Monday, March 29, 2010

The Nut-Free Mom Inbox....Allergy-Friendly Vacation Destinations

This is the first question of my new "inbox" feature (formerly know as the "mailbag" feature but that's so last decade) and I think it applies to many of you.

Q. Do you know a good place to travel with food allergies? We don't want to go to Disney. Jolie, Illinois.

A. No vacation destination can be promoted as 100% safe. That's because there are just too many variables. And while many people have written to me about their wonderful Disney experiences (and we have yet to go---but plan to very soon), even there you have to let everyone and anyone know about your allergies well in advance before your visit.

So while I don't have a list of allergy-friendly destinations at my disposal, I do have some recommendations that have worked for my family. We have braved a few family vacations with severe food allergies and the number one thing I can say about it is there is no such thing as too much planning ahead.

For example, last year we visited a Wisconsin resort we'd been to before--only to find out that one of the on-site American restaurants had recently been replaced by a BBQ joint that used 100% peanut oil for just about everything. We were able to eat at other on-site restaurants and had a few more available to us off-site but that just goes to show that you even if you thought a place was allergy-friendly before, you must call and find out what the food situation is each and every time. In this sense, going on vacation is no different than dining out at home. Careful vigilance is always required.

Here are some more tips on deciding if a vacation destination is allergy-friendly:

Try to get lodgings that have a small kitchenette or at least a refrigerator.
Relying on restaurant food 24/7 can take a toll on families trying to manage food allergies. Having the option of serving allergic family members at least some meals or snacks prepared by you is going to cut down on risk factors and give you less to worry about.

Don't go anywhere too remote. If an allergic reaction happens, how soon can your child get to a hospital? This should be a factor in planning where you will go and where you will stay during your trip.

Be prepared with chef cards for restaurants. FAAN and AllerNotes offer chef cards (also in languages other than English) which can be really helpful whether you are traveling abroad or staying in the U.S.

Will this destination be easy or difficult in terms of avoiding food allergens? If you want to relax and have fun, you definitely don't want to be facing a food allergy minefield each day. For this reason, my family needs to think about the local food. In the American South, peanuts, tree nuts and peanut oil are used--a lot. If we're going there, we need to be extra careful. Think about local foods and if you can find enough safe places to eat at that destination.

Can you drive to the vacation spot? This is huge for nut allergies because of all the airplane risks regarding peanuts and tree nuts in-flight. Avoiding airplanes will not only be cheaper but it will cut down on your stress--always good when going on a vacay!

No matter where you go, you can never take a vacation from vigilance. It's tempting to throw caution to the wind on vacation. After all, you're there to relax. However, planning ahead with regard to what to feed a food-allergic child means never letting your guard down. The more prepared you are before you leave, the more fun you'll have.

OK, readers. That's my two cents. Now let me ask you--where do you find your allergy-friendly family vacation spots? Besides Disney! :)


Anonymous said...

Hi - when our friends were in France, they were turned away at most eateries but they said Spain was very accommodating. In addition to choosing a vacation with kitchenette availability, the bigger cities with big-name restaurants (more accommodating) and places that don't cook with a lot of nuts (e.g. Thai food uses nuts in many of their foods - seems to be a lot of Mexican and Japanese cuisine that don't use nuts). Jenny - which Wisconsin hotel changed their restaurant? Thanks!

Jenny said...

The Abbey Resort near Lake Geneva changed one of their restaurants--the lakefront, casual one to BBQ with peanuts and peanut oil.

Can you elaborate on France--why were your friends turned away so often? This is not a cuisine that uses a lot of peanut and tree nut in its entrees. On the other hand, Spain is known for its wide use of almonds and other tree nuts in its main dishes.


Anonymous said...

Be very careful with Mexican restaurants. We recently came across one where we were told by the waiter that they didn't use any nuts in their cooking. A few minutes later he came rushing back to tell us that sometimes the chef uses peanut butter to thicken some of the sauces!