Eating Out with Food-Allergic Kids: Red Robin

Eating out is a scary prospect for any family with food allergies. Up until now, I’ve mostly packed food I know my Certain Little Someone can eat, and if there’s anything at the restaurant, for him – great. If not – great! No big deal, I have food for him anyway. I will continue to do this as long as I can, but the older he gets, the more difficult and awkward it becomes.

Most of the time, when we go to a restaurant, we’ll order him some applesauce, which is a pretty safe bet. We’ve also ordered him a fruit plate (at Mimi’s Cafe) and plain avocado (at Don Pablo’s). We never tried ordering an entree for him, mostly because the kid’s menus typically consist of some variation of spaghetti (wheat in the noodles, beef in the sauce), chicken nuggets (wheat, egg, dairy, soy, etc.) and pizza (where do I start?!). I’m glad I took a look at Red Robin’s kid menu, though, because I was pleasantly surprised to find plain chicken listed.

Actually, they call it “Chick-on-a-Stick”, which is exactly what it is: 3 small pieces of plain, grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts skewered onto little child-size kabob sticks. We did our due diligence and asked about the grilling process, seasonings, etc, and were satisfied that it was as safe as could be, at a restaurant, anyway. We ordered the Chick-on-a-Stick and fed it to him with trepidation. And… nothing. No reaction! No hives, no nothing. Yay! We found an entree he can eat at a restaurant! Parents of food-allergic kids will understand the triumph we felt at such a major victory.

Then we fed him some of their bottomless steak fries. Oops. Even though we had once again questioned the server relentlessly about the fries, he began to develop hives as soon as he ate them. And they started to spread, and were definitely itching him, so I stopped feeding him and gave him some Benadryl.

At that point, we weren’t sure if it was a somewhat delayed reaction from the chicken or the french fries that did it, so we took home his leftover chicken to try carefully the next day. I really wanted to know if there were any safe options for him at Red Robin or not, so I wanted to test it out thoroughly. We fed him the chicken the next day while keeping a close eye on him and watching for a reaction, and once again, nothing.

I was stumped at what it was about the fries that could have triggered a reaction: the server said nothing was added to the potatoes and they were fried in vegetable (no soy, no peanut) oil. Determined to find a definitive answer, I went on their website to see what I could find. I have to admit, I was disappointed in their allergy section because it was far from informative, but I did find the answers I sought. Yes, the information on the website confirmed that the fries themselves were safe, but offered a warning that the same oil could be used for frying other foods. Oh. Cross-contamination! My Certain Little Someone is highly allergic to beef, so I imagine some beef was sharing the same oil as the fries.

To conclude, if food allergies are a concern, over all, I recommend Red Robin. Our server was incredibly patient with all our questions, and if he didn’t know the answers, he went and found them. The children’s menu has at least one option that is allergen-free, possibly more if your child does not have the same allergies as mine. Also, I was very pleased that the kids’ sides consisted mostly of fresh fruits and vegetables: melon wedges, carrot sticks, mandarin oranges, steamed broccoli, and side salad, all healthy – and safe! – options.

Pictures taken from Red Robin website.

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4 Comments on “Eating Out with Food-Allergic Kids: Red Robin”

  1. Libby says:

    The only restaurant we ever go to is Chili’s. (They have Big 8 allergen menus available.) Every time my son gets the same thing: the kid’s chicken platter (they cook the chicken on a piece of tinfoil on the grill) with mandarin oranges. Being able to eat out, though, is just huge for us, too!

    • Wow, thanks for the tip! I just looked on their website, and I see the allergen menus, but unfortunately they have separate food listings for each allergen, which makes it difficult to figure out what someone with multiple allergens can eat. I would probably just go with the same entree, though, the plain grilled chicken; it doesn’t look like anything else is a good option, esp with his beef allergy. The other unfortunate thing is that my DH can’t tolerate spicy foods, so it’s difficult for him to find food at Mexican restaurants. However, if he can find one safe food and my Certain Little Someone can find one safe food, then we can make it work, lol!

  2. Teri says:

    PF Chang’s is another great food allergy restaurant. They are suppose to even use a different shape plate, so that everyone that comes in contact with it will know it is an allergy plate.

    Chili’s also has a warning on their menu about cross contamination with fried items.

    Almost all sit down chain type restaurants are highly accommodating. I always ask to talk to the manager and explain what we must avoid. Some will even set food aside to make sure that it isn’t breaded or seasoned. If I can, I try to call the restaurant during a slow time and talk to the manager before going. I have also had this type of restaurant prepare something off menu for me. Most managers and chefs are very willing to do this.

    Not to say I haven’t ever had to get short after sending something back 3 times and having a waitress ask me what the big deal was, I could just scrap the cheese off. I bet she never says anything like that to a customer again!

    • I have had mostly good experiences with restaurants we’ve been in… IF they have something he can eat in the first place. I took him to Mimi’s Cafe the other day, and pretty much all he could have was oatmeal and fruit (from the breakfast menu). But he loved it, and the server was very helpful in getting answers to all my questions, which makes the whole process so much easier.


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