For me, the most stressful part of traveling with my nut-allergic daughter is restaurants. When you're away from home and staying at a hotel, restaurants are your main source of food. As someone who watches "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" on BBC America, that is a pretty scary reality for me. The bottom line is that you just never know what is going on in a restaurant kitchen and who is doing the cooking. As we know, restaurant workers vary widely in their knowledge and understanding of food allergies. So the pressure is on us to communicate and navigate menus and establishments on our own. Yes, some restaurants do a stellar job, but you always have to do your research prior to eating.
Less is more. When evaluating a restaurant for allergic folks, seek our restaurants with small, simple menus. Why? Well, big menus that feature everything under the sun usually contain several off-limits items and cross-contact risk becomes greater. Also, the bigger the menu, the more likely that several chefs are cooking at once and again, cross-contact is an issue.
Find out what kind of oil they use for frying. This is especially important if a fried dish is one of a resto's specialities. When we travel, we call restaurants with lots of fried items and ask if they use peanut oil. If they do, we skip it. I've heard a lot about the "cold-pressed" vs "refined" peanut oil debate and some people insist that peanut oil is safe. The thing is, people have reacted to peanut oil -- some fatally -- and I would also argue that if you tell restaurant staff that you can have peanut oil with a peanut allergy, you're sending them a mixed message that may result in other kitchen mishaps. Plus, no peanut oil is 100% free of peanut protein, so for me, that's dancing too close to the mouth of the volcano. Many times, restaurants tell us that they use canola oil, and we have staff confirm this from the kitchen. These are the restos we feel good visiting. If you want to be absolutely safe, peanut oil is out and canola is in. Minimize your risk ahead of time and you'll have a better experience.
Get the menu in advance. Most places have their menu displayed outside the restaurant and in many cases you can get menus online. This is hugely helpful--don't skip this step! Knowledge of the menu helps you to avoid places that emphasize items that your allergic family members need to avoid.
Pay attention to salads. Salads are one of my daughter's favorite meals, especially Greek salads (no doubt a heritage thing since my husband is Greek.) However, salads can be high risk so before you let your child order one, examine what other salads are on offer. Do any of the salads contain nuts or nut oils in the dressings? If so, don't order a salad. The reason? Sometimes chefs untrained in food allergy simply pick the nuts off of a prepared salad and serve it--this makes for a potential reaction because the salad is then contaminated. Dressings look alike and can be mistaken for each other. Side note: my daughter knows to do this already. When she ordered a Greek salad, I opened my mouth to say--let's look at the other salads first--and she already had read the menu. None of them contained nuts. One more reason to involve your kids in the menu-reading process, even when they are young. It's great when they take responsibility for their own allergies.
Take the pressure off with some non-restaurant meals. We made sure to get a room with a refrigerator, enabling us to give our kids some cereal for breakfast or simple snacks. We also had a picnic dinner and lunch during our vacation using items we purchased from the local grocery store. Our kids really enjoyed picking out foods for our picnics and our allergic daughter felt more in control and more relaxed. Our picnics were some of our best times while on our trip--and it was the one time I wasn't on alert for allergic reaction. I needed a break--and so will you. Adding a few non-restaurant meals to your trip is not only stress-saving, it's money-saving as well.
AllerDine and Allergy Eats. These two food allergy restaurant guides help you decide where to eat by offering a database of U.S. restaurants that are rated according to your specific allergen. If you travel and find a good place to eat (or a bad place) don't forget to share your experience on these helpful web sites! www.allerdine.com and www.allergyeats.com
we are planning a trip to disney for the fall. we are driving since we do not trust the airlines! and i plan on picnic-ing only. we have never eaten at a restaurant with her yet. I am interested in knowing what else you packed on the days you were away and picnic-ed? I plan on feeding them cereal for breakfast, yogurt and veggies for lunch, but not sure about dinner. i am considering buying a portable stove top. maybe i will be able to boil water for pasta for dinners in the hotel??? i would appreciate any ideas! thank you!
To the previous commentor: in the past, i would cook and then freeze the meals in advance. The frozen meals act as an ice block for your cooler and only need to be heated in the hotel room microwave. My son has multiple allergies, but i have done it with chicken noodle soup, ziti, sausage and peppers. I would try to pack one pot meals. I would also freeze luncheon meats for sandwiches. Hope this helps! PS: i have been to Disney with my sons who are peanut, dairy, egg and shellfish allergic, and had great success with the restaurants there! Good luck!
I have found in the past it is better to call up Disneyland to see if they can accommadate my daughter who has nut, egg, banana, barley and mango allergies. They did do it but the last time we make reservations at the Blue Bayou where I was promised they would work with her and they refused when we got there. The Wonder Company by the Winnie the Pooh ride was good for us ans so was Pizza Port.
My son is allergic to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, mustard, sesame and peas. We also do not trust restaurants with the exception of Wendy's...he has never had a problem with the kids burger and fries. We always get a hotel room with minimum refrigerator and microwave. We have even been known to bring our own microwave if necessary. We pack cereal or pop tarts for breakfast with an easy microwavable meat (sausage or bacon), sandwich meat / bread/chips/fruit for lunch. Dinners are more challening, but I have found that if you cook a meat, you can easily heat up individual serving canned veggies and a baked potato for sides. Make a list (this is a necessity) and walk yourself through each meal so you don't leave anything out. Also, don't forget paper towels, paper plates, plastic utensils and lots of ziploc's. Happy travels...it can be done!
Many grocery stores have dining areas that are available for use whether you bring your own meal, or purchase there. The Hy-Vee chain in the midwest is excellent for this. We have an hour trip into "town" each week for groceries, errands, etc. and we've always brought a sack lunch to eat there. Many employees are sitting there eating their brown bagged lunch as well, so we don't stand out as odd. When traveling, you can always grab bread, sandwich fixings, and some fruit easily enough at a grocer, and it saves a *ton* of anxiety over getting an allergic reaction away from home.
If you're not allergic to fish, a tin of sardines and some crackers can be excellent road food that does not require refrigeration.
Disney's are the only restaurants we have trusted in the 3 yrs. since our grandson had his first and only severe reaction. (peanut and tree nut allergies) The chef will talk to you when you get there. What a treat to actually go out to eat as a family. We just had to wipe his section of the table down.
thank you so much for all these wonderful suggestions for our trip!!! i notice some of you mentioned lunch meats...i have never given her lunch meats since there are warnings of cross-contamination issues at our stop and shop deli counter... where do you get and which lunch meats do your kids eat?
We are going on a trip to Chicago and want to know if there are any nut-free hotspots we should hit. We are only dealing with peanut so I was thinking about More cupcakes. But can you recommend any pizza or hot dog places or anything else?
We, last October, stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge and ate at Sana... The Chef and wait staff were OUTSTANDING with our child with a severe treenut/peanut allergy. The chef was standing at the table when the food came out and he said that it wasn't the safe rice that was plated and so he had them make another plate. He personally walked my daughter through dinner and dessert selection. And there was a whole safe snack area at the counter service restaurant at AKL too. Very nice...
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