As we head into summer many of us are planning out family vacations and summer travel. As you most likely know, traveling with Celiac disease can present some challenges. What to eat, where to eat, will you be exposed to cross contamination, how to not offend well-meaning relatives (when you can't eat their food), and the list goes on and on. Over the years we have spoken to many Celiac's and experienced some of the same issues ourselves. As you head out on your next vacation we'd like to offer some helpful tips for next trip.
These days, whether you are gluten intolerant or not, food is awfully scarce on nearly all airlines! Unless you are flying on a flight longer than 3 hours you can pretty much count on no food (except for pretzels…in which case pack your own gluten-free pretzels so you feel right at home). For those traveling on longer flights, many airlines to offer gluten-free meals. Just make sure that you call at least 24 hours and sometimes 72 hours ahead. For a complete listing of airlines that do offer gluten-free meals visit www.glutenfreeholidays.com or read our article titled, “Gluten-Free Airline Travel is Possible!” written by Kim Koeller & Robert La France from the Gluten Free Passport.
Snacks for the Air or the Road:
Since I have never been impressed by airline food, gluten-free or not, my suggestion would be to pack your own snack bag. This works for air travel, train travel or car trips, of course. Most often, your food will be far more appealing than what the masses are getting! Some great snack tips are:
If you have access to hot water you can also add to the list:
- Gluten-free Pretzels
- Dried Fruits
- Fresh Fruits & vegetables
- Gluten-free rice cakes
- Gluten-free energy bars
- Gluten-free chips
- Gluten-free cookies
For a much larger list of travel size gluten-free snacks check out our April 2007 article entitled, “New Gluten-Free Snacks Give Travelers More Options!”, written by Kim Koeller & Robert La France from the Gluten Free Passport.
Eating Out at Restaurants
Restaurant dining is getting much, much better. Many restaurants are now aware of the gluten-free diet and know how to accommodate it, particularly in the U.S. Of course, you still run into some that are completely clueless but all in all it is getting better.
The biggest key to eating out successfully is communication. Ask to speak to the chef and explain that you cannot have gluten – and, if necessary, explain what gluten is (no wheat, rye, barley) and what the main possible problematic ingredients are (chicken stock, bread, bread crumbs, croutons, etc.). If you are dining at a finer restaurant, more often than not the chef will take this on as a challenge and the end result will be far better than standard items on the menu. If you are traveling abroad, it is always helpful to carry a translation card. You can download dining cards in 6 different languages at the Gluten Free Passport.
Eating at a Friends or Relatives House Well meaning friends and relatives can sometimes pose the most difficult challenges. Often they try so hard to make some special meal for you and then discover that one of the ingredients contains gluten! Sound familiar? So, below you will find some tips to perhaps avoid this experience and make eating over at someone's house a pleasurable experience:
- Offer to help plan the menu: A friend or family member who invites you to dinner will probably already know about your gluten-intolerance, so offering to help plan the menu will most likely be a welcomed gesture. Ask your host or hostess what he/she is planning to serve and offer suggestions to items that you know contain gluten. Discuss the ingredients in every recipe. Offer to bring gluten-free substitutions for all ingredients that include gluten. It is not necessary to be familiar with all the menu items planned, but you must check all ingredients in every recipe.
- Be a good sport: You can be a good sport without jeopardizing you health. Don't reject your host's menu selections because you believe they contain gluten, offer non- gluten substitutions. Most ingredients can be substituted without compromising taste.
- Offer to help cook: Your offer to help cook the meal will likely be met with enthusiasm. You and your host can have a wonderful time socializing in the kitchen while you prepare the meal. Getting involved in the preparation will enable you to see for yourself what ingredients are being used. Let your host take the lead and help by doing the prep, or help with the clean up as you go. All cooks love an assistant.
- Don't Assume Your Host Knows About Hidden Gluten: Eating at a friend's house can be more difficult just because they are your friends. Your friends may go to a lot of effort preparing something that they believe is gluten-free, 'just for you', when in fact the dish may include a hidden gluten that they are not aware of. It is very difficult to have to refuse to eat something that your friend has made special for you. Difficult but necessary. Even if they are disappointed that you can't eat their food, they're you friends; they'll forgive you.
- Don't Be Shy: Don't be afraid to speak up if you see that your host is about to add a gluten ingredient. Assuming these are your friends, they will want to avoid putting gluten in your meal, but will probably not be aware of all that is gluten. If you see that something with gluten has been added, don't eat that dish. Explain why and enjoy the rest of the meal. Don't be coerced into eating 'just a bite' or fall for 'there's hardly any in there'...Just Say No. Remember, these are your friends, you can be truthful with them and they will understand.
Other Travel Resources:
- Chef Jessica