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Traveling with Food Allergies
June 5, 2012
All I wanted for my 40th birthday was a weekend trip to Penn State, my alma mater, where I could show my kids a place I hold dear and spend time with some amazing friends. But traveling with a food-allergic child can be stressful. For me, that anxiety was eased with preparation, consideration and awareness.
I don't allow Joseph, who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame and mustard, to eat any food that is not prepared by me. So before we embarked on our 8-hour road trip, I loaded up the cooler, insulated bags and lunch boxes with safe food for my 9-year-old son. Lots of wipes, paper towels, and disposable placemats are staples. Of course, we don’t go anywhere without his medical pack containing two EpiPens, Benadryl, his inhaler and a copy of his allergy action plan. In addition when we travel, I make sure all of his daily medications have a full prescription, and I pack his nebulizer, Xopenex and two additional EpiPens that are usually kept at home.
Once I booked our feather-free suite (Joseph has asthma and environmental allergies, as well), complete with a refrigerator and microwave, it was time to plan the menu with Joseph. After all, I wanted him to enjoy his food while he's watching the rest of us sample restaurant fare. My daughter Pamela, 3, also eats only Joseph's food when we travel so that she doesn’t create an added risk for him.
I cooked and froze several entrees, enough so that both kids could get two meals out of each dish. We also packed plenty of fruit and non-perishable food, such as Enjoy Life granola that both kids like to eat for breakfast or as a snack, single-serve applesauce, Enjoy Life cookies and Green Mountain Gringo tortilla strips that made an easy snack the kids could eat plain in the car and a plate of nachos in the hotel room with a little melted Daiya cheddar and mozzarella. Earlier, I had frozen some cupcakes and cake slices that we’d made for celebrations during the previous month, so the kids could have special treats, as well.
But the biggest treat for them was spending time with their friends. Before the trip, my friend Michele had asked what snacks would be OK for her kids to eat near Joseph and what they could do to make him safe. I asked her just to avoid anything with peanuts, peanut butter or tree nuts and requested that everyone wash their hands after meals. Not only did Michele and her kids comply with these requests, they did so without mentioning it. Each time we stopped to eat at a restaurant, I wiped Joseph's table area and chair and placed his paper placemat in front of him. As he pulled his own plastic cutlery, juice box or water bottle and safe food out of his lunch box, the happy chatter of his friends continued. There were no disparaging comments about what Joseph couldn't eat or begrudging attitudes about washing their hands.
This meant the world to me. The consideration and kindness of these friends made it possible for Joseph to just be a kid and enjoy himself, instead of being singled out or anxious because of his allergies.
My kids had a blast hanging out with Michele's kids. Whether they were checking out footballs at the Penn State All-Sports Museum, posing by the Joe Paterno statue, having water battles in the hotel pool or playing miniature golf, Joseph was just one of the gang.
When it comes to food allergies and celiac disease, everyone has different comfort levels about what is safe and what works for them. As the summer travel season heats up, what steps do you take to travel and have fun with your special diet?