Planning the menu at home day after day is hard enough, but when you have to accommodate gluten intolerance and food allergies as well, it gets a little tricky. Taking the show on the road, especially with young kids, and a holiday can sound like too much hard work, right?
With a bit of careful research and planning, food allergy sufferers can travel safely and get a chance to relax too, here’s how:
1. First, choose your destination carefully.
It’s worth factoring in the local cuisine when you choose a vacation destination, especially if you have severe allergies, not only so you can have a chance to sample the local fare but also assess your risk for cross-contamination. If you have a severe allergy to seafood, don’t go to a remote island where your non-seafood options will obviously be limited. Severe celiacs, for instance, are asking for trouble travelling in Italy. Not only will it be annoying to walk past the bakeries, pizzerias and pasta restaurants, I’d say you’d be hard pressed to find a kitchen in Italy where there wouldn’t be flour floating around and bread crumbs finding their way into everything.
It would be much easier to travel in Asian countries that are more rice based, although watch out for soy sauce, which contains wheat (or bring your own bottle of wheat-free tamari as a substitute). New Zealand and Australia are also excellent destinations for gluten free travellers. Common allergens are required to be labelled on all packaged foods sold in Australia and New Zealand and most cafes and restaurants, especially in urban areas and the more popular tourist destinations, offer gluten free options on the menu.
2. Stay in places where you can shop and cook for yourself.
When we travel as a family, I find it easier to stay in accommodation with full kitchens where I can cook in order to provide a steady supply of safe and healthy meals and snacks for three young boys with food allergies and seemingly insatiable appetites. Before a trip, I work out a menu and shopping list, allowing for a few meals out and crossing my fingers we’ll be able to buy some of what we need when we arrive. Then I cram a suitcase with our harder-to-find staples including gluten-free breakfast cereal, rice milk, gluten-free bread, rice crackers, corn thins and gluten-free pasta and buy the fresh ingredients when I get there. Bringing enough food to get us through the first day or two also gives me a chance to scout out restaurants that can handle our special requests.
This approach has worked really well for us on vacation in Oahu (especially once we found a health food shop with an entire aisle dedicated to gluten free treats!), Rarotonga in the South Pacific (the kids lived on “island chips” made of taro and local root vegetables and the grocery stores carry a surprisingly wide range of New Zealand and Australian specialty foods) and Noosa, Australia (a health conscious, family friendly beach town with lots of juice bars, farmers markets and even gluten free bakeries).
3. Research all-inclusive tours, resorts and spas – some can now cater for allergy sufferers.
If the family chef wants to have a break though, a health retreat or all-inclusive tour may be the answer. My dream escape is a couple of weeks at Gwinganna, a health retreat in Queensland, Australia, known for their organic, gluten-free, dairy-free spa cuisine. Sadly, they don't accept kids. So if an active getaway with the family appeals -- a week or two where you don’t have to think about what to cook or even what to do each day -- any Active New Zealand tour would fit the bill nicely. We often cater for people with food allergies, including gluten intolerance, on our New Zealand hiking and adventure tours.
Whomever you decide to trust with your precious vacation time, discuss your food requirements with them well in advance – you don’t want to be stuck on a tour with nothing to eat!