Traveling with Food Allergies: Eat In or Dine Out?

Traveling with a child who has food allergies means having to do some legwork before you go. Whether you choose to dine out or eat in on your vacation, or a combination of both, you’ll need to do some pre-planning. The more work you’re able to do in advance, the less likely you are to encounter any pitfalls, disappointments, and most importantly reactions, along the way. Hopefully these tips will help make it even easier!

Eating In

  • Make a meal plan – include breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
  • Focus on meals that are naturally free of your allergens and easy to prepare.
  • Focus on meals that have as few ingredients as possible.
  • Plan for bag lunches/snacks on your day(s) of travel.
  • If you’re staying with family, ask what their plans are for food so you can work something similar into your meal plan or plan meals that are naturally free of your allergens that everyone can eat together.
  • To save money, pack some of your staples or things you don’t use a lot of. Examples: if you use ground chia as an egg substitute for your child’s pancakes, pack some in a reusable container and bring it with you. This is much preferable to buying a whole bag when you get there and having to schlep most of it back home with you.
  • If you aren’t sure if the local stores will have your gluten-free pasta, or other obscure item, bring some with you.
  • Incorporate a visit to a local Farmer’s Market into your trip. It will give you a great feel for the area and you’ll have some fresh veggies to munch on or include in your meals.
  • Be mindful of cross contamination.
  • Give the food prep and eating surfaces a good scrub down to remove proteins and particles.
  • Scrub any nooks and crannies that might be hiding allergens (rims of pots, crevices in slotted spoons) and then run them through the dishwasher for good measure.
  • Don’t use wooden their wooden spoons or cutting boards to prepare your food – they are porous and cannot be thoroughly cleaned.
  • If you’re staying with family, explain why this is necessary so they don’t think you’ve gone off the deep end.


Dining Out

  • Plan ahead:
  • Check out websites like Allergy Eats and even Yelp!. Both offer apps for your iPhone or Android device. Keep in mind the information on these sites are given by customers and while they can be a good starting place for information, it’s important you reach out to the restaurant staff yourself and do your own research.
  • Call ahead. Speak to the manager of the restaurant and/or kitchen. Ideally, make reservations so they know you are coming.
  • Speak to your hostess and server about your needs. Most restaurants are well aware of food allergies and Celiac disease, but do not assume they know how to keep you safe. If you’ve called ahead, this will streamline your experience.
  • Carry food allergy cards. These are cards with and explanation of your allergens. They are designed to be given to servers and kitchen staff to help prepare your food safely.
  • Bring your own food. I know, this is a major faux pas with restaurants and movie theaters. But there have been times when visiting family where 10 people wanted to go to a particular restaurant where there is nothing safe for my kids to eat. I pack them a meal and if the server or staff asks questions, I explain my children have food allergies. I have never had someone take issue with that response and honestly, I think they’re relieved not to have to deal with the extra work and liability.
  • Some resorts, like Disney, are very accommodating to people with food allergies and other special needs. Follow the same protocols of calling ahead and making reservations to make your experience go smoothly.


Traveling with food allergies isn’t care-free. In fact, you may need to rest up from your vacation when you return home. But the experiences travel can provide for kids to connect to distant family, see new places, and encounter the world in a whole new way can be extremely rewarding — for the whole family.

Published on: July 20, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Danielle Nelson

Danielle Nelson is a writer, mom of three, and occasional social worker. She was thrown into the world of food allergies when her son had a life threatening reaction to peanuts the day before his first birthday.

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