Summer vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing. True, everyone experiences the usual stresses — packing, boarding the pets, stopping the mail and newspapers and asking the neighbors to keep an eye on things. Once they are on the way, however, most families don't have to worry about what they will eat on the road or when they get to their destination. Traveling with a child who has dietary restrictions requires a lot more planning.
Since this is the time of the year when most families are thinking about hitting the road, I thought I'd share some ideas taken from the book I wrote with ANDI Co-Founder Karyn Seroussi, The Encyclopedia of Dietary Interventions. I hope you find it helpful.
Look for a hotel or motel room that has a small kitchen; if that is not available ask whether a small refrigerator can be provided. Some hotels will even put a microwave in guest rooms so you may as well ask for that too! Call ahead to arrange for these items to be placed in your room before you check in.
Most airlines charge for checked bags and packages, but you will want to check a large cooler bag filled with perishables. If you freeze foods, they will still be very cold even if they are not completely frozen when you arrive at your destination. You can probably also use "blue ice" packs in checked baggage — check with your airline to be sure.
Blue ice should also be allowed in carry-on baggage for medicine and baby formula. You may need a doctor's note if your child's other foods must be kept cold. Now that airlines are no longer providing free meals, there is a bit more latitude about the foods you can bring on board. If you are unsure of the current rules (many are on your airline's website) called the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at 866-289-9673. If possible, ask for a written copy of the rules to be mailed or faxed, and carry it with you.
Most airlines no longer offer free meals, but if meals are offered at all, don't be fooled by an allegedly gluten free option. My husband once ordered a GF meal for my son and was annoyed that I insisted he carry food on anyway. The "GF" meal turned out to be a whole-wheat tortilla wrapped around a suspicious looking filling!
Even if it is a short flight, take a few snacks to keep hunger (and boredom) at bay. Fresh fruit is a good choice, along with nuts (if tolerated), which are high in protein. ANDI Bars™ are always a good snack for on-the-go.
Make like a scout and BE PREPARED. Research restaurants and when possible, look at their menu online before you leave home. Websites like www.tripadvisor.com will let you know what is close to your hotel and will give you an idea about the quality of the food and service. Call and talk to the cook if you can. Ask if you may bring your own ingredients (e.g. GF soy sauce to a Chinese restaurant or an appropriate cookie for dessert.) Find options that will work for your family and don't deviate because you happen upon a place that looks good. If you do find someplace you haven't checked out, don't just eat there. Go in and get a menu and ask questions and if it's appropriate, go back the next day. Spontaneity is fun while you're on vacation, but it isn't practical if you have a family member with special dietary needs.
Even when you find the perfect place, it is wise to feed your kids a good snack before you go, and to take something for them to nibble on when you arrive. Your family isn't the only one on vacation, and wait times can be difficult for little ones (especially if they are hungry.)
If the weather is nice, take your family on picnics whenever possible.
Eating In, or Picnicking
If you are on a road trip, it will be easy to fill your car or your roof rack with groceries, a few pans and utensils. You can pack frozen bread, breakfast cereal, olive oil, aluminum foil, milk substitute, organic juice (if tolerated.) When you arrive you can buy meats and produce; buy locally grown fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
Visit www.glutenfreerestaurants.org for a list of restaurants that accommodate special diets.
If you are planning a trip to DisneyWorld and you have an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, you can download the Gluten Free and Allergy Free Disney World App for $2.99. It is available from the iTunes App Store. If you need more "low tech" help with food/restaurant selections, you can buy actual books at the Allergy Free Passport website, http://shop.allergyfreepassport.com/ .
Other helpful books include:
- Waiter, Is There Wheat in My Soup? The Official Guide on Dining Out Shopping and Traveling Gluten Free and Allergen-free by LynnRae Ries
- Let's Eat Out! Your Passport to Living Gluten and Allergy Free by Kim Koeller and Robert La France