Vacation with a Food-Allergic ToddlerPosted: December 16, 2009
Wow, it’s been almost a month since I last posted, and yet there is much I have to say! I better get started and make up for lost time!
We recently went on a week-and-a-half vacation to Savannah, GA and then Disney World in Orlando, FL. Almost two months prior to our vacation, I began planning how to feed my Certain Little Someone throughout the vacation, because just the thought of him having a reaction on vacation stressed me out.
My basic approach to his allergies is this: it’s my responsibility to feed him and to feed him safely. It’s not anybody else’s responsibility, so I cannot expect them to bend over backwards to provide food he can eat. This attitude keeps me from stressing out and from getting upset when restaurants or other places are unable to feed him safe foods. It creates extra work for me, in some ways, but the ease of mind is definitely worth it.
To prepare for the vacation, this is what I did:
*I began combing the grocery stores, reading label information meticulously, to find ready-made foods he could eat. I wanted shelf-stable packages of food that I could open up and feed him, or if necessary, add some hot water (easily available at any restaurant of any kind). Normally, I don’t like to feed him processed foods, but we knew we would have no access to a refrigerator, at least in Disney World, so I had to bring shelf-stable foods.
*As I found inexpensive foods he could eat, I would test them on him. Food-Allergic Moms know the drill: feed a small amount, watch for a reaction for several minutes, with Benadryl and EpiPen close at hand. If there’s no reaction, proceed cautiously. Repeat several days in a row just to be on the safe side.
*I was also testing for his likes and dislikes. I did not want to even attempt to feed him food on vacation that I knew he would fight! Vacations are supposed to be fun, including the food you eat!
*Once I had a good repertoire of food he liked and could eat, I made a spreadsheet with our trip’s itinerary. I planned in advance his breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus so that his diet would be reasonably varied. Once the menu was planned, I created a shopping list from it and got all the food on one major shopping trip.
*I made a bag (using old gift bags stashed in my closet) for each day, filled with all the food he would need for that day. I included in each bag a disposable bib, a fork and spoon, his formula powder (pre-measured), and a variety of snacks. I attached a label with the day and date so I wouldn’t get confused.
What about the usual tips for eating out with food allergies? The typical recommendation is to call the restaurant ahead and speak to the chef or manager and make preparations. I didn’t do this for several reasons:
1. My son has multiple allergies, some of them unusual (beef, for example), and it’s very difficult for some restaurants to even make food that he can eat.
2. I’m something of a control freak, and have a hard time trusting perfect strangers that, even though they do their best, they won’t accidentally cross-contaminate with utensils, plates, pans, etc.
3. I wanted vacation to be relaxing and fun, not stressful, and I knew I would stress out about food constantly if I was completely relying on strangers to feed him.
4. I did NOT want an anaphylactic reaction while away from home! Of course, I don’t want him to have one in any case, but away from home, in another state, is just ten times worse.
Having said that, I DID make some attempt to follow the usual advice. We ate at Lady and Sons in Savannah, GA (Paula Deen’s restaurant), and I called them in advance, which didn’t really help much. The receptionist on the phone gave me their menu but basically said there was nothing they could do until the actual day, so to ask the server when we arrived. So much for planning ahead!
So, as I mentioned before, I packed his own food and brought it with me to the restaurant. My plan was to feed him anything there that he could eat, and even if there was nothing safe, he could still eat what was packed. When I asked the server about his allergies and possible food options, he was very willing to help and spoke to the chef for me. However, because all the vegetables and many of the other items were cooked with butter (It was Paula Dean’s restaurant, after all!), only the ham and some raisins from the salad bar were suitable for my Certain Little Someone. They actually offered to pan-fry some chicken breast in olive oil and spices (they were sure to specify in a clean pan), but I knew that would take longer, and everyone else was already enjoying their food. So the server brought some ham and raisins from the kitchen in clean dishes, and I supplemented with the food I had packed. That was more or less successful, but I was happy I had a contingency plan!
As for Disney World, I didn’t even bother to call ahead, for several reasons. For one thing, I didn’t even know which restaurants we would be eating at. For another, we had purchased a package with a meal plan that did not include meals for children under 3. He would have had to eat off me or my husband’s plate, and neither of us wanted to be on his diet, at least not on vacation.
We went to a couple buffets, though, and at the first one, I fed him some grapes, which he loved. I also asked about some of the meat, which I think he could have eaten safely, but the chef and I had something of a language barrier. In the end, the chef offered to make some plain turkey breast for him, but after waiting 15-20 minutes, someone came from the kitchen to tell us that they tried, but there were no more plain turkey breasts available. So that was a total strikeout and I didn’t even bother the rest of the trip.
All in all, my strategy was successful and our vacation was relaxing and fun, just as it should be!
What are your tips for getting through vacation safely with a food allergic child?