Monday, October 25, 2010

Traveling With Food Allergies

Have food...will travel.

We have been working with our tot's food allergies now for a year and 4 months.   Since his sensitivities and allergies are MANY (nuts, olive oil, dairy, soy, eggs, corn, gluten and more), we have found that traveling with food is the only way to let go of food anxiety on a trip.  Our daughter had some much less severe sensitivities, but we started traveling without being dependent on restaurants for over 4 years now.

Here are some of the lessons we've learned over the last several years of traveling with tots with food allergies.

It's really hard to trust restaurants.  If you are new to dealing with food allergies, you will want to consider facts like these:

National chain restaurants are generally a little safer, and more consistent, since they have guidelines and allergen-listed menus in some cases.  We have found Red Robin to be a good place to go with the kiddos (we eat out VERY rarely), because it's kid friendly they have an allergen-listed menu.  We have still brought food with us in a small cooler/insulated lunch sack for my little guy, since we are SO frightened of cross-contamination with the anaphylactic allergies he has.

I HATE to be so negative about something, or create fear, but we have had some ridiculous experiences with really ignorant wait staff.  In their defense, before we had to deal with the frightening reality of severe allergies, I wasn't aware of a lot of ingredients either.  Just know that most of the time, wait staff will NOT be trained in food ingredients.  Asking to speak with one of the cook-staff is completely reasonable.  If you are in a situation where you need to eat out, be as safe as possible.  There are post-it type pads available online, where you can have your allergies printed on the pad, and just hand it to your server, and they can come back with the kitchen's recommendation for your restrictions.

We always book accommodations with a kitchen.  OR, if there is not a kitchen available (and we are driving-plane trips get a little more complicated)...and this will sound wild to some people...we bring our camping cook stove with us, and find a park to picnic.

We pack a large cooler with prepared foods we cook the day before we leave, and always have some of our convenient packaged foods in our bags with us.  When traveling on a plane, we tell a flight attendant when we check in that we have a severe peanut allergy, and have lots of snacks on hand that are safe.  We never assume that 'they'll have something safe'.    BE PREPARED for at least an entire day of snacks and something substantial in an insulated lunch sack when you are traveling.  Always pack enough for unexpected delays.

These coolers were what we packed for a week long trip to Thermopolis, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park.  Knowing that it would be tough to eat on the road, we opted for being over prepared.  This trip was before we knew our little guy had an anaphylactic reaction to nuts, so we actually ate out for two dinners while we were there (we haven't eaten out since his reaction, it is too scary right now)...but we really didn't have to eat out, we had plenty for the whole week, and just refilled our coolers with ice every couple of days.

Something to remember about eating out with food can NOT trust a salad/food bar.  Cross contamination is much too likely.  If you are sensitive or allergic, avoid them altogether.

Scope out the natural food grocery stores in the area you will be staying, BEFORE you leave.  If you are staying somewhere you book through a real estate agency, property manager or resort, you can always call them and ask for a recommendation.   If you print out directions from your accommodations to the health food store, and put it with your confirmation sheets, it will be easy to swing by on your way in, or for someone to head over there while the family is settling in.  If you wait until you get there, it may be harder to print out directions, or get everything coordinated.  For us, this is a necessary measure to reduce the stress of traveling with food allergies.

Travel is not only possible with food allergies, but enjoyable.  Planning ahead will reduce stress, and anxiety about food selections...and you'll probably end up with healthier choices than you would have at a restaurant anyway!

I'd love to hear your experience with traveling with food allergies, or suggestions for ease and fun!

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