How to Take a Spring Break Vacation and “Staycation” With Food Allergies

Food allergies don't have to keep your family home this spring ...

Posted Mar 19, 2012

When my son Eden was first diagnosed with multiple and life threatening food allergies I was overwhelmed and assumed I wouldn't be leaving my Tri-State New York habitat for years to come. How to fly with a peanut allergy? How to eat in restaurants with if Eden can't eat butter or eggs? But I soon realized that embracing family travel and new experiences is in fact an essential when managing a chronic health condition. All families benefit from breaks in their routines. Families like mine, with special dietary needs, get especially tired of being tied to their kitchens. While the following tips are by no means exhaustive, start with these basic measures wherever you plan your spring break.

When travelling by plane:

Call Ahead: Before booking your flight, read the airline's allergy policy. Many airlines post their policy on their website. Then communicate these issues:

I.D. Your Food Allergy—When booking your flight, notify the reservation agent about the food allergy(s) and ask if your information can be forwarded to other personnel such as the gate agent, catering/food service, and flight crew. You can reconfirm with the ticket agent, and again with the flight attendants when you arrive.

Investigate Airline Snacks—You can ask in advance but also know that those airline snacks can change. While some airlines will serve a non-peanut/tree nut snack, such as pretzels, upon advance request, no airline to date will guarantee a peanut- or tree nut-free flight.

Pack Medication—For security purposes, I keep our Epipens in the original packaging and my son's emergency medical plan with additional medications, prescriptions and a travel letter from our doctor confirming that I need to carry on his medication and food/drinks.

Inspect Your Seating Area—Since some airplanes are often cleaned only at the end of the day, you might want to book an early morning flight, to minimize crumbs and residues. Barring that, bring wipes and extra foil or Tupperware for your child to eat from.

Avoid Airline Food—Seems like a no-brainer but yeah, don't let your allergic child eat the airline food. Pack from home.

When travelling locally or for day trips:

Call Ahead—Identify local restaurants or places you can plan on eating out on the road, like picnic or campsites. (I've never slept in an RV but spent car breaks safely eating among other campers.) You can also check out the websites of fast food restaurants where you would like to stop.

Pack Enough Food—and then pack some more. I've never regretted being over-prepared for my son and children's appetites can be unpredictable.

Don't Let Your Guard Down—Being tired from a long outing can make parents take risks.

When dining out on your more predictable but peaceful home staycation:

Plan the Allergy Meal: Look at the menu online. Troubleshoot your issues. For example, will your children want French fries? If so, do you need to be concerned that other unsafe fried foods could be cooked in the same fryer? What about dessert? If you make your allergy related decisions in advance everyone in your family can enjoy their food.

Call Ahead (yes, there is a recurring theme here): Ask for the restaurant manager and explain your allergy concerns. If they can accommodate your child then make a reservation to avoid the additional worry of having to wait.

ID Your Family: When you get to the restaurant you can explain to either the manager or the waiter your child's special needs. You can also give them an explanatory restaurant allergy card for them to carry to the kitchen.

Say Thank You!: My family's most relaxing restaurant meals are inevitably at the restaurants that we return to. If the restaurant handles food allergies well, let them know by giving your personal thanks.