Eating On The Road

Planning ahead can make a big difference when it comes to safe eating on the go…

Traveling with children can be challenging—but if you have a child with autism who also has multiple food allergies, the idea of taking a trip can make any parent think twice and consider just staying home. However, whether you’re taking a daytrip or overnight vacation, learning a few simple strategies can help families eat well, while sticking to a special diet and enjoying their time together…

Plan Ahead

The most important thing is to plan ahead. Research online the restaurants, hotels, and markets near your destination. Locate gluten-free and allergy-friendly restaurants that understand your special dietary needs. Book a hotel that has a kitchenette or refrigerator, depending on whether you prefer to cook your own meals or not. See if there are any natural food stores near where you are staying. Answers to these queries will help you direct some planning—for example, if I’m flying and will not have a car, I determine whether there is a market close to my hotel or on the cab ride from the airport. If so, I typically get the bulk of my food when I arrive. However, if there are none, I’ll have to bring more food with me.

For families considering a destination vacation like a theme park or cruise, some companies really go the extra mile to serve people with food allergies. Disney Land, Disney World, and Disney Cruises all have delicious gluten-free and allergen-free food. Fortunately, most cruises offer plenty of allergy-free choices, so you can always eat well on a cruise, even when you have food allergies. Check your destination for its food policy, as some parks and zoos do not allow you to bring food in from the outside (silly, I know). You’ll want to learn their exemption process so you can be prepared.

Cooler Meals

Whether you are going by plane, train, or car you’ll want to pack a cooler. Bring at least enough food to get you to your destination, plus one extra emergency “layover” day in case you get stuck while in transit. If you are going by car, you can take food for the trip. If you are traveling by plane, you can check an extra cooler of food, ship food to your destination, and handle food once you’ve arrived. Use dry ice if you want it to stay fully frozen for a couple days.

Consider which foods you’re bringing. Apples are great because they are hard and don’t bruise easily. If you bring bananas, make sure they’re not too ripe or they will smash all over your bag (not fun at all). There are many wonderful meals you can throw together quickly and easily while on the road.

Bringing foods that are mix-and-match provides lots of options for the family so each member can find something they like, without mom having to plan and prepare snacks and meals for four different people. Sauerkraut makes a wonderful “salad”—while not a true salad, I often eat it in place of the common side dish because it requires no preparation on the night before and provides easy vegetables for the trip. Kale salad is also great because it’s hearty and holds up to travel well—all you need to do is substitute lettuce with kale leaves (de-stem and rip into pieces). And keep in mind that drinks don’t have to be cold—consider a thermos of chicken broth, soup, or stew.

Storing Food

The cooler you choose is vital. We learned the hard way that a couple of our soft-sided coolers were not waterproof, so melting ice leaked to the outside of the cooler and soaked things near it—in one case the contents of the backpack it was in, and in the other the hotel floor where it was left overnight. Test things ahead of time to avoid surprises and inconveniences. Ice packs work much better than ice cubes.

Remember to bring a plastic utensil set or two, plenty of napkins, extra ziplock bags, and a bowl with a lid that can be used for mixing, serving, and storing food like the tuna salad. For a bowl, I like the Pyrex/Rubbermaid bowls with lids; prepare and store the extra. I’ve never had security stop me for traveling with glass.

If you find it easier, pack an individual lunch for the kids, rather than “family-style” meals. A few of my favorite containers are those from PlanetBox, Laptop Lunches, Eco Lunchboxes, and LifeFactory glass water.

Hotel Helpers

Since you will have food with you, you’ll want to plan ahead for a refrigerator in your room. Even in hotels that don’t offer suites with kitchenettes, there will likely be a mini refrigerator in the room (call ahead to check and if this isn’t provided ask if it can be). Some hotels charge for a refrigerator, typically $10-25 per day, while others offer one for no charge. I love when hotels don’t charge, but even when they do it’s still worth it because of the flexibility it gives. And even with the added expense you save much more money than you spend in bringing your own food versus eating out.

You can tell your story to the manager and see if you may be bumped to the top of the list because your child needs a special diet. You can also ask for a “medical refrigerator.” Sometimes they are even free in this case. Now this choice depends on your conscience—if you have medications or supplements that need refrigeration, this request is honest, and many of us feel food is a “medical” necessity. Even a freezer is possible—if the room refrigerator does not have a freezer, you may be able to use the hotel kitchen freezer by checking your frozen items in with them through the front desk.

Kitchen Craft

Depending on the duration of your stay and locale, you can find motels, condos, and privately owned properties with kitchens and kitchenettes. Popular chains that offer kitchenettes include Residence Inn, Motel 6 Extended Stay, Extended Stay Studio Suites, Homestead Studio Suites, Hyatt Summerfield Suites (now Hyatt House), Homewood Suites by Hilton, and Staybridge Suites. You can easily track these down online.

For breakfast, skip the buffet—cross-contamination is almost guaranteed with buffet food. Tell your waiter you’ll need your entire meal cooked fresh and take particular care to avoid the buffet trough scrambled eggs, as they might contain dairy. Make sure the chef is using a clean pan, olive oil (no sprays or margarine or butter), and fresh utensils. Remind them of the importance of a clean work area free of flour, crumbs, and other sources of cross-contamination. If your server seems confused or uncertain, ask to speak with the manager.

Eating Out

Most families have a safe routine when they eat at home—they know all the products and their ingredients. When traveling and eating out, you don’t have control over the kitchen, the ingredients, or cross-contamination. This means that eating out can be tricky, but with a few pointers and practice you’ll navigate it smoothly.

