by Theresa Orlando
As a child I remember the excitement of the occasional family visit to a fast food restaurant, eating french fries from a little paper sack while taking in the surrounding environment. As a young mother I wanted to share the excitement of that experience with my kids. There was one hitch - both my children have food allergies. My son to .peanuts, nuts and shellfish, and my daughter had a very long list of food allergies which included peanuts, nuts, legumes, dairy, eggs. soy, etc...it was impossible to just pull over at a fast food restaurant and order from the menu.
It was the early 1990's and there was no requirement for the restaurant to provide ingredient information; you had to follow your gut instinct and decide if the person responding to your questions actually had knowledge of what was in the food.
My approach at the time was to introduce myself to the manager of the neighbourhood restaurants and explain the food allergy situation. More often than not, the managers were very co-operative and provided excellent information on what was safe and what wasn't. Further building on the relationship by initiating small talk and describing my concerns re: cross contamination, usually resulted in the restaurant taking the initiative and ensuring there was no cross contamination, without unnecessary fuss. It was a win-win situation. We found a go-to spot when time did not permit a home cooked meal, and the restaurant received loyal clients who were pleased to recommend and share the experience with other food allergic families.
It has been said good things never last.. and depending on how you look at it, that could prove true when it comes to the food industry. Slowly the products we had come to rely on as safe were packaged with a new look and a may contain statement printed on the food labels. Next certain chain restaurants that were once deemed "reliable" rebranded and modified the menu by providing new and improved flavours - code to the food allergic to strike it off the reliable list. Then out of nowhere came the explosion of prepared foods smothered in nuts... the whole cross contamination issue could not be ignored. When that many prepared foods in a display case contain walnuts, pistachios, peanuts you name it, the food service provider is sending a clear message to the food allergic - we don't want your business. Now McDonald's has followed suit. It used to be one of the "reliable" fast food locations, but sadly it is no longer. According to the evening news, "may contain" statements are now posted in all of their locations. A very disappointing decision for many families.
Now many food allergic parents crunched for time between school and organized sports may have to plan ahead and when time permits, prepare home cooked meals to freeze for future use. Not a bad thing actually, as you and your family will be eating healthy ingredients handled only by members of your household and made with love. Yes defrosted and re-heated, but still delicious!
Fast Food Nights
If you crave the experience of offering your children a fast food meal, schedule a fast food night at home. Toss some thinly sliced potatoes in oil and salt, spread on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and bake until golden. Batter some thin strips of chicken or fish (depending on their allergies) and pan fry in a small amount of canola or olive oil. Serve both in a small brightly colored paper cone or bag and if you really want to kick it up a notch, buy a six pack of mini soft drinks and a dollar store toy. That way you can satisfy your nostalgia, while still providing a fun dinner for your kids.
As you can tell by this article I am a 50-something mom who still watches the evening news. Earlier this week, the news featured an piece on millennials... millennials who would when they are given a choice, buy the better quality foods; organic, non GMO, grain fed, etc. And the market is taking notice. So perhaps in the long term the McDonald's decision won't matter to these young families - it sounds like they may not choose to eat there anyway!.