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Gluten-Free While On Vacation

My husband and I just returned from a short trip to Seattle. Unlike many people who use vacations as an excuse to break their diets or try new foods they wouldn’t otherwise experiment with, those of us who suffer from celiac disease (or other food intolerances) aren’t quite so lucky. We must remain gluten-free 24 hours a day, even while on vacation. It can be a drag. Especially when my dining companions are digging into a plate of the biggest onion rings I’ve ever seen, or my husband is raving over a chocolate chip cookie he got at a local bakery.

It wasn’t all bad though. Before our trip to Seattle I’d had it in my head that it was something of a gluten-free Mecca, and it kind of was. My friend took me to Wheatless in Seattle, a completely gluten-free bakery that is run out of a converted home in the middle of a Seattle neighborhood. We found several other bakeries/dessert shops that offered gluten-free options. And the staff in all of the restaurants we dined in were aware of food intolerances and willing to direct me to the safest choices on the menu. In some cases they even made substitutions. One seafood restaurant in Pike Place Market gladly made me some gluten-free (read: grilled instead of battered) fish and chips, even though the grilled fish was not on their lunch menu. That’s the kind of service that wins return visits and recommendations to my other gluten-free friends.

Compared to some of the other places we’ve visited, it was fairly easy to work around the gluten-free issue in Seattle. However, regardless of where you are traveling this summer, here are some tips to make dining on vacation easier for you and your gluten-free family. These are just a few things I’ve picked up over the years of traveling with a gluten-free child (and now, being gluten-free myself).

  • Do your homework before your trip. Once we had our plane tickets I began researching gluten-free restaurants in Seattle online. I talked to my friends who live in Seattle and asked them to keep an eye out for gluten-free choices in restaurants and stores. They got recs from their gluten-free friends. I checked to see if some of our favorite chain restaurants that have gluten-free menu items (The Old Spaghetti Factory, Chipotle) had locations in Seattle. We didn’t dine at them on this trip because we wanted to try the local establishments, but if the kids had been with us they might have been good choices.
  • Pack snacks. Take small, easily portable snacks to stash in a purse, diaper bag or backpack. Gluten-free options can be hard to come by in airports or on planes. If you have a busy day of sightseeing where you might skip meals or eat at odd times you will want to make sure you have something on hand in case you or your children get hungry. Depending on where you are, gluten-free choices may not be available. It’s easy to grab a granola bar from a hotel vending machine or nearby convenience store, not always so easy to find a gluten-free equivalent.
  • Do  your shopping. Depending on where you stay and how long you plan to be traveling, you may want to go grocery shopping to make sure you have gluten-free options on hand. On this most recent trip I bought a loaf of bread at Wheatless in Seattle and used it to make sandwiches for lunch one day (with the leftover meat and cheese platter we’d ordered from our hotel’s in-room dining menu the previous evening). We also bought fresh fruit at Pike Place Market for healthy snacks and breakfasts. Other times I have gone to the grocery store and bought cereal and yogurt (if our hotel room has a fridge) to have on hand for breakfasts.

Fresh (gluten-free!) cherries from Pike Place Market in Seattle

  • When dining out, don’t be afraid to make special requests. When we are at a new restaurant I first ask for a gluten-free menu and explain that my son and I have celiac disease. If the restaurant doesn’t have one the server usually (but not all the time) will tell me what is safe to eat or ask the chef about a specific item I’m interested in. Often (but not always) they are happy to make substitutions: grilled fish for fried fish, corn tortillas for flour tortillas, fruit or grilled veggies for other sides.

It can be a bit of an inconvenience to always have to worry about food, even while on vacation, but it’s a small price to pay to avoid ruining a vacation with an unexpected gluten reaction (as I experienced–due to my own mistake–on a trip last fall). What are your tips for dealing with the gluten-free lifestyle while on vacation?

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