First published in Allergic Living magazine; to subscribe click here.
It was the most memorable meal of my life. My son Daniel’s eyes lit up as the Disneyland chef presented him with a plate piled high with allergen-free Mickey Mouse waffles. Like icing on a very special cake, the stack was dolloped with dairy-free whipped cream and served with a tall glass of rice milk.
Daniel was in heaven, a 3-year-old out enjoying his first meal at a new destination, just like any other child. As I thanked the chef I started to cry. In his full sentimental character, “Goofy” spotted my emotion and rushed over to give us a group hug.
Making this special moment happen required planning and precise communication on my part, but it didn’t make the experience any less magical.
Vacations offer opportunities to show (not just tell) our food-allergic kids what is possible with some extra effort. To maximize the fun while avoiding unexpected events during action-packed trips, I’ve used the following preparation checklist.
Book a safe haven that is equipped with amenities for preparing your own food. Renting a vacation home offers an additional level of comfort, but for the hotel experience, extended stay or family oriented lodgings often have rooms with full kitchens or kitchenettes. At the least, many resorts will provide a mini-refrigerator for your room, or will have a breakfast area available with microwaves and toasters, and supply outdoor grills for guest use. We pack toaster bags and wax paper to protect food while heating and foil for creating a barrier on barbecues.
Location, Location, Location
When choosing where to stay, consider the distance to natural food stores and allergy-friendly restaurant chains. Once you decide on a place, find out where the closest emergency medical care is located and key the address and phone number into your mobile phone.
Make sure your child’s prescriptions and Emergency Care Plan are up to date. Schedule a visit to the doctor before your trip if there are any last-minute symptoms or if you are traveling out of the country.
Vacation is not the time to try out new food products. We once wound up at the emergency room in Orlando after I fed my son a different brand of ketchup! If you cannot fit them in a suitcase, fill a carton with your shelf-stable necessities and ship it ahead to your hotel. Most hotels are willing to hold a package for upcoming guests with advance notice.
Home Cooking To Go
Exhaustion and hunger are common after a long day of travel. For that first night in a new location, my family travels with one precooked frozen meal. We pack homemade meatballs in marinara sauce or beef and broccoli in freezer-safe pans which can also be heated in an oven or microwave while we settle in.
A cooler backpack filled with safe snacks and meals is a lifesaver during full days at the beach, amusement parks or when sightseeing. Pack twice as much food as you think you will need, and have a letter from your allergist explaining the medical necessity for bringing your own food.
To avoid concerns if your gang splits up, keep separate sets of your child’s medications with different family members. Mom can have one set in her purse, dad can stow another in his backpack, and older kids can carry their own.
Treat Them Right
Walking around a tourist destination, your kids will notice the tantalizing junk food at every turn. To keep them from feeling left out, call ahead to find allergy-friendly treats and take note of locations where they are sold. Let your child know in advance that while she cannot have anything she wants, there will be some yummy safe desserts. While my son’s allergies limit his choices, we can usually locate cotton candy, snow cones or fancy popsicles.
We have always told my son that in most cases, it’s not a question of “if” he can do something but “how” he can do it. Like our trip to Disneyland, it might require several days of preparation, but seeing that beaming smile on his face as he lifted a forkful of fluffy waffles was well worth every moment of effort.
Gina Clowes is a certified life coach and consultant who helps parents and schools advocate for children with food allergies. She is the founder of AllergyMoms.com, a support community serving thousands worldwide.