crisps and his much loved Alpro soya yoghurts. As the waiter guy was clearing our table he noticed all of Zac’s lunch leftovers and asked what his allergies/intolerances where. I explained and he said they could have catered for him.

He whizzed over and brought over a very detailed ‘alternative’ menu with all of the ingredients listed and carefully labelled as ‘dairy free, wheat free, gluten free, nut free, soya free’. I was impressed. He said they would make anything to order if we just clearly told him what he can’t have but would like. I was very impressed. Just a shame we hadn’t found that out before lunch. So even in restaurants that can do it and are happy to do it, they just don’t advertise it. It still seems if you don’t ask you don’t get. So my advice here is – just ask. You never know, many places are ‘closed to it’ – but when you find just one place that is going to cater to your needs it feels like a mini victory and you just want to tell everyone. So well done Wagamamas. You just need to advertise it!!!!

However, yesterday we just weren’t in a Wagamama’s mood. I remembered there is a TGI Friday’s just off the motorway that was easy for us all to get to and I remember last time we visited, the children’s menu was good, so it would suit my daughter and nephew at least.

I checked out their menu online and found a whole section for children and adults with gluten free, wheat free, dairy foods listed. Very good.  It was very simple and no real effort on their part. Burgers without the buns, salads without the creamy dressings, uncoated chicken strips, ‘naked’ nachos. Only thing lacking was a dairy free dessert. Shame really, as they are the easiest of all – a fruit ice lolly, coconut milk sorbet. Never mind. Keep trying TGI Friday’s. At least you are making an effort. We will be back – and I will be telling people!!

So two food chains that are making the effort with actually very little effort. It is not like they are stocking any different food. Just thinking about their customers’ requirements and making sure that no-one needs to bring a packed lunch to lunch!

I think we are a long way off finding a wheat free, gluten free, dairy free pasta dish on any menu and a ‘safe’ chocolate brownie served with ‘special’ ice cream is just a dream. But TGI Friday’s look like they are on the right track and who knows they may be bold enough to make the next step and actually buy in some ‘special ingredients’. I will write to them and suggest it. Watch this space!

I have always half expected McDonald’s to get in on the action. A Happy Meal with ‘free from’ fish fingers can’t be so far off can it? Americans are much more accustomed serving people with food intolerances and just being more flexible altogether – hold the mayo etc!  I guess that is why TGI’s have already made a start.

When I started this blog I did spend some time looking for websites with recipes, books, places to buy ingredients and ready-made ‘free from’ foods. Most of the sites that came up were in the USA. They are clearly much more aware of these conditions or perhaps it is partially down to ‘trend’. So many anorexic looking celebs claim to be dairy and wheat intolerant. Some may be genuine ‘intolerants’ but I imagine that many have just moved over for weight control and have discovered the health benefits – lower cholesterol, lower carbs, lower fat. It doesn’t really matter because at least they have raised awareness to the fact that many people by choice or through illness have to live a ‘free from’ life.

So come on UK, we have some catching up to.

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