Restaurant Review: Red Robin

A common misconception patients might have about me is that I’m a food elitist. They might think that because I’m always striving for them to do better and eat better so they can be better at life for themselves, their families and their communities, that my diet is “perfect”.

Or perhaps that because I’m a 21-Day Sugar Detox Coach, some think that I never touch sugar. Not true.

I can tell you with confidence that I am not “perfect” with food, whatever that means. I do have the occasional sweet treat if I want it and feel like the consequences (blood sugar crashes, fatigue, skin breakouts) are worth it. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t also eat healthy foods, I do. To me it’s important what you do most of the time. And if most of the time you’re eating healthy, there’s room for variation.

Personally, when I go out to eat, I want the food to be something that I wouldn’t normally make at home. After constantly improving my own cooking skills at home, figuring out what types of foods I like, and opting for good quality ingredients, I find that when I eat out at a mediocre restaurant, I often return home, disappointed, thinking “I could have made that better at home, at a lower cost and with better ingredients.” As a result I find that I eat most of my meals home-cooked and I feel best that way, physically and financially.

But when one patient recently challenged me to a meal at Red Robin (because I had never been), I accepted. The challenge did not involve ordering anything specific but I figured it would be good research to see what options are available there since many of my patients go there.

I decided I would make this the start of a blog series of restaurant reviews, so read on about my experience at Red Robin.


Red Robin Restaurant Review

Food Quality: Mediocre

Per their website:

BEEF: All-natural, domestic, USDA-inspected 100% beef — free of preservatives, artificial and added ingredients.

POULTRY: No hormones. No steroids. 100% of our chicken comes from family-owned farms, where they are fed a vegetarian diet and are raised cage free.

LETTUCE: All salad greens are harvested from GMO-free family farms
— redrobin.com

I appreciate that their burgers use real beef and that their poultry doesn't have any added hormones or steroids. However, I believe the standard should be higher than that. Though having conventionally-raised meats is still better than not having them at all, grass-fed (and finished), humanely-raised beef and pasture-raised chicken should really be the new standard that we expect our foodservice establishments to adhere to. Did you know that chickens aren’t actually vegetarians and that “cage-free” means they can still be raised in a warehouse? Chickens needs to eat bugs, worms, and grass (meaning they’re not vegetarians by nature), and have room to move and be exposed to the outdoors to be optimally healthy.

Lettuce is not commonly a genetically-modified food though it does still have pesticide residues on it, so a more meaningful standard for them would be to offer "organic” lettuce rather than “non-GMO”.

A common downside to eating out at most restaurants is the increased exposure to poor-quality, pro-inflammatory oils like canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil or “vegetable” oil (typically a blend of corn and soy). These oils are referred to in the nutrition field as PUFAs- Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids. Red Robin was no exception. The salad my husband ordered looked like it would have been a healthy option, then he tasted the dressing. For someone who is very used to using olive oil as a dressing, he knew immediately that it was one of those PUFA oils I mentioned above. Now this doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker though. You can easily leave the dressing off the salad, bring your own small jar of olive oil or try one of Kasandrinos EV Olive Oil 1 oz to-go packs (they sell a pack of 20!).

Food Options: Wide variety

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This is the type of restaurant where it would be fairly easy for everyone in your group to find something they can eat as the menu can be relatively flexible and accommodating.

Those following a Keto/Low Carb, Paleo, Gluten-free, Dairy-Free, Low-Fodmap, Vegetarian, or Vegan diet could find something to eat with the “customize your burger option” and the variety of “bottomless and upgraded bottomless sides” (though the options may be limited).

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Ambience: Overly-Stimulating

With personal tablets flashing about games, promotions, and desserts at our table as well as multiple TVs in every direction, It was challenging to be present with my family. At one moment, I was having a conversation with my husband, then my eye caught the tablet screen asking a question about cats and I answered out of curiosity and was almost fooled into purchasing the game for $1.99! That was sneaky! So I grabbed the tablet and put it face down out of reach so I didn’t have to spend the mental energy thinking about it.

As humans, it is 100% normal and biological to turn and pay attention when something is flashing and moving in your periphery, it’s what has kept our species alive for thousands of years. These types of technology developers know this about human nature and capitalize on it. Didn’t realize a restaurant review was going to get into the philosophy of tech? Welcome to my world where I view life holistically ;).

Cost: $

You get what you pay for in this case. We paid about $27 for my husband, myself and our son (who ate from our plates) without the tip and it’s by far one of the cheaper bills we’ve had when dining out because we usually opt for better quality dining establishments. Red Robin may be a decent option if you’re financially limited, trying to keep to a certain diet, and have strong will power to not be sucked in by all the promotions on the menus, tablets, and signs.

