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 fine. 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 ahead of it.

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 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.

Tomorrow we have a Soup and Stuff pot-luck at our own church. I’m bringing Chili which can be eaten as is or served on top of Corn Waffles and topped with Cheese Sauce. I make the Corn Waffles ahead, then bring a toaster for people to heat them up. I cook the Chili in a large crock pot and keep the Cheese Sauce hot in a small crock pot.

Here’s the recipe for this tasty, filling dish.

2 thoughts on “Traveling with a Special Diet

  1. I like your ideas on handling a get together, but do you ask questions on preparation? For me that is always an awkward question and I have been glutened by people who mean well but are preparing non gluten free foods at the same time as preparing gluten free foods in the past, so now I generally avoid food at get togethers that I have not made, which isn’t that fun and telling someone “no thankyou” when they may made a special gluten free dish just for you makes me feel like I am being rude, when I am just protecting my health!

    • This is a question that every Celiac must decide for themselves. If you are very sensitive and just can’t tolerate the smallest amount you could say, “I’m sorry but I’m so sensitive that I feel I can’t eat anything I haven’t prepared myself.” OR “I’m sorry, but I have to be careful. Could I just ask you a few questions about preparation?” My husband will eat it if the cook believes it is gluten free. Sometimes I ask, “What is in the sauce? Is there anything like soy sauce, worchestershire sauce, etc?” If you don’t feel you can take the slightest risk you’ll probably never eat out. We have our stories of foods we thought were G-F and definitely were not and made him sick. But in our case, Art tries to get a pretty good idea about it beforehand, and then eats it if it seems to be G-F.

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