Dairy Free

Eating On The Road When You’re On An Elimination Diet

Tuesday December 16, 2014

My heart goes out to all of you who might be traveling over the holiday weekend and are on a severely restricted diet. Especially if this is all still new to you. I don’t think people outside the allergy/intolerant world know how difficult this is.

Here are my tips and strategies, things that we’ve figured out over the years and sites that we rely on to make traveling on a limited diet doable


1. If you’re on the elimination diet because you’re breastfeeding, or if it’s your kid that’s on the elimination diet, just go ahead and pack all the food you’ll need for your kid

It’s one thing to be stressed out because you’re hungry, an other thing entirely if it’s your kid that’s hungry.

If you’re traveling somewhere that you’re not sure if you’ll be able to find food for your kid to eat while you’re there, pack food for every meal beforehand. I’m serious. We traveled to Tokyo with a week’s worth of (shelf stable) meals for Bean in our luggage. Neither Dave nor I can read Japanese labels, and soy isn’t included as an allergen on Japanese food labels. Sure, we got ourselves to a supermarket once we were there and picked up fresh produce and the like, but it was good to have a bag of safe foods and know that she wouldn’t go hungry. We went through all of it.

We also pack two days worth of food (6 meals) in our carryon luggage every time we fly. We may not go through all of it, but again, I’m content that Bean is fed and that we don’t have to immediately rush out and buy her groceries as soon as we arrive.


2. Pack yourself some hypoallergenic protein bars

You’ll undoubtedly be sick of them by Day 5 or so, but these can be crucial. There will be a time when you’ll be going crazy from hunger with no food available that you can eat. That protein bar in your backpack will tide you over until you can find something.

I had a lot of luck with EnerPro Double Chocolate bars. They taste pretty good and they are wheat, peanut, tree nut, soy, dairy, casein, egg, fish, and shellfish free. That’s a pretty tall order! But, I promise, they’re good.


3. If you’re leaving the country, order yourself an allergen card

It’s hard enough reading food labels in the US, doing it in another country is an extreme stress test.

We got ordered allergy cards (in Japanese) through Select Wisely for our trip to Japan. The site was super easy to use, and I even got an email from a representative when they were confused on a point. They were great to work with.

You just show it to the waiter at the restaurant and hope they look kindly on you. (And, I have to say, Japenese waiters and chefs were absolutely awesome when it came to dealing with this. So over-the-top friendly and accommodating.)


4. 8 0z boxes of milk alternatives

It can be difficult/annoying to find milk alternatives on the road, and woe be the baby who doesn’t get their bottle of milk.

You won’t find child size milk alternative boxes in most supermarkets; we’ve had really good luck finding them on Amazon. We’ll order a crate of 8 oz Rice Dream boxes and have it sent to our destination. Especially useful if you’re staying at a hotel without a refrigerator.


5. Fast food/chain restaurants have already done a lot of the legwork on allergies

When you’re traveling, sometimes you’re stuck eating at fast food restaurants in airports and roadside plazas. Most fast food restaurants have an interactive menu on their websites that help you figure out what allergens are in what dishes. It’s easiest to do this at home before your trip, but you can do it on your phone too.

If you’re already in the restaurant, you can ask someone for their Allergen book. All chain restaurants have one, even if the server you’re talking to has to go dust it off. (This should be a last resort thing, though. It’s better to be prepared before you enter the restaurant. I’ve had to ask for an allergen book and then walk out of the restaurant, after not finding one thing on the menu OK for me to eat. And that is a sad, hungry place to be.)


6. For the milk and soy intolerant crowd, check out this compilation of specific menu items at each fast food/chain restaurant

This JessDMiller post got me through some very difficult times when we were on a highway and I needed to pick which fast food restaurant to go to NOW NOW NOW. Halfway down the page, she lists specific items on the menus of most fast food restaurants that are milk and soy intolerant friendly.


7. Chipotle, Chipotle, Chipotle

Or you can ignore all the above and just go to Chipotle.

Chipotle is the hypoallergenic world’s glowing oasis. You’ll find people all across the country singing its praises on allergy discussion boards. Chipotle has an awesome/completely flexible kids menu too, which makes it very easy to feed your allergic/intolerant kid.

We basically launch ourselves at every Chipotle when we travel now. It’s so easy, and I don’t have to worry about any questionable ingredients.


8. Know which cuisines are friendliest to your set of allergies/intolerances

Ok, so you don’t exactly want to eat fast food all the time, and you want to venture out a bit and eat at some local spots. This is when it helps to know which cuisines generally serve food you (or your kid) can eat.

For milk, soy, and eggs — the friendliest cuisines are new American, Italian, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Mediterranean, and seafood. My go-to dish is the ol’ Americana protein + vegetable + starch, hold all the sauces.

Chinese, Thai, other Southeast Asian cuisines, Japanese, French, Southern, pizza, sandwiches, and Cajun are off the table.


9. If you are extremely restricted (no soybean oil, no iodine, etc), it’s a good idea to call ahead

“What kind of oil do you use in the kitchen?” is a question no server will be happy to hear. If you can, get the difficult stuff out of the way over the phone. (I’ve had restaurants offer to make something with olive oil instead. Those are the stand out restaurants, though, and not the norm.)


10. Accept your limitations and move on

I used to Chowhound and Yelp every restaurant in the tristate area before I headed somewhere. Now, if I find out the hotel restaurant has something Bean can eat, or if we’ve talked to them and worked out a special dish, we’ll eat there every night of our stay.

We caught up with a friend’s mother, who has Celiac Disease, on her way to Asia and she laughed about going on the plain-white-rice diet for the next week.

You can spend a lot of time seeking out food on your stay, or you can accept how limited you are and focus your energy somewhere else.


11. If you are worried about cross contamination, head to expensive chain restaurants

Think: Cheesecake Factory, Outback, etc. Their servers are instructed to involve a manager on any table with food allergies. The chefs will prepare your dish in a separate, distinct area of the kitchen and the manager will oversee your order.

I know. I know. Most of you who knew me before the intolerance situation would have never thought I’d use this space to recommend the Cheesecake Factory. But, here we are. Allergies and intolerances are serious, and sometimes you need to know that the restaurant you’re eating at is taking them as seriously as you do.


Comments are closed.