12 Tips for Traveling With Kids With Food Allergies

Wish you could leave your allergies at home when you go on vacation? Follow these tips for smart traveling for you and your loved ones.

Photo By: Keith Levit / Design Pics / Getty Images

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Photo By: Natalie and Cody Gantz

Photo By: Jennifer Perkins

Take (Some) of the Fear Away

When you have a child with severe food allergies, you always walk a fine line. One side of you wants them to flourish, experience new things and try exotic foods, while the other side of you wants to keep them safely inside your peanut-free home all day. Whether it's milk, soy or sesame, at some point we have to let our kids out the door. This can be scary with the threats of unfamiliar kitchens. No worries — we've got 10 ideas for making traveling with food allergies a little less stressful.

Always Be Prepared

The most important thing you can do is make sure you always have your epinephrine auto-injectors close at hand. No matter which brand you prefer, always have two with you. Yes, two. Having an over-the-counter allergy medicine on hand is also not a bad idea. As a parent of a child with food allergies, you know what your doctor has told you to do in case of an emergency and what the action plan is. Don't board the plane, hike into the canyon or ride off into the sunset without your EpiPen or Auvi-Q.

Make Arrangements

If you're taking a plane, call ahead and ask that they not serve nuts, for example, during your flight. Remind the flight staff of your child's allergies once you check in, and they will often make an announcement asking passengers to also refrain from eating food with nuts while on the flight. The same principle could be applied to other travel options. I've even called ahead when taking a vintage steam train to ask about not serving peanuts after a previous ride where I spotted a precarious toddler wobbling around the aisles merrily spilling nutty trail mix behind her through the train cars.

Inform (+ Re-Inform) the Fam

If your travel plans include visiting family, remind Papa to lay off his favorite snack of dry-roasted nuts, and tell Grandma that, yes, even zero-percent milk is still milk that your child cannot have. Sometimes it's hard for people (even family members) to completely grasp the severity of food allergies. Words like cross-contamination are not in their vernacular. I remind all my well-meaning family to keep the packaging of anything they're cooking so that I can double check for myself. More than once I've caught a chocolate chip bag in the mix that was labeled "may contain peanuts."

Wipe It Down

Coming in contact with allergen residue is no joke. I've seen my child's face swell from touching a couch in a public place. It's always a good idea when taking public transport of any kind to wipe down your child's seat first. Soap and water aren't always available, so baby wipes are your next best bet. And remember that antibacterial hand sanitizer won't completely remove allergen proteins from a surface or hands.

Research Restaurants

My family has some go-to peanut-free restaurants in Austin. I know others have them for other towns. A quick search online can help you plot your food-safe journey. International travel is an entirely different ball of wax, but here in the States, parents of children with food allergies talk. If you're going somewhere new, consider calling ahead and speaking with the manager or chef. Remind them of your food allergies once you arrive. Also, carrying a chef's card with you for restaurants is always a good idea.

Take the Kitchen With You

Taking a road trip with an RV and your very own kitchen seems like a great alternative for food-allergy families. You don't have to trust any surly teenage waitstaff with your child's food order, because you can make it yourself. This option, in the long run, could also save money because you're not having to eat meals out.

Book a Room With a Kitchen

Like the idea of taking the kitchen with you but don't necessarily want to drive said kitchen? Rent a room with one, or you can even look into Home Away or Airbnb. This way, you can cook safe meals at home while on vacation without the worry.

Pack a Lunch

Remember when you were a kid and your parents would pack the cooler in the back of the station wagon full of bologna sandwiches and mealy apples? No? Just me? Well, go retro and pack a food-safe lunch for the family to take on the road. There are grocery stores almost everywhere, and you can spread dairy-free mayo onto gluten-free bread in the parking lot.

Don't Let Hanger Happen

Whether your child has a food allergy or not, we all know few things are scarier than a hangry child. Different kids have different sensitivities to their allergens. For instance, my son has been upgraded to being able to eat food labeled "made in a factory with peanuts." However, some children never reach that status. Always keep a stash of "safe" snacks on hand in your purse, backpack or car.

Help is On the Way!

Every day, advances are being made to ensure food-allergen safety. The latest gadget to hit the market is the Nima Food Sensor. If you put a piece of food inside, it will test for gluten, and soon, it will also be able to test for peanuts. Inventions like this could make the world your oyster, even if you are allergic to oysters and shellfish.

Don't Hold Back

So, let the waitstaff roll their eyes, let that passenger be put out about not getting to eat a granola bar, and pleasantly answer "no" when your aunt asks for the 437th time if she has outgrown it yet. It's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to food allergies. You are your child's best advocate, and until they're old enough to be trusted to do these things themselves, it's your job. (Although, I'll probably still be wiping down my 6-year-old's seat when he flies off on his honeymoon.)

Acceptance and understanding of the severity of food allergies have come a long way with one in every 13 children being affected. Travel is not as nerve-wracking as it once was and it's getting better all the time. Don't let food allergies hold your child back from experiencing life; just be prepared for those experiences.

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