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Home Away from Home: Vacationing With a Food-Allergic Child

By Janeen Zumerling
(Note: This is Janeen’s third guest editorial for us. The others were “911 Practice Makes Perfect” and “Rolling in Dough: a Mom Helps Her Son Have the ‘Bestest Day’ in School”)

I ALWAYS look up the closest local grocery before we travel and it’s always one of the first stops we make after we check in. This year we are going to a place that we’ve traveled to before so I already know where the store is, and as luck would have it, it’s directly across the street from where we are staying. We also find a couple of safe places to eat (generally chain restaurants that we’ve been to before). Eating local fare is harder. The last time we visited this location I called over a dozen local restaurants to see if they felt comfortable cooking for my sons allergies and the answer at every one of them was “no”. They all wanted to and felt badly because they couldn’t but most of them cook breaded fish and they did not feel comfortable with his wheat allergy due to all of the wheat flying around the kitchen. I respect their honesty and am so thankful for it. We were lucky to find one local restaurant where we will eat, but only if the same manager is there who took care of us before. He personally cooked my son’s safe food last time.
So what else do I do before we travel? This list is our “automobile” list, which is the same as our “airplane” list, but instead of packing a car with it, I air freight these things to our location ahead of our arriving there.

1. Collect all the things we need to take. I take as much safe dry goods as I can. Normally it isn’t easy to find gluten free breads, pasta, or cookies at our vacation spots (only once did I find a natural foods store that carried these things). I also bring a safe pan, pot, toaster, storage containers, colander and mixing spoon. (I don’t bring a toaster when traveling by air, instead I bring http://www.amazon.com/Set-NoStick-Toast-Toaster-Bags/dp/B0012XGM92. But yes, I pack a colander, pot and pan in the suitcase).

2. I pack a cooler full of safe foods for the car. We try to find safe places to eat along the way, but it’s usually fast food and there’s really only so much that I can take and even then, not all of it is safe for my son. I pack water, fruit, string cheese, yogurt, lunch meats, pepperoni, chips, gluten-free pretzels, gluten-free cereal and safe cookies among other things. Egg allergy being one of the problems, breakfast is the hardest meal to substitute for on the road so the gluten-free cereal is a must. Most hotels will have fruit that my son can have but boy cannot live on fruit alone.

3. In addition to researching grocery stores and safe restaurants, I look up hospitals, and insurance approved pharmacies in the town that we’ll be staying.

4. I pack all of his medication (seasonal allergy, asthma and multiple Epi Pens). If we are flying, these things go in my purse or carry on bag. I also bring all of our doctors phone numbers, emergency action plans, chef cards, Triumph Dining’s Gluten Free Grocery Guide (not all grocery stores carry our usual brands) and my iPhone with gluten free and food allergy apps.

5. Don’t forget safe personal care products! I bring all of our safe brands of toothpaste, lotions, sun screen, shampoo, and soap so that my son won’t have any contact or skin reactions to anything new.

This year we’re going to try something new. In the past we’ve eaten out every night. On nights that my son can’t eat safely at the restaurant, I bring his safe food with us. This year we’ll eat out too but instead of every night, I’m going to bring our slow cooker with us. I’ll start it up in the morning and by dinnertime we’ll have safe food that everyone can eat. This will keep my son from feeling left out or different and I’m sure it will be cheaper than eating out every night too (safety and saving money are great things!).
I know that you can’t plan for everything, but I try to plan for as much as I can. And vacationing with food allergies for the last 6 years has given me a lot of practice.

(How do you vacation with food allergies? Add to the above list by telling us what you bring or do to keep your children safe while on vacation.)
Janeen Zumerling has been a Community Leader for WEGO Health since 2007, primarily working in the Asthma and Allergy Community. She can also be found blogging at: www.zumfamily.blogspot.com and www.foodallergycooking.blogspot.com. A former Sales and Marketing Representative, Janeen is currently a stay at home mom and lives in Ohio with her husband and two young sons.

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