Traveling with a Special Diet

chili wafflesManaging a special diet while you are traveling is a fine art. We are missionaries so every few years we spend months in America in which we travel most of the time. My husband is a Celiac and must have a gluten-free diet. He also likes to eat (rather than starve, which is the obvious alternative.) Our first challenge wherever we go is finding food he can eat. This has not only built our patience, it has taught us some tips that we’re happy to pass on to others who struggle with a special diet when they travel.

Eating in Restaurants

Prepare to take extra time and patience to order your meal.

Often counter clerks, waitresses, even managers may be unfamiliar with the special needs for your diet. You are asking them questions which may be hard to answer. You may have to ask them to bring out a gallon jar of dressing to check the label or hunt down a brochure which is hard to find. You are more likely to get the help you need if you continue to smile and patiently work with them to find something you can eat.

Do your homework.

Before you leave home, research websites of food chains noting what their options are for your diet. Many times you can download diet specifications and bring it with you. Then if the counter clerk or waitress doesn’t know what you can have, you’ll be prepared ahead of time. You will still need to specify your diet and double check on it, but it will give you more confidence and save time if you have done this before you’re standing in line waiting to order.

You can also phone the restaurant ahead of time and ask about their menu. If you are going to a new restaurant, you may want to ask if they have menu options for your diet before you are seated. We have had to walk out of some restaurants because they have nothing Art can eat or they aren’t willing to work with us.

Home Invitations

Communicate ahead of time.

If we are invited to someone’s home or we will be visiting a church, we always tell them ahead of time about Art’s diet. We recommend my website as a place to find recipes and guidelines about what he can eat. If you have a complicated diet it is much better to warn the hostess ahead of time than to show up hoping there will be something you can eat.

Suggest some easy menus. Some cooks like challenges and want to try new recipes. Some, like me, want to keep it simple. I tell them Art can always have plain meat and vegetables. It’s the seasonings that get them into trouble. For lunch I often recommend nachos with G-F chips like Tostitos, seasoned ground beef with Taco Seasoning like Old El Paso, a can of tomatoes, and a can of G-F baked beans.

Bring helpful items with you.

We always travel with a box of G-F cereal so breakfast is always easy. Sometimes we bring a loaf of G-F bread. You could bring a can a soup you know you can have or a few things that travel well. With the stress taken away from breakfast and lunch, it’s not as hard for your hostess to prepare supper.

Pot Luck Dinners

Bring a dish you can eat to share with others.

This is often the easiest solution. Sometimes you are coming from out of town, however, and can’t do this. If this is the case I suggest the next option.

Nose around in the kitchen ahead of time.

On furlough we eat pot luck dinners almost every Sunday. Because we are missionaries, we’re usually pushed to go to the first of the line and we feel the pressure to choose quickly and make way for others. This usually works better if I amble off to the kitchen ahead of time, make friendly conversation with one of the cooks who doesn’t look too distracted, and ask some questions. I might take a glance at the table first and spy out dishes that look like they might likely be G-F, then ask if anyone knows who made that dish.

When I first start doing this I get some funny looks like “why is this lady inspecting our food?” I try to explain early on why I am being so nosey. If the first person I approach can’t help, they can often introduce me to someone who can. This is also easier if we have already notified the pastor ahead of time so at least one cook has prepared a G-F item.


Allergy Friendly Communion Bread

Cooking for people with allergies can be difficult, especially if you aren’t used to cooking that way! People with allergies are, however, real people with real needs. They deal with their allergies every day of their lives. The church can be a blessing to them by finding out about their allergies and working with them. Communion time is a great time to show love and respect for sincere Christians who have to deal with allergies.

Communion bread is easy to make using my recipe. Using gluten free flour makes the bread gluten free. If you choose your gluten free flour carefully, you can also make it soy free or maize free.  My husband is pastor of our mission church and must eat gluten free. We also have people who need soy free or dairy free diets. I make all our communion bread with this recipe that can work for everyone in our church.

Just recently I’ve discovered some crackers that also work for communion. If you hunt around, you may also find some that work for you.

If you picture yourself as a Christian who, because of allergies, could never again take communion, you’ll realize what a blessing your allergy friendly communion bread can be.  With a little effort you can include every Christian in your church in your communion service.

Butterscotch Brownies

1/2 cup (100g) butter or margarine

2 cups brown sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum or guar gum (optional)

1/3 cup cocoa

1 1/2 cups GF flour

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Blend together. Spread in a 9 x 13 inch pan. (23 x 33 cm pan) Bake at 350F (175C) for 30-35 minutes.

Gluten-Free Company Coming?

    You’ve just invited company and now you find out they have to have a gluten-free diet. Now you

are having second thoughts. What will you fix? Maybe you wish you hadn’t even invited them.

      But consider this. People who need a gluten-free diet (celiacs) are often very nice people who don’t get invited out much. They will especially appreciate the extra effort you take to prepare the meal. They didn’t ask to have this problem and they don’t have any choice about it. They can live absolutely normal lives when they figure out how to handle their diet. Their biggest problem is eating out or eating with people who aren’t used to cooking gluten-free.

            A gluten-free diet means no wheat, rice, barley. Usually no oats either. Check to see if there are other foods they need to avoid.

            You can always have plain meat and vegetables, rice and potatoes. It’s the seasonings and sauces that can get them into trouble. Vegetable salads are fine, but check the labels on the dressings. You can also use many other ingredients if you learn how to read labels. Here are some things to consider in label-reading:

–You can be sure it’s gluten-free if it says gluten-free. For a very sensitive celiac you are better to stick with labels that declare themselves gluten-free. Some labels will say, “manufactured on equipment that also processes gluten.” That disclaimer protects the company. Very sensitive celiacs will avoid anything with labels like these, but many celiacs can get by with them.

–In the US it has to declare wheat if it has wheat in it. The exception is meat with marinades or vitamins. Those items don’t have to declare wheat so watch out for them. In the US they do not have to declare barley or rye. Malt comes from barley. Malt vinegar is not OK. Other vinegars are. Isomalt, however, is OK.

–Most soy sauce, worchestershire sauce, and bouillon cubes have gluten. If wheat is not in the ingredients some celiacs can eat these. Very sensitive celiacs will only use them if they say gluten-free.

–Some baking powder and cornstarch has wheat added. If the ingredients don’t list wheat, it’s fine.

–Old El Paso taco seasoning is gluten-free and works to season many things. Old El Paso and Ortega will list gluten if it is included.

–The best flour is often a mix of several flours. The mix I use in New Zealand is rice and soy, but many gluten-free flours are now available in the US.

–If your other ingredients are gluten-free, a Celiac can have gravy if you thicken it with cornstarch or arrowroot.

–Many flour sort of recipes list xanthan gum or guar gum as an ingredient. This gives a bit more body to the dish, but if you’re not using it regularly, don’t go out and buy a bottle. Just leave it out.



This is one daughter’s favourite link for making a meal for a Celiac:


This link gives guidelines on companies that go above and beyond regulations to make their labels easy for Celiacs to read. My daughter carries a company-name list in her purse to help with shopping:



For more on meat labels see: