Our lives revolve around food. We need nourishment to be healthy, for our bodies to function and grow, and food also brings us emotional happiness. Sharing food traditions is very important to many families. But when a food allergy enters the picture, it’s akin to an earthquake hitting that huge part of our lives. Our ideas, beliefs, comforts and traditions are shaken up. And as the dust settles, we have to learn a new normal: new ways of being, cooking and eating.
Traveling with food allergies, especially that first time, can feel like a huge challenge. Everything you have taken for granted previously goes right out the window. Stopping to grab a bite to eat takes on a whole new set of requirements to ensure that everyone in the family can eat safely.
Some families have a hard time adjusting to this new way of eating. They may feel grief and loss about missing out on traditional love foods or places to eat. They may even avoid traveling because it feels like too much work to figure out how to keep everyone safe. Those are all normal feelings and it’s important to honor them. But don’t let them prevent you from doing what you love as a family. With a bit of pre-planning, you can make traveling and eating on the road safe and fun for the whole family.
The good news is that a lot of restaurants and resorts are more aware of food allergies and the impact on their guests. In fact, it’s becoming relatively mainstream. Many restaurants have gluten-free menus, at least. Restaurant managers and wait staff are becoming experienced at responding to customer questions about food allergies.
The bad news is that while they may ‘know’ what food allergies are, they can be unaware of cross-contamination issues and the meticulous way food much be prepared to keep allergenic guests safe. Don’t assume the restaurant knows how to safely handle food allergies. Part of eating out for you is going to have include a conversation with the manager or wait staff to ensure they know how to safely prepare your family’s food.
If you’re feeling a bit anxious about inconveniencing the restaurant staff, don’t! Their job as your server is, well, to serve you. You can always pay them a compliment at the end of the meal by leaving a generous tip. If you prefer, you can call the manager ahead of time and explain your situation; see what the restaurant can offer you in terms of support and reassurance around eating at their establishment. Just make sure you don’t call during the breakfast, lunch or dinner rushes; 10AM – noon and 2PM – 4PM are probably the best times to call.
One of the silver linings of having food allergies is experimenting with foods you may not have previously considered. And it sometimes forces you to be creative and come up with new ways of cooking old favorites. For example, we love popcorn, but with several family members sensitive to corn we can’t enjoy it with a movie like we used to. Enter “pop-rice”. So simple: crumble a couple rice cakes into a bowl, drizzle with warm butter (or butter substitute), and sprinkle with salt. Voila! The kids love it and it feels like a true treat for them.
With a bit of research before you travel, you may be able to scout out some restaurants and eateries that are safe and offer unique treats for your food allergic family. There are vegan (egg and dairy free) ice cream shops and gluten-free bakeries to be found. Food on vacation doesn’t have to be a foreboding prospect, it can be a fun treat for all family members with a little bit of planning.
What part of traveling with food allergies most concerns you?