Traveling when you or someone in your family has food allergies can be quite challenging. I’m no expert but while it is fresh in my mind, I wanted to write about the things that helped me and my little guy to eat away from home safely and happily.
Planning – I can’t stress this one enough. “Winging it” does not work when you need to know there will be safe food available for you to eat. Have a plan and backup ideas so you can enjoy your vacation and not worry about food.
- Meal Plan – For both our week-long trips, one by car and one by plane, I planned out EVERY meal I would eat from the minute I left my house until I got back. I sat down and wrote it out on paper and kept the paper to refer to it during the week. This may have been overkill since we were lucky to find some unexpected safe foods, but it saved us lots of stress when it came to mealtime/shopping. I planned meals with few ingredients and also ingredients I was most likely to find or could bring with me. I also had a few backup ideas so I was ready if something wasn’t working out. Making the list ahead of time helped me know exactly which groceries I would need once I made it to my destination. Planning big meals gave me lots of leftovers to eat over several days. I highly recommend making some type of list. At minimum it will help alleviate some anxiety about what you’ll eat while you are away. I’ll include my vacation meal list a little farther down in this blog entry.
- Bringing Safe Food- For both of my trips I brought as much safe food as I could. I brought foods that I could make into other safe foods easily, like tortillas that could become breakfast burritos and also wraps for lunch. Bringing a jar of safe mayonnaise gave me the options of making chicken, tuna or egg salads and potato salad. Dry Penzeys salad dressing mixes and taco seasoning were easy to pack and gave me dinner options. I packed foods like safe bagels, dry fruit and pretzels which got me through the parts of the trip (plane rides, long car trips) when I didn’t have access to a lot of safe food.
- Know your grocery options – I researched grocery stores in the area looking for all-purpose grocery stores and specialty markets like Whole Foods. Although I had an idea of what I could find at Whole Foods since I shop at one now, the local store was totally unknown. Having the name of the all-purpose store helped me with specific product searches (see #4).
- Product Locators – I went online to the homepages of safe products I can eat and used the product locator to see if they were available at my destination. It was helpful in a few cases but it didn’t end up being as reliable as I would have liked. For example, I brought mayonnaise in my suitcase since Hellman’s website said it wasn’t sold nearby, but I actually found it in the store. Next time I will just call the grocery store and ask if they carry certain items.
- Researching Restaurants…..this is a tricky one. I’m going to write about eating at restaurants in more detail soon but eating out is a risk. When you aren’t making the food, you can’t know everything that your food might come into contact with. If you are willing or able to take that risk, get on the phone with several places on your trip and near your destination. Look at menus and talk with managers or kitchen staff (ask for them specifically). See if they offer fresh fruit, steamed vegetables with no butter, salads (I often bring my own dressing). Ask if they use soybean oil at all in the kitchen/fryers. If they do, be wary. Ask them if they have a dairy free meal suggestion. Then ask what you should tell the wait staff and how you should order the food. This still doesn’t mean you will get safe food on your plate. In my research I did get lucky and found a chain restaurant in Florida that I eat at when I’m at home which was great. It gave me a meal out that I knew was safe to eat. However, I also thought I did a thorough job researching a restaurant/meal for my last night on vacation but Colin seemed to have a big reaction a day or so later. Was it the food? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time we thought I was eating something safe and got burned. If eating out means a lot, do your homework but for me, it was just easier to eat my own food before/after going to the restaurant with my family.
- Baby Food- Colin has only a few safe foods he can eat and we stick to the same brands every time I buy it. I didn’t want to try a new brand while on the trip. I wrapped up jars, placed them in ziploc bags and put them in my checked luggage. I also brought some in my carry-on. The TSA rules state that baby food is exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule, but you can only bring an amount that is reasonable for the length of your itinerary. How a TSA agent knows what is a reasonable amount for my child considering possible long flight delays in an airport that doesn’t sell baby food is beyond me. (Will stop here before I get stuck on my soapbox) Just make sure to tell the security personnel you have baby food coming through. Since my jars were sealed they said it was all good and no big deal.
- No food trials, no new foods – To make life easier for everyone, Colin and I only ate foods that we’d had before. I didn’t want vacation in a strange city to be the time to discover he has some terrible reaction to something. I must note that Colin decided on his own to try something new: sand. After I stopped freaking out/cleaning Colin’s mouth, a veteran mom warned me it would cause some diarrhea in a day or so and she was right. Good to know when you are an obsessive diaper checker like I am.
- Something Special – It can be hard for me at times to watch my family members indulge in all the special foods on vacation- the local specialties, the ice cream shop at the end of the night, the trip to the confectionary etc. It is my vacation and I want to splurge too. On both of my trips this summer I found it really comforting to have something special I could eat. For our driving trip I made a batch of Stir and Drop Sugar Cookies. For Florida I had hoped to find a safe angel food cake mix but struck out. I was lucky to find a box of meringues in the bakery that were safe. Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita chips are also nice little indulgence. On both trips having to dine on a very limited selection of safe food for a week meant the menu got a little monotonous as the days went by so I was happy to have a little something sweet to look forward to each night.
The meal plan – I’ve combined my meal ideas from both of my vacations (So no, I didn’t eat all this in one week) These are meals that are easy to make with fewest ingredients to buy and make a lot so I could eat leftovers.
- Breakfast: Cream of Wheat with sugar, toast with jelly (from Whole Foods bread I bought and had sliced), bagels (I brought) with jelly, eggs, breakfast burritos, fruit, “french toast” *
- Lunch plan – Sandwiches/Wraps with Boars Head brand lunchmeat, Chicken/Egg/Tuna salads, salad with dressings, fruit
- Dinner plans – Tacos or taco casserole, spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, hamburgers (in a pita), grilled chicken breast, potato salad
- Appetizers/Snacks- Tostito Scoops chips and salsa, pretzels, Stacy’s Pita chips, Fritos, dry fruit,
*For my french toast I crack an egg on a plate, add a tablespoon or two of real maple syrup and, if I am at home, grate a little nutmeg on the top. I soak a slice of safe bread in the egg/syrup mixture, coating both sides and cook it in a non stick skillet that I have wiped down with a little oil. On vacation I usually have olive oil for salads and for just wiping the pan, you can’t tell it was olive oil that was used. As long as you don’t overcook it, you can serve it to the dairy eating crowd and they probably won’t know the difference!
Ok- I’m going to stop here as my brain is turning to mush. I promise to write more about restaurants soon. If anyone else out there has travel tips- please share!