Unfortunately, the US government subsidizes farmers to raise animals not fed their natural diet and monocropped corn, wheat and soy. As a result, much of the offerings in our food system include these ingredients and are offered at a lower cost. These farm subsidies ensure Americans don’t go hungry, but they also ensure that they develop chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, autoimmunity and more. It is possible to eat healthy on a budget! Schedule a visit with me and I can show you how.

Sustainability: Suboptimal

Any restaurant that serves meat from animals not fed their natural diet can do better in terms of sustainability. Though they specify on their website that they serve “100% All-natural Beef”, that label means nothing. When it doesn’t say “grass fed” or “grass finished”, you can assume (at least in the US) that the default is grain-fed beef. I won’t get into all the reasons why feeding animals the wrong diet impacts climate change as the arguments are extensive, but this is a good resource to explore if you’re curious to learn more.

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Service: Good

Though our server was visibly busy, she was attentive and accommodating. For example, when I received the zucchini fries that I ordered and realized that they had been breaded before frying, I mentioned it to her and she took them back and didn’t charge us on our bill.

What I Ordered: Black & Bleu with Zucchini Fries

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I’m a sucker for bleu cheese, caramelized onions, and mushrooms so I ordered the Black & Bleu burger with no bun with a side of zucchini fries. Once I received my order and realized that the zucchini was breaded before frying (is that a thing?!), I asked them to replace them with regular steak fries. The burger was too “cheese-saucy” for my preference so I scraped most of it off and left the bleu cheese crumbles. The burger and the fries were decent. I’ve definitely had better but they also weren’t bad-tasting.

I felt bad for sending back the zucchini fries because I don’t like to waste food but they were way too greasy and it hardly looked like there was any zucchini left. The only other time I had had zucchini fries before was at the Bulletproof Cafe in Venice, CA and they were oven-baked, lightly seasoned and delicious. I’m not sure why I expected that, but I’ve learned my lesson.

Food traps

Though there are healthier options available, you can definitely feel tempted to order foods that might not make you feel that great because of the constant stimulation.

With advertisements for desserts popping up everywhere and recommendations of which alcoholic drinks goes best with each item, I can see how one might use up all their willpower “currency” during their stay and give in just because it’s the easier thing to do. Like I said above, I’m all for enjoying a meal and having a treat, as long as it’s done intentionally, not because you caved to their marketing.

Would I Eat Here Again: Probably not

If my hands were tied and there was nowhere else to eat, maybe. But if it were up to me, I would much rather eat at an establishment that supports my values of a peaceful eating environment with high quality (locally-sourced, thoughtfully grown/raised, more tasty) foods. I’m happy spending double what I spent at Red Robin, but go to a place where I love the food and go less often.




5 Reasons Why We went Diaper-Free and How You Can Too


Often when I’m out and about running errands or on play dates with friends, I stop what we’re doing to help my son pull down his pants and go to the bathroom. A common response that I get is, “Wait, how old is your son again? He’s already potty trained??” Most people think I’m some overachieving super-mom who always has to challenge the status quo. Well the latter is true, but let me share about why I hope this will soon become the human norm (like it used to be) and it will no longer be perceived as a practice only super-moms can do.


 
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Elimination Communication (EC) is not as foreign or complicated as it might sound. In short, EC involves observing your child's physical cues for when they need to eliminate and recognizing when to take them to relieve themselves, then responding accordingly. Just think of what people used to do before diapers existed!

Elimination Communication is a gentle, non-coercive way to respond to a baby’s natural hygiene needs, from as early as birth. Like all mammals, human babies instinctually resist soiling themselves, their sleep space, and their caregivers, and they clearly communicate about it from birth. With EC, we learn baby’s signals and natural rhythms and assist them with this process until they naturally gain independence (usually by 9-18 months of age).
— Andrea Olson, Author of "Go Diaper Free"
 
My boy enjoying some diaper-free time as a newborn

My boy enjoying some diaper-free time as a newborn

 

Why do Elimination Communication or Go Diaper Free?

  • It’s hygienic

  • It’s environmentally-friendly

  • It’s responsive to the needs of your child

  • It’s less diapers you have to change

  • It fosters age-appropriate independence

It’s Hygienic

This is an obvious one. Would you enjoy sitting in your own feces? Or would you prefer a swift and clean evacuation process ending with a warm personal bidet service (what we call the “PBS” in our house)? To be honest, I’ve never seen diaper rash and there’s a reason why. My son was never sitting in his urine or feces for long enough for it to negatively impact his skin health. This is not intended to be bragging, rather to show you that there can be another way. The development of diaper rash is a clear sign that hygiene can be improved and EC is a perfect alternative.

