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02 Sep 2019

Keeping Tom safe with a tree-nut allergy when we eat out

PHOTO: Jaci Barrett

Let me set the scene. We are heading out on a Friday night with the family. My husband Joe has been working hard all day with his construction company and is meeting us at the restaurant, 7pm sharp. I have already picked the kids up from school, I have squeezed in meetings, sent too many emails, and I have ensured the dog is happy and well fed.

We drive to the restaurant in Richmond, and take our seats. Joe is late as usual, but that’s okay, gives us time to catch-up on the day that has been. Joe sits down and we are all greeted by our friendly waitress. We pick up the menu and start identifying what we should eat. There is some great discussion, “WE HAVE TO GET THE MEATBALLS!”, yells Olivia, “Sure.” Joe responds, “as long as we all get our own garlic bread.” There is fruitful discussion, but what is also happening, and happens every time, Tom is quiet. Tom is staring directly at me waiting for me to guide him with what he can and can’t select from.

With only a fraction of ingredients evident on a menu, this is a job that will require a discussion with the restaurant, and an often awkward one at that. We hail over the time-poor waitress, who is now battling with the 7:30pm rush of hungry civilians. “Do the meatballs contain any nuts or pesto or traces of the same?” This is a 50/50 question, either a swift answer, or the alternative of “I’m not sure let me go check with the chef!” There is often a 5 minute wait, which they then return and give what seems more of a guess than a definitive answer. This goes on too long, and Tom ends up with a bowl of fries (much to my dismay). The safest option for us at the time.

Now as a dietitian, I know the right questions to be asking, but what keeps me up at night is when we do ask the chef, are they factoring everything in. Are they just thinking of the main ingredients? Do they think about garnishes, or the sauces, or the oils!? Are they turning the meatballs on the grill next to the dukkah crusted lamb cutlets using the same utensils? It’s a daunting time eating out, and the above situation is often avoided by either attending the same safe restaurants, or reviewing extensive menus and finding a cuisine which bares low risk for contamination.

TLRT is the industry code we want to build to ensure that consistency of nutritional advice is provided to you, but also avoiding the 5-10 minute awkward discussion with someone who is working part-time and is keen to keep things moving. The eating-out industry is filled with amazing workers that are keen to serve you the best food, but the worry is that the current structures of servicing those with allergies, intolerances and lifestyle choices is lacking, and in a big way!

We should all be standing up to ensure that we can know what and where we can eat, and not be the one ostracised when we eat out in groups and NEED to know more. We want to create a world where dining out becomes fun again, and a stressful situation is significantly reduced, so all can enjoy themselves without having an impending thought at the back of your mind, “But is it really safe to eat!?”

TLRT Foods is currently undertaking restaurant reviews, and is aiming to launch a consumer app within the coming months. Please stay in touch, and look out for our weekly blog through our website and our new restaurants coming on board which will be announced on our Instagram @tlrtfoods and on our Facebook @tlrtfoods

Know your food.