How I Survived a 12-Day Road Trip with a Gluten Free Picky Eater

Gluten Free Guide - I survived a 12-day road trip with a gluten free picky eater and lived to tell about it! I actually fed three picky eaters for 12 days, and we all had a great time. Visit the post to learn my tips. {}

When you have a gluten free kid, a long trip can feel daunting. When you have a gluten free kid who is also a picky eater, a long trip can feel like a nightmare! Last summer, we took a two-week road trip across country with a gluten free picky eater and survived to tell about it. We even had a great time! Want to know our secrets and tricks? Here you go:

How to travel and still eat well with a gluten free picky eater

RELATED: Best Road Trip Hacks for Families, DIY Seat Belt Cover

*Two of my three kids are picky eaters, so we had to have picky eater food for everyone, not just my gluten free kiddo!

Before you go:
  • Make a list of favorite gluten free snacks and meals. Circle the things that will survive a car trip (in or out of a cooler). That’s a good place to start with things to pack for the trip.
  • Consider fast food options. Are there gluten free fast food options your child likes? Are those restaurants available along your route?
  • Consider using a gluten free app to find gluten free options along your route. We use the Find Me Gluten Free app. It finds gluten free (and gluten free friendly) restaurants close to you and includes reviews from real people letting you know their experience in each restaurant. (Did they get sick eating there? Did the restaurant have a dedicated area for preparing gluten free food? Etc.) It also gives you directions to the restaurant. (I’m not affiliated with this app in any way. I just like it, and thought you might like it, too!)
  • Check the hotels where you will be staying. Do they offer buffet breakfasts? Is there anything at the buffet that is gluten free, or will you need to provide your own breakfast food?

After going through those steps, here’s what worked for us:

Breakfast options:

Gluten Free Travel Guide -- When traveling with picky eaters, pack gluten free cereal! When there are no other options, you can always order milk and let the kids eat cereal! {Get more tips on}

  • Cold Cereal — I packed a couple of Boo’s favorite gluten free cereals in large zip lock bags (with a scoop in each bag for easy dishing). Gluten free cereals are often available in hotel breakfast buffets, but you never know if the cereal that was in the dispenser before that one was gluten free. My daughter is super sensitive, so we don’t risk it. I never thought of this until now, but it may be possible to ask for cereal straight from the package. It never hurts to ask. (We traveled with a little bit of milk in case we got somewhere with no gluten free options. Cereal was always a good fail safe.)
  • Yogurt — My daughter hates yogurt, but this would be a great option for most gluten free kids.
  • Gluten Free Pancakes — I cooked pancakes ahead and packed them in a ziplock bag inside a tupperware container (to keep them from getting smashed). My kiddo likes cold pancakes dipped in syrup, so this worked well for her. I tried to keep some frozen in the hotel freezers as long as possible to make the last longer. They made it through at least the first week. (We traveled with a small bottle of syrup, but you can usually get it at hotels.)
  • Bacon and Eggs — Depending on how much you trust the hotel buffet, the bacon and eggs might be safe. Pay attention and ask questions to be sure. It all depends on how and where they cook them.
Lunch and Dinner:
  • Sandwiches/Bread — I traveled with a loaf of Boo’s favorite gluten free bread (stored the same as the pancakes, in slices). You can get peanut butter and jelly at the breakfast buffet in the hotels if you don’t want to pack the whole jar. My daughter usually just eats the bread plain. (Did I mention that she is picky?) Lunch meat and cheese will keep in the cooler for a few days, but keep an eye on the meat to make sure it doesn’t spoil. Always put it in the hotel fridge overnight.
  • Homemade Lunchables — Pepperoni (or sliced ham), sliced cheese and rice crackers. (My non-gluten free kids love this, too.)
  • Baked potatoes from Wendy’s. (You can get broccoli and cheese baked potatoes in some states, but not others. That’s a great way to get some veggies in your kids while you’re traveling.)
  • Fast food salads — Be careful with the dressings and any of the extra toppings that come in packages (croutons, Chinese noodles, tortilla strips, some of the packaged nuts, etc). We purchased Ranch dressing dippers ahead of time, just in case we couldn’t find a gluten free dressing.
  • Gluten Free Friendly Restaurants — If you see signs for these fast food places, you’ll find great gluten free options: Five Guys, Chick-Fil-A, In and Out. (All of them have gluten free fries.)
  • Gluten free pizza — In many states, Pizza Hut sells gluten free pizza that we have found to be very reliably gluten free. It’s not sold in all states, though, so check ahead. There are other pizza chains that do it, too, but be sure to check reviews to make sure they can be trusted. When we purchase gluten free pizza, I only serve it to my gluten free daughter. The rest of the family gets regular pizza. I package my daughter’s leftovers in individual bags and keep them in the cooler or hotel freezer for her to use for lunches and dinners later in the trip.
  • Veggies and dip (Ranch dippers)
  • Fruit (fresh or fruit cups)
  • Chips