It’s Environmentally Friendly

Walking to the bathroom to dump his potty. Each time he goes in his potty, that’s one diaper that doesn’t need to be washed.

Walking to the bathroom to dump his potty. Each time he goes in his potty, that’s one diaper that doesn’t need to be washed.

On average, children are in diapers for about 3 years. Many are in them long enough to change their own diaper. Maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t there seem to be something wrong with that picture?

From an environmental standpoint, first of all just think of how many diapers a child goes through in their 3 years of life. How many of those diapers are just piling up in a landfill?

Did you know it can take up to 500 years for a diaper to decompose? And depending on what kind you get, they may NEVER break down because of the plastic and petroleum products they contain!

Of course, today we are better off than 30 years ago with more biodegradable disposable diapering options with brands like Dyper or Eco by Naty, but fossil fuels are still consumed and waste is still produced in the manufacturing, processing and distribution of these biodegradable products.

Even if you use cloth diapers, you may still need to consider the energy and water used to wash all those diapers (and potentially toxic cleaning products you may use to clean out the stains).

Though the current potty options are made from plastic, that same potty can be used over and over again for all your children and can be gifted and reused. I would argue that using one plastic potty and using diapers for less time for the duration of potty learning ages produces a lot less waste than solely using diapers as a portable toilet for 3 years.

It’s responsive to the needs of your child

Imagine this:

Your baby is crying and squirming.

You think, “But I just fed him! He can’t possibly still be hungry!” or “Maybe it’s just gas”.

You check the diaper and it’s wet/soiled. You think, “Ohhh that’s why she was crying!”

Probably yes, but it’s even more likely that your baby was crying before he/she soiled their diaper and that cry was your baby trying to let you know, “hey mom! I really don’t want to pee or poop on myself, can you hurry up and get this thing (diaper) off of me?!”

I can’t tell you how much more I was able to understand my baby’s communications when I included pottying in the list of needs to check in on: “Tired? He just woke up! Hungry? He just nursed! Potty? Yes!…”


It’s less diapers you have to change

If you’ve ever had to give a toddler a diaper change, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s a relief to be done with diapers as early as possible. Toddlers hardly sit still for long enough to put a diaper on! And once my son was upright and walking at 10 months, we preferred doing standing diaper changes. Even then, it became more and more of an annoyance to try and get all the snaps closed on his cloth diaper before he ran away.

If your little one is out of diapers by 18 months, that’s a whole 18 months that you don’t have to change any diapers (assuming the average age of potty training is 3 years old)!! I haven’t met one parent who enjoys cleaning up a blowout or who willingly signs up for changing twice their child’s lifetime-worth of diapers.

It fosters age-appropriate independence

He loved putting his toilet-seat-reducer on the toilet by himself, peeing (with mom’s help to pull pants down and to get up onto the toilet), putting it away then flushing the toilet.

He loved putting his toilet-seat-reducer on the toilet by himself, peeing (with mom’s help to pull pants down and to get up onto the toilet), putting it away then flushing the toilet.

Once my son was 16 months old, I was SO over it. I thought that because I was doing EC he would naturally start taking himself to the potty but realized in hindsight that I never actually taught him the action of sitting on the potty by himself as I was always placing him on it. I realized we were both ready when the thought crossed my mind: “I never want to change another diaper!” and when one morning I placed my son on the potty and he swatted my hands away. If he could speak he would’ve said “I got this! Let me do this myself, mom!”.

So I used Andrea’s Tiny Potty Training Book (based on EC principles) to quickly transition from using diapers as a backup to being diaper-free. Though there are obvious frustrations in the learning process, the only thing I regret about this whole journey was not getting rid of diapers sooner!

An important thing to know when starting this process is that “potty trained” doesn’t mean “able to potty all by themselves right away”. To me, “potty trained” means that he knows that pee and poo belong in the potty or toilet and not in his pants. Only now (at 20 months) is my son developmentally ready to take his pants off (though it takes a minute or so as he’s still learning). For a while even after babies make that connection that pee and poo go in the potty, you’ll still need to prompt a bathroom break or facilitate the undressing or mounting until they’re fully independent. But it’s the daily practice of this habit that facilitates this learning; waiting until they are “ready” to be potty-trained does nothing to promote learning.

Some common concerns:

“It will be too hard!”

The biggest barrier to entry that I hear from parents is “It will be too hard!” I understand that diapers bring a certain level of convenience in our modern-day, hectic world. But the way I think of it is this: You’re going to spend the time and energy to do potty training now or you’re going to spend it later. Why not spend the time and effort now when your child is more open to the idea of pottying than later when they’re 3 years old and resist everything you ask them to do? And just consider how many LESS diapers you are contributing to the landfill (or how many less loads of laundry you’re doing if cloth-diapering!).

“But I work full-time!”

We committed to doing EC part-time to take the stress off of needing to be perfect about it. I approached it with the mindset of aiming to catch whatever signs I could and if I missed some, no biggy. My endgame was to become more in tune with my son and to do my best to minimize waste in the long run.

If you work full-time, you can choose to do EC during the times you are with your baby (nights and weekends) and/or inform your caretaker about your child’s signs and see if they would be willing to potty them. It’s likely they might since it’s much cleaner than having to clean up a diaper mess!

 
My son using his urinal around 18 months. We suctioned it to the shower door and he loves standing up like daddy to pee.

My son using his urinal around 18 months. We suctioned it to the shower door and he loves standing up like daddy to pee.

 

Convinced? Here’s where to start…

You can learn about the details of the signals to look for and the “4 Roads to Potty Time” in the resources created by Andrea Olson.

I used her book Go Diaper Free: The comprehensive guide to pottying your child from birth through 18 months to learn all the ins-and-outs (pun intended ;) ) of EC. I read it when I was pregnant and learned along the way. Like everything in parenthood, you learn as you go! So don’t worry if you’re not catching all the poos/pees right away. I was highly responsive to my son and still had to change wet and poopy diapers (though much more infrequently than if I wasn’t responsive at all).

As I mentioned above, I used her book Tiny Potty Training book: A Simply Guide For Non-coercive Potty-Training (for 18+ months) to “wrap up” our EC practice and go completely diaper free. You can use code ANISA for $5 OFF of anything on the Tiny Undies website.

Whether you choose to embrace the EC way of parenting or not, I encourage you to do as much as you can to reduce diaper waste and attend to baby's hygiene needs.

I include my favorite EC products and resources in my upcoming ebook but you can find a full resource list on the Go Diaper Free website.

Are you doing elimination communication or have you been inspired to go diaper free? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Seedy Oat Loaf

I absolutely love going to a local restaurant called Little Brother, they serve a gluten-free seeded loaf with various toppings to choose from. It's so dense and filling, I know I'll be set for a few hours when I have that and some of my favorite proteins like smoked salmon, crispy ham or poached eggs with fresh herbs. 

After the last time I went, I asked myself why I haven't tried making it yet since I love it so much and I didn't have a good reason, so I went home and made it! Having a keen taste and some culinary expertise from all the cooking electives and food science classes I took while completing my graduate schooling, I was well-prepared for recreating a recipe and it turned out well after my first attempt!

The actual Little Brother seeded loaf with poached eggs, prosciutto, fish roe, and fresh herbs.

The actual Little Brother seeded loaf with poached eggs, prosciutto, fish roe, and fresh herbs.

My homemade version of the Little Brother seeded loaf with goat cheese, poached eggs and parsley.

My homemade version of the Little Brother seeded loaf with goat cheese, poached eggs and parsley.

The Seedy Oat Loaf

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Ingredients

2 cups Steel-cut oats (quick cooking)

1 cup Pumpkin seeds, divided

1/2 cup Sunflower seeds

1/2 cup Flaxseeds

1 tbsp Apple cider vinegar

1 egg

2 cups Water

1 tbsp Sea salt

1 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Baking soda

Equipment: blender/spice grinder, large bowl, small bowl, loaf pan

Preparation

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. In a blender or spice grinder, grind 1/2 cup of the pumpkin seeds and all of the flaxseeds.

  3. In a large bowl, pour in the ground flaxseeds, the ground and whole pumpkin seeds, oats, sunflower seeds, water, apple cider vinegar, and salt. Allow to soak for 5-10 minutes.

  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and the egg. Then pour this and the baking soda into the large bowl.

  5. Stir the contents of the large bowl until well-mixed.

  6. Pour the contents of the large bowl into the loaf pan and bake for 65 minutes.

  7. Allow to cool enough to separate from loaf pan then place back in the oven on a wire rack for another 10 minutes or until the moisture at the bottom has dehydrated.

    Enjoy a slice with some goat cheese and poached eggs/smoked salmon/prosciutto or with butter or liver pate.