One of the hardest parts of trying to eat a healthier diet or one that requires restrictions for some reason (such as an elimination diet or food allergies) is traveling. Usually after a few weeks of a new diet with food restrictions of one kind or another you get into a good routine and know that if you’re hungry you can go to your favorite new restaurant that has those vegan, gluten-free, sugar free, soy free (whatevers) and be satisfied. Or you can grab a handful of the one kind of nut you’re still able to eat along with an apple from the fridge to pack for a quick snack while doing errands. You know which loaf of bread is going to work because it’s soy-free, egg-free and still somehow holds its shape and tastes pretty good. Unfortunately, all bets are off when traveling away from home.
I myself am needing to follow a restricted diet thanks to uncovering quite a lot of food sensitivities. I’ve started feeling much better than I used to before starting this way of eating, so I definitely wanted to continue it on our latest family trip to Las Vegas to see my husband’s grandmother.
I started planning for this trip a few weeks in advance to give myself the best chance possible at eating a healthy-for-me diet. Spoiler alert: I didn’t eat 100% clean 100% of the time, even with all of the time, energy and focus I put into this. I am looking at it as a learning experience for next time.
Tips and Tricks for Eating a Restricted Diet on the Road:
1: research restaurants and nearby health food stores a few weeks before leaving for your trip so you know where you can get food that works for you quickly*
2: buy food that can go on the airplane if you’re flying for snacks/meals when you aren’t settled at your destination yet.
Some snack ideas that are clean/low allergen:
-fruit: fresh or dried prepared in an easy-to-eat manner
-hummus or another dip: as long as it is under 3.4 ounces/100mL
-chips or crackers that fit your diet
-non-creamy cheese (if you can eat it) or avocado slices
-homemade or store bought baked goods that work for your diet
-sandwiches from home that fit your diet
-applesauce or other fruit cups that are under 3.4 ounces/100 mL in size (don’t forget a spoon!)
Always make sure you have read the ingredients of any packaged food very thoroughly before taking it on your trip to be sure it works for your particular diet.
-Take along some utensils and wet naps so you can eat your food. You might want to use non-metal utensils to be sure they don’t get confiscated if you’re flying.
-Take an empty water bottle, you can fill it up once you get through security. My husband is a huge coffee drinker and usually gets a cup of coffee once we’re settled at our gate, usually the people at the coffee counter are amenable to filling up our bottles with fresh, filtered water for our trip.
3: If you are doing a road trip you can take a cooler with ice or dry ice (which will last a lot longer) and pack things like:
-bread that works for your diet
-cheese if you can eat it
-nut or seed butter
As well as a ‘dry goods’ stash with things like
-canned meats or fish
-seasonings such as spices and salt
-plates/cups/bowls/utensils/napkins or a roll of paper towels
If there is something you eat that you find really helpful to following your restricted diet, then bring it if you don’t think you’ll be able to get it where you’re going.
We stayed with my grandmother-in-law and used her kitchen and I’ve decided that the next time we visit I’ll be sure to bring some Himalayan or Celtic sea salt so I can use it in my cooking.
4: If you’re not staying with someone try to rent a place that has a mini kitchen so you can cook. If there are no motels or hotels with kitchens in your price range, you might consider renting something through Air BNB.
If that isn’t possible then at least get a room with a working fridge. If the rooms don’t normally come with a fridge the lodging place will almost always have one that can be delivered to your room. These refrigerators are provided for storing medication that requires refrigeration and in the case of a medically necessary diet this rule will work for your food as well.
*In regards to eating out:
1: Chain restaurantsoften list allergens on their online menus, so you can research what you can eat on their menu beforehand.
2: Salad bars will often be a good option as you can (mostly) see exactly what is going into your meal. Watch out for the dressings that are provided, as their full list of ingredients are often not available. I ended up making my own dressing with oil and vinegar that was provided.
3: Sit down restaurants that prepare the food on site can be a good place to get a piece of meat and some steamed vegetables with a salad.
4: You might consider providing your server/chef a list of the foods you are restricted from eating so they can be sure of what you are needing to avoid. This is an absolutely necessity if you have celiac disease and/or an anaphylactic (life threatening) allergy to certain foods.
5: Buffets are nice because they offer so many more foods and will (hopefully) include foods that will work for you. Be aware that they often don’t label the dishes with allergen warnings. This was where I had my one major snafu, as the wild rice dish I got probably had soy and dairy in it.
6: Look for specialty restaurants such as a vegan or gluten free restaurant. You might not be a vegan, but knowing that the food you're getting will definitely not have eggs in it can be really helpful if you're allergic to them.
This brings me to my final suggestion:
7: Bring digestive enzymes to take 30 minutes before you eat out to help deal with any consequences of allergens or foods sensitivities that you just can’t avoid. I would suggest a multifunctional one that works on fats, proteins and carbohydrates if you have multiple food sensitivities/allergies.
If you are interested in working on resolving long term health issues that may be related to food allergies or sensitivities, please visit a naturopathic doctor to help you. While restrictive diets can be difficult if you are able to follow them stringently and do gut healing at the same time you may eventually be able to add foods back into your diet without repercussion.