Traveling with kids who can’t eat – Our NYC Trip
What’s it like to travel with a child with food allergies? Well, complicated and a bit stressful. But I think most parents would say that regardless. And I know all parents know that a hungry kid equals disaster. So really, traveling with food allergies just involves a heightened level of planning and preparedness.
We learned our lesson on our last trip to Disney World. Even with theoretically safe options, it’s best to plan on feeding Bubba ALL our OWN food. If we happen upon something safe for her, great. Otherwise, we want her to have full, tasty, meals comparable to what everyone around her is eating. So planning involves searching for safe restaurants and packing foods that can travel.
Finding safe places to eat
Your best resource is another allergy parent or food allergic adult. You can find them in Facebook support groups, on food allergy blogs (hello!), and on great websites like Allergy Eats. Once you find the names of a few places that have a reputation for understanding and accommodating food allergies, I recommend calling to talk to the restaurant ahead of time. Call when they are not likely to be busy. Be kind. Explain the food allergies you are managing and ask if there is someone there you could talk to about safe menu options and kitchen protocol. I have yet to contact a restaurant that didn’t fall into one of two distinct categories. Either they are completely unfamiliar with the issue, can’t seem to obtain ingredients, seem too bothered, or tell you honestly this isn’t something they can accommodate (always be grateful for honestly!). Or they GET IT. It’s so clear when they get it. They’re happy to read box labels to you over the phone, offer to make something off-menu, want you to alert the hostess of your allergy upon arrival, express their concerns over certain menu items because the likelihood of cross-contamination is too high. You get the idea.
I’m willing to cop to being mildly obsessive and driven to research so the task of exploring safe restaurants prior to a trip is really no biggie for me. Risking judgment for my geekiness. Here is the map I made prior to our NYC trip. It includes a few points of interest, lots of restaurants gleaned from my Facebook groups and Allergy Eats reviews, and even a few treat options.
After I made the map I called a few restaurants to have ‘the talk’. I lucked out and the third place I tried was the perfect mix of GETTING IT, location, and kid friendly-environment. Bill’s Bar and Burger was awesome. When I called, I spoke with a manager named Michael. He was kind. patient, and went back to the kitchen several times during our call to check ingredients. He made a special note in our reservation and said I should ask for him when we arrived.
Our experience there was phenomenal. We had a staff member (thank you Augusta!) guide our entire experience there. She wrote down all our allergens, went to speak to the kitchen directly, managed our order, brought out boxes to show us ingredients (seriously), and flagged a potential issue for us – turns out the ‘safe’ buns had a facility warning for sesame seeds so we nixed the bun. When Bubba’s food arrived it was carried by a separate server and had allergy stickers on her plates. Be still my Ninja heart.
I followed our meal with mass, profuse, thank-you’s and a generous tip. I hope to send more allergy families their way.
Our only other meal ‘out’ with Bubba was the continental breakfast at our hotel. The juice was safe, but that was it. Crazy, right? The oatmeal was served with nut toppings so the cross-contamination issue reared it’s ugly head, the fruit salad had pineapple, the yogurt, cheese and pastries all had dairy, the bread for toast had milk, nuts, or seeds, the jam was next to peanut butter, the hard-boiled eggs – well, you get the idea. But that leads us to why you plan.
Packing foods for travel
Our continental breakfast worked out just fine. We had brought bagels, margarine, oatmeal (just add the hot water from the tea bar), and grapes. Bubba had choices and we knew she’d like all of them. More than most parents can say when dining out with their three-year-old.
For lunch we first selected a Chipotle, but when I asked my kids about what they wanted off the menu they opted for food I already had packed instead. Bonus for the adults! We ate at a yummy Korean restaurant instead (harder to find in the ‘burbs) and served the girls the almond butter and jelly sandwiches and whole wheat tortilla/avocado/black bean wraps I had packed.
Most of our snacks for the train ride, hotel room, stroller munching, etc. were off our usual list of safe foods. In addition to the breakfast foods, I brought several lunch/dinner options:
- I pre-cooked plain pasta, added margarine and salt and packed it in a ziplock.
- I packed frozen chicken nuggets and put them in the hotel mini-bar when we arrived in our room. I’m lucky Bubba will always eat them cold. Ewwwwww.
- We brought pop-top cans of black beans and olives to add to wraps and pasta respectively.
- I packed avocado, a small zip-lock of salt, and a small tupperware of margarine to add to whatever called for it.
- We carried an unopened, unrefrigerated box of almond milk to add to cereal or for a bedtime drink.
- We brought extra special treats in case there was something the rest of us wanted. I don’t ever want Bubba to feel left out when she’s with her family. In this case, I brought Divvie’s Cookie Sandwiches and Jelly Belly candy canes.
- I packed slices of bread in a ziplock, put some almond butter and jelly in a small tupperware container and packed disposable utensils for making sandwiches in our hotel room.
- The week before our trip I made and froze a batch of vegan banana muffins. The morning we left I packed a bag full of frozen muffins and they traveled (and thawed) great.
All in all a very fun and stress-free trip. We had our Auvi-q set (epinephrine) with us everywhere we went as always and made sure to ask about the ingredients/preparation of anything Bubba wanted to eat.