Nationwide restaurants with gluten-free menus include Applebee’s, Bonefish Grill, Chili’s, Old Sausage Factory, Olive Garden, The Outback Steakhouse, PF Chang’s, Red Robin, Uno’s Chicago Grill and Sonic Drive-in. Five guys, and In-n-Out Burger (west coast only) are great burger joints that offer gluten-free hamburger patties wrapped in lettuce and gluten-free fries. When you eat out at restaurants make sure you’re informed about what foods might contain gluten or dairy. For example, frozen and pre-packaged french fries at restaurants are often dusted with flour prior to packaging, while even gluten-free potatoes may be fried in a fryer that also cooks battered (floured) foods. Many bolognas and hot dogs contain gluten, as can flavorings, spices, and spice blends may contain gluten.

Consider carrying digestive enzymes with you for accidental infractions when traveling. Digestive enzymes containing dppiv (dipeptidyl peptidase-4) help break down gluten, casein and soy. While they don’t work if you have celiac disease, many families find them helpful for gluten and casein sensitivity, and infractions or cross-contamination that occur when they are away from home.

Accidental food infractions for people with food allergies can ruin a vacation. However, with some trip planning and preparation, you and your family can eat well when you’re on-the-go. No more stress of finding a restaurant while the kids are having a “starving” meltdown, or concerns over food allergens. With a little forethought, you can have a wonderful time, enjoy the sights, relax, and rejuvenate! (also see recipes, below, taken from Cooking to Heal, by Julie Matthews.)

Tuna Salad

This is a great recipe on the road because neither the canned fish nor the avocado needs refrigeration. You can carry the food without a cooler, and prepare it onsite for perfectly fresh tuna salad. It is also a wonderful egg-free alternative. If you are traveling, you do need to remember to bring a knife for the avocado, something to mix it with like a fork, and a bowl. Otherwise, make it ahead of time and bring it in cooler.

1 6 oz can of lower-mercury tuna (such as Vital Choice)
1 avocado

1. Smash tuna and avocado together and serve! It’s that easy!

Makes 2 servings. Each serving contains 326 calories, 22g fat, 4g sat fat, 0g trans fat, 45mg cholesterol, 157mg sodium, 9g carbohydrate, 7g fiber, 26g protein.

Kale Chips

Fresh kale, one bunch
2 Tbs olive oil
1⁄2 tsp salt

1. Rinse kale leaves and dry.

2. Remove stem and main vein of kale stalk.

3. Brush with olive oil

4. Season with salt and any other herbs you’d like. You can also use lavender or rosemary salt.

5. Heat oven to 350°F. Place stalks directly on oven rack and cook for 3-6 minutes. Watch closely so these don’t burn—they should be nice and crispy, and lightly browned around edges.

Makes 8 servings. Each serving contains 55 calories, 4g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 145 mg sodium, 5g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 2g protein.

Carrot Chips

3 large carrots (or use butternut squash, parsnips, or beets)

1. Cut carrots into thin discs or curls with a vegetable peeler.

2. Deep fry in expeller pressed coconut oil until lightly brown around edges.

3. Remove from oil and place on paper towel to absorb excess oil. Salt chips.

Makes 4 servings. Each serving contains 83 calories, 7g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 42mg sodium, 6g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 1g protein.

Coconut Date Balls  

These are a sweet, healthy treat while traveling. They’re full of healthy coconut fat for energy and brain nourishment. Take them on the road, but note they are best kept cool, as the coconut butter will melt in the heat of the car. You can vary these by adding chopped fruit, raisins, GF chocolate chips, and/or chopped nuts if your child isn’t allergic to nuts, or by rolling the balls in in sesame seeds or cocoa powder.

11⁄2 c pitted dates
1⁄2-3⁄4 c coconut butter (sometimes called coconut spread, not the same as coconut oil) or other nut butter (use sunflower seed butter if allergic to nuts)
1 Tbs of raw coconut oil (more if using nut butter not coconut butter)
1⁄4 c finely shredded dried coconut
1 c finely shredded dried coconut (used for rolling the balls).

1. In a food processor, blend the dates into paste.

2. Add the coconut butter or nut butter and pulse a few times until the ingredients are mixed. If too difficult/sticky to
pulse with nut butter, mix by hand.

3. Add dried coconut and process for 5 to 10 seconds more.

4. Melt coconut oil and add to processor.

5. Roll into balls.

6. Melt additional coconut oil. Coat the ball with oil then roll in shredded coconut.

7. Store in a cool place, such as the refrigerator.

Makes 25 servings. Each serving (based on unsweetened coconut) contains 110 calories, 8g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 4mg sodium, 11g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 1g protein.

Banana-Coconut Bread

This bread is delicious and grain free! Coconut flour adds a great consistency to the bread. Bring it on the road for early flights where you know the kids will get hungry for breakfast at the airport so that you have a healthy GF/CF breakfast bread on hand. To make Feingold diet-compliant, use sweetener other than honey such as maple syrup (maple is not SCD compliant).

4 ripe bananas with brown spots (puréed in food processor)
6 eggs
1⁄3 c coconut oil (melted)
1⁄2 c honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp gluten-free vanilla extract
1 c pumpkin seed flour (ground pumpkin seeds)
1 c coconut flour
2 tsp baking soda

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Mix puréed bananas, eggs, melted coconut oil, honey, lemon juice, and vanilla.

3. Grind pumpkinseeds in food processor until coarse flour-like consistency. Hungarian pumpkin seeds are less oily and make great flour.

4. Add dry ingredients. Spread in greased pan. Bake approximately 45-50 minutes.

Makes 25 servings. Each serving contains 198 calories, 8g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 85mg cholesterol, 194mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 10g protein.

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