New flex meal menu (10/06/21)

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MARC Rider

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I got a few 1 oz. bottles of Tabasco from the Walmart sample machine a while ago, which I've been saving for my next trip. Tabasco makes anything taste better.
The dining cars, even where they serve flex meals, already has Tabasco. What I would want would be a small single-serves of HP Sauce.

By the way, what is the "Walmart Sample machine?"
 

AmHope

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The dining cars, even where they serve flex meals, already has Tabasco. What I would want would be a small single-serves of HP Sauce.
Last time I had flex was on CS, and they wouldn't even give me black pepper. They said no condiments. I was very confused.
 

MARC Rider

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Now they give you those little salt and pepper packets. One of these days I will invest in a travel set.
When I said there was Tabasco on the dining car during my recent trip, it wasn't that they gave single size servings to everyone; they had it, but you had to ask for it.
 

oregon pioneer

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I have cooked at a ski lodge where we catered to special diets. I had one repeat customer that was allergic to garlic, peppers, onions, and several other foods (all of which I love, and cook generously with at home). I cooked for people with many common allergies like nuts and wheat. I fully support the provision of ingredient lists and food facts.

I have no particular food allergies or needs, but I prefer to not eat calorie-laden food full of fat, sodium and added sugar. The data label for the Railroad French Toast was an eye-opener! My usual breakfast on a train is the Continental with plain oatmeal (I usually give the overly-sweet yogurt away). Can anyone tell me, is the oatmeal served on the LSL just instant packets? If so, after the comments about the French toast and omelets, I'll be bringing my own home-made granola (full of nuts, but low in sodium and added sugars!). At least, for the LSL portion of my trip, and the return 28 breakfast in Oregon...
 

Nick Farr

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It took me a while to figure out why I always felt slightly sick and queasy after a few Amtrak meals. (I’m talking of “old” traditional dining on the Silvers—much better quality than the flex meals—so it’s been a few years.)
The worst offender is salt. If you eat mostly fresh foods and don't add more than a pinch of salt, your queasiness is most likely due to that.

Drink more water on board. :)
 

Sauve850

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I have cooked at a ski lodge where we catered to special diets. I had one repeat customer that was allergic to garlic, peppers, onions, and several other foods (all of which I love, and cook generously with at home). I cooked for people with many common allergies like nuts and wheat. I fully support the provision of ingredient lists and food facts.

I have no particular food allergies or needs, but I prefer to not eat calorie-laden food full of fat, sodium and added sugar. The data label for the Railroad French Toast was an eye-opener! My usual breakfast on a train is the Continental with plain oatmeal (I usually give the overly-sweet yogurt away). Can anyone tell me, is the oatmeal served on the LSL just instant packets? If so, after the comments about the French toast and omelets, I'll be bringing my own home-made granola (full of nuts, but low in sodium and added sugars!). At least, for the LSL portion of my trip, and the return 28 breakfast in Oregon...
Im trying to remember. The oatmeal I had on Cardinal and Star in September was honey type, I believe. LSL probably the same. I cook oatmeal at home and the Amtrak version I had wasnt the real deal. I really couldnt eat it all at either meal so you might want to bring some granola just in case.
 

SarahZ

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Really, at some point if you have allergies this is on you to take care of yourself. I love most foods, I fortunately don't have food allergies, thank heavens. BUT - if I did - I certainly wouldn't depend on Amtrak, United, Delta, American, or anyone else to assure me the food being served was devoid of my allergy items.
I don't think you understand how customer service works.

If someone calls and tells me their child cannot have dairy, I am more than happy to send them a list of frozen confections that do not contain dairy.

If it bothers me that someone asked me for that information instead of simply telling their child they can't have ice cream and have to bring a banana to the beach, then that's a sign I'm in the wrong business.

Would it be easier if Amtrak published the information on their website? Yes.

Should it bother a CSR that someone is asking for information that isn't readily available online? No.

Should someone feel bad for asking a CSR a question that pertains to their upcoming trip, up to and including dining options? Also no.
 

Scott Orlando

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I have cooked at a ski lodge where we catered to special diets. I had one repeat customer that was allergic to garlic, peppers, onions, and several other foods (all of which I love, and cook generously with at home). I cooked for people with many common allergies like nuts and wheat. I fully support the provision of ingredient lists and food facts

I have no particular food allergies or needs, but I prefer to not eat calorie-laden food full of fat, sodium and added sugar. The data label for the Railroad French Toast was an eye-opener! My usual breakfast on a train is the Continental with plain oatmeal (I usually give the overly-sweet yogurt away). Can anyone tell me, is the oatmeal served on the LSL just instant packets? If so, after the comments about the French toast and omelets, I'll be bringing my own home-made granola (full of nuts, but low in sodium and added sugars!). At least, for the LSL portion of my trip, and the return 28 breakfast in Oregon...
Full of allergens…. And 107g of carbs from mostly sugar!
 

jebr

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I'm simply saying take care of your own self
Why not apply this to all food service on Amtrak, then? Just tell passengers to pack a cooler full of food, some pots and pans, and an electric stovetop and cook whatever food you need! Think of the cost savings!
 

20th Century Rider

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I have cooked at a ski lodge where we catered to special diets. I had one repeat customer that was allergic to garlic, peppers, onions, and several other foods (all of which I love, and cook generously with at home). I cooked for people with many common allergies like nuts and wheat. I fully support the provision of ingredient lists and food facts.

I have no particular food allergies or needs, but I prefer to not eat calorie-laden food full of fat, sodium and added sugar. The data label for the Railroad French Toast was an eye-opener! My usual breakfast on a train is the Continental with plain oatmeal (I usually give the overly-sweet yogurt away). Can anyone tell me, is the oatmeal served on the LSL just instant packets? If so, after the comments about the French toast and omelets, I'll be bringing my own home-made granola (full of nuts, but low in sodium and added sugars!). At least, for the LSL portion of my trip, and the return 28 breakfast in Oregon...
Sadly the shortest of shortcuts include the most processed of the processed foods. But wouldn't it be nice if they actually had a kitchen that smelled like a kitchen with large cauldrons of cooking oatmeal and trays of cooking eggs, hash browns, and sausages and bacon??? And the smell of toasting break permeating throughout the dining car??? But that's unfortunately from an era distant passed. Still it's nice to reminisce and think about how good things once were... and hope that maybe again some day...

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joelkfla

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Last time I had flex was on CS, and they wouldn't even give me black pepper. They said no condiments. I was very confused.
That's what I was afraid was happening. Especially if you get a surly crew. I'll put one in my pocket, just in case.
The dining cars, even where they serve flex meals, already has Tabasco. What I would want would be a small single-serves of HP Sauce.

By the way, what is the "Walmart Sample machine?"
After you sign up, the machine scans a QR code on your phone, plays a 15 second commercial, and spits out the current weeks sample. It's usually at the end of a grocery aisle facing away from the center of the store. Most of the stuff I don't use, but I've gotten samples of energy bars, deodorant, and laundry soap.

When Tabasco was the featured product, it gave out 2 bottles at a time, and I happened to be in the store twice that week.
 

MARC Rider

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Those days of everything cooked to order from scratch are long gone and exist now only in your own kitchen or in some fine dining places where a dinner tab for one can be $100 or more. Even in establishments where it appears that people are cooking food fresh, there's a lot of pre-made stuff. At a chain place that claims it cooks food fresh, I've seen them fill the soup cauldrons from big plastic bags of soup precooked at some commissary somewhere. (That doesn't necessarily mean that the soup is bad.) There's nothing wrong with food that's prepared in an outside kitchen where they can get economies of scale, but they could pay some attention to keeping the salt, sugar, and fat down. No reason why they can't serve unsweetened instant oatmeal and let the end user put in however much butter, sugar, and cinnamon that they want. (I do fine with about 2 teaspoons, or 32 calories/8 grams of sugars.) Same for the cooked stuff. Again, they should be able to make precooked French Toast without so much sugar. In fact, my French Toast has no sugar at all, except the syrup I pour on top. It's not that the stuff has to be sugar, salt, and fat free, but they just don't need so much in the recipe.

Basically, the days of being able to have a cook at a popularly-priced restaurant prepare food exactly to your specification are long gone, and I doubt they're ever coming back. But it's easy enough to provide ingredient lists, and some attention could be paid to making the food more healthy. Today, it seems they just load the food up with sugar, salt, and fat just because they can, and those ingredients are cheap.
 

tgstubbs1

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Basically, the days of being able to have a cook at a popularly-priced restaurant prepare food exactly to your specification are long gone, and I doubt they're ever coming back.

I wonder what the total cost of preparing and serving a typical meal from a chain, like Applebees', would be on Amtrak? This should include the facilities and staff.

Would people pay this price if it was separated from the lodging charge for a room?
 

neroden

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Not trying to be unkind but that's rather ridiculous. How allergic to everything are you? When (or if) you go out to a restaurant to eat, do you ask to see ingredients for everything on the menu you're interested in?
Yes, I do. I have to. I am violently allergic to guar gum and it will wreck my digestive system for days by causing internal blistering. I have to get the chef to check the ingredients list of every new dish every time. At the vast majority of restaurants, they are happy to do it. For packaged goods (such as Amtrak uses exclusively), normal one-location restaurants just bring out the package label and I read it myself. Chain restaurants typically have a binder with all the ingredients lists for every dish on laminated pages.

You are ridiculous. Every other restaurant does this. Amtrak is being obstructionist for the sake of obstructionism.

The thing about my allergy is that guar gum isn't in *most* things but it shows up at random as a "secret additive". So I literally have to check the ingredients lists for everything every time -- but once I've done so, I can eat, like, 99% of it. But if they don't have the ingredients lists I can't eat anything.

How would you feel if Amtrak said "Hey, there might be deadly poison in some of the food. But there probably isn't. But we won't tell you which dishes have the poison in them. Even though we know." It's absurd.
 
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Nick Farr

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I wonder what the total cost of preparing and serving a typical meal from a chain, like Applebees', would be on Amtrak?
The costs can't really be compared accurately because they're structurally different operations.

For starters, the walk-in cooler at Applebee's is bigger than the biggest Amtrak kitchen. Applebees can resupply more or less whenever they want and they usually have a consistent set of suppliers. They'll hire and fire a few dozen cooks in the time it takes Amtrak to onboard one cook. The skill to be a railroad cook even on a limited menu is much greater than you can expect from a line cook in a kitchen with up to 5 other cooks.

The preparation and ingredient storage of one Amtrak meal has to be more carefully thought out than on a standard Applebee's menu. It will be more limited and likely less consistent. You don't have nearly the same storage space in the dining cars as you do in a restaurant. The vendors in Chicago may not be able to supply exactly the same things as in Denver, Seattle, etc. They won't have the same tools to be able to prepare and plate as well.
 

tgstubbs1

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The costs can't really be compared accurately because they're structurally different operations.

For starters, the walk-in cooler at Applebee's is bigger than the biggest Amtrak kitchen. Applebees can resupply more or less whenever they want and they usually have a consistent set of suppliers. They'll hire and fire a few dozen cooks in the time it takes Amtrak to onboard one cook. The skill to be a railroad cook even on a limited menu is much greater than you can expect from a line cook in a kitchen with up to 5 other cooks.

The preparation and ingredient storage of one Amtrak meal has to be more carefully thought out than on a standard Applebee's menu. It will be more limited and likely less consistent. You don't have nearly the same storage space in the dining cars as you do in a restaurant. The vendors in Chicago may not be able to supply exactly the same things as in Denver, Seattle, etc. They won't have the same tools to be able to prepare and plate as well.
You are saying it is substantially more difficult, maybe even impossible to completely duplicate an Applebees plate? I believe it.

What I am asking is what would that cost be? (to approximate a meal).

I'm not asking to make any comparison. Just what would the cost be?

I would guess that a $20 meal could cost quite a bit more to prepare or present on a train.

Applebees has a big menu with many items so Amtrak can't be expected to compete with that.
 

oregon pioneer

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I understand the difficulties in preparing a meal that must keep through the end of a multi-day trip, and still taste as good (relatively speaking) as it would on the first day. Sugar and salt are preservatives, and fat helps maintain texture and moisture over time, as well as add flavor to what might otherwise be rather bland dishes. Sugar, salt and fat are less expensive and easier to obtain than fresh herbs and quality base ingredients. Like I sad, I have been a professional cook. I was lucky that the place I worked cared more about quality and catering to special dietary needs. I learned a lot.

I also understand that with limited space and handling capacity, they must stock only items that have wide enough appeal to serve the needs of the majority. I looked over the Flex Meal menu items, and for my needs, the Cajun shrimp dish looks great. I hope they have it when I travel. The kosher meals look good as well, though I can see why they don't provide enough food for many here (fewer calories). The flourless chocolate torte looks quite good for a treat (better than the carrot cake). I'll be fine, but I will bring my own breakfast for the eastern trains and the Oregon branch of the westbound EB (which has always been pretty bad...).
 

Nick Farr

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What I am asking is what would that cost be? (to approximate a meal).
Total food cost depends on volume and throughput. If you eliminate choice and sacrifice a little bit of freshness, you can approach a roughly equivalent cost. The cost of the ingredients to Amtrak of its signature steak dinner with its usual fixings and a single choice of side is probably going to be roughly the same cost, if not slightly cheaper than the Applebees equivalent to Applebees. Amtrak, for all their LD trains probably has a slightly higher volume buy and lower deliver

Then labor is a total guesstimate. I assume that an Amtrak chef can cook this limited menu at a throughput roughly equivalent to a 2-5 person Applebees kitchen.
 

me_little_me

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Garlic is critical to Amtrak menus to prevent vampires from coming across the border and taking over our trains. Anderson made that decision because he felt that those illegal vampires would stop him from being the only vampire. The rest of the executives went along with it because they thought the vampires would take a bite out of their blood-sucking jobs. :):) < Those two mean it's a joke in case some members thought my comment was factual.
 
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