Snacks and Desserts:

Of course there is plenty of candy that is gluten free. For those times when everyone is getting dessert except the gluten free kid, it’s nice to have some gluten free cookies or something on hand!

  • String Cheese
  • GoGurt or drinkable yogurt
  • Gluten free pretzels
  • Rice crackers
  • Gluten free cookies (we like the Glutino brand)
  • Frosties from Wendy’s (or ice cream from anywhere you trust)
Don’t forget these items to make things easier:
  • Baggies or plastic cups to hold snacks
  • Wet wipes to clean hands (especially if some members of your family are eating gluten in the car)
  • Plastic cutlery, straws and napkins (it’s never fun to get your order from fast food, jump back on the freeway, and then realize that they didn’t give you straws, forks, etc.)

See tips 1 and 2 from my Best Travel Hacks for Families series for more food-related tips.

Cooler Tips:

Be sure to transfer your perishables to the hotel fridge as soon as you arrive at the hotel each day. Then replenish your ice in the cooler when you head to your next location. The ice is a pain. I’m not going to lie! It’s worth it, though. Someone please invent an ice bag to use in a cooler that does not leak. (Because you can’t refreeze ice packs for a huge cooler in the tiny freezer compartment of a hotel fridge!)

We kept a large cooler in the back of the van that held everything perishable for the trip. Each morning before leaving the hotel, we packed perishable items we might need for snacks while driving in a mini cooler up front (string cheese, GoGurt, a few pieces of fruit, etc). This kept us from having to pull over and unpack the back of the van every time we needed to get something from the cooler.

If we planned to have fast food for lunch and knew that our gluten free kiddo would be eating gluten free pizza from the cooler, we put that in the small cooler, too. It saved us a lot of time and hassle! If we were eating a picnic lunch, then we took the time to get out the cooler and prepare food for everyone.

I hope you found these ideas helpful. Have a fantastic trip!

Thanks for stopping by today. Be sure to check out more great ideas by clicking on the images below. Images are linked to posts, so click on them.

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No-Fail Millet Oatmeal Gluten Free Bread {Perfect Recipe for beginning GF Cooks}

How to cut watermelon for a crowd -- a simple, mess free way to serve watermelon {} Brilliant! Why didn't I think of this before?



  1. My youngest son is picky, but we are not GF. Being picky makes it hard enough, but you were really on top of the food on your trip!!

    • Thanks, Robin. You have to be on top of things when you are working with allergies. Picky eaters are tough with or without food issues, though. Good luck with your picky eater!

  2. I love how you make it sound like a death sentence or like it was INSANELY difficult. I am gluten-free (along with other things free) and it’s not hard at all to find things for me to eat. Of course you run into the issue of cross contamination but that is a constant EVERYWHERE, even at home.

    • Ha, GiGi. You’re right. Being gluten free is definitely not a death sentence. We have no trouble finding things to eat when we’re at home or in our own town. It’s finding food for an extremely picky eater who throws up violently if she gets any trace of gluten that’s