Whether you are on a mini weekend getaway, an extended vacation, or traveling for work, being on a gluten-free diet shouldn’t keep you from leaving home. Once you learn some handy tips and tricks, traveling can be fun and stress-free, and perhaps it may even be inspirational. Traveling not only opens the door to new cultures and experiences, but it also invites new gluten-free culinary explorations.
Do your Homework:
Firstly, take the time to plan, prepare, and research. Once your destination is set, and your method of transportation chosen, do some research on restaurants that offer gluten-free options, either along the way if you’re traveling by car, or in your final destination if traveling by air. While other restaurants may still be able to accommodate your needs, those which indicate they offer gluten-free items are more likely to be a good bet. Finding these new gems along your travel path can be both exciting and rewarding. However most importantly, doing the extra leg work beforehand, will help ease the stress when hunger strikes.
Secondly, preparing and packing gluten-free foods in advance, can make your trip even easier and healthier. Choosing to pack naturally gluten-free foods such as whole fruits and chopped veggies, as well as jerky, cheese, beans, nuts and seeds can keep you full and satisfied when on the go. Minimally processed snack foods such as plain corn chips, popcorn, or even rice cakes can be great additions as well.
Now that you are planned, prepared, and well researched it’s time to hit the road and fly with the birds!
On the Road:
Traveling on the road is always a wonderful way to see the land but may be challenging if you have not planned, prepared, and researched in advance. Using your previous restaurant research can be of great help as you bounce from state to state, but having healthy handy snacks and meals on hand can be a lifesaver whether you are camping or staying in hotels. Below are some great food ideas to fill your cooler and dry goods tote as you travel across the nation.
Packing your Cooler:
Always, always make sure to have a fresh ice pack in your cooler to keep your perishables fresh and safe. Some easy items to pack include; individually packaged plain yogurt, aged cheese, hard-boiled eggs, gluten-free deli meats, pre-cut hardy veggies (broccoli, sugar snap peas, carrots, celery, cauliflower), sprouts, hummus, gluten-free salad dressing, fresh salsa, and gluten-free wraps.
Packing your Dry Goods Tote:
Whether you are preparing your own meals on a camp stove, using a hotel microwave, or having a beach picnic it is always easy to bring along canned food items as well as other dry goods for quick meal ideas. Some healthy options include canned whole or refried beans, canned gluten-free soup, canned fish (tuna, salmon, sardines), whole fresh fruit, avocados, nuts/seeds, dried fruit, gluten-free granola, quinoa, quick cook brown rice, squeezable honey, corn chips, popcorn, rice cakes, nut butter, jam, and whole-grain gluten-free bread. And don’t forget to pack the salt and pepper shakers (or one with both) for the extra spice.
Note: Look out for local farmer’s markets and grocers on the way to restock on perishable foods and find fun new items.
In the Air:
Compared to traveling on the road flying can be more challenging because flexibility is reduced. Many airlines do not offer gluten-free meals, and many airport restaurants do not offer gluten free menu options. In addition, there are multiple security regulations in place that may inhibit travelers from bringing their own gluten-free food items. However, once again a little research and a little planning can go a long way for your ease and your health.
Firstly, research your airline. Some airlines offer special meals for individuals following certain diets including gluten-free. Only a few indicate that their meals are approved and monitored by a Registered Dietitian. Therefore, it is up to you to contact the airline regarding their gluten-free standards. Most airlines require customers to pre-order special meals 24-72 hours in advance.
Secondly, come prepared. Packing some gluten-free snacks and even meals from home can save you time, money, and stress when the unexpected occurs. However, many travelers are uncertain what foods they can or cannot bring past security. Follow the steps below to pack a TSA approved snack or meal.
For ultimate ease pack dry snacks. However if you do want to take liquids or gels such as yogurt, hummus, salad dressing, or dips be aware that you must comply with TSA regulations. Any liquid or gel must be in a sealed container with no more than 100ml (3.4oz) per container. Place all liquids and gels (this includes any carry-on toiletries) into a single quart-sized Ziplock bag. Each traveler is allowed only one Ziplock bag.
Only pack whole fruit through security. Half eaten bananas or apples will be confiscated unless placed into a bag or properly wrapped.
Dry snacks or sandwiches can be packed as long as they are wrapped or are in a sealed container. Do not wrap with aluminum foil as it will interfere with the x-ray machines.
Note: If you are traveling internationally, depending on the country, you may need to throw out any uneaten perishable food items, including fruits and vegetables.
Packing your Carry On:
Bringing gluten-free snacks and meals from home can make flying both easier and healthier. Often times airline meals are high in sodium and rich in calories. Furthermore, the amount of water served on long flights is not enough to stay properly hydrated. This combination can easily promote dehydration and fatigue. Choosing to bring fresh whole fruits and vegetables and other low sodium snack options can help you stay fit and fueled a mile high.
Smart Mini Meal Ideas
Always bring an empty water bottle to fill up after you pass security. This way you can stay hydrated on longer flights.
Make an antipasti plate: bring sliced apples, cut carrots, aged cheese, ¼ cup hummus*, and gluten-free crackers.
Snack on low sodium popcorn, trail mix, and/or dried fruit.
Pack a homemade marinated bean salad.
Bring a wrapped sandwich.
Pack 1/3 cup yogurt*, trail mix, and banana.
Bring a small avocado and spread on gluten-free bread or crackers.
*Follow the TSA regulations above for liquids and gels.
Dining on the Go:
Whether you are on the road or flying into a foreign country, eating out is part of the fun of travel. Researching beforehand can alleviate stress when arriving at your final destination. However, in life not all things can be planned. Below are a few great tips for successful gluten-free dining, wherever you are.
Gather information: Review the menu and identify if there are items which appear to be gluten-free. Then, speak directly with the staff to confirm gluten-free status of all ingredients and identify practices are in place to avoid cross-contamination. Evaluate whether or not you feel adequate precautionary measures are in place.
Ask Questions: Speaking to staff about food preparation can help identify any possible contamination issues and also help highlight potential ways to bypass them.
a. Are separate cutting boards, utensils, fryers, and toasters used in order to avoid cross-contamination?
b. Can substitutions be made? Corn tortillas in place of flour tortillas or gluten-free tamari in place of soy sauce.
c. Does the salad have croutons? And does the salad dressing contain any gluten?
If your dining experience is a success always thank the staff for accommodating your needs.
Finally, traveling can be a wonderful opportunity to explore and gather culinary inspiration to bring back home, especially if you are traveling abroad. Look for local markets, street vendors, and specialty grocers to find fun new cooking ingredients and recipes that highlight the local cuisine. However, be careful, as sometimes seemingly gluten-free items may still contain gluten.
Note: Currently there are serval apps available that may further support your gluten-free restaurant search. See the app review in the Winter 2015 issue of this magazine.
Home Sweet Home:
Returning back home is often just as magical as traveling away from home. Sharing all the newly acquired ideas, tools, or skills you have learned with family and friends is a wonderful opportunity to educate others around you. Plus, traveling gluten-free in the future will be a walk in the park!
This article has been assessed and approved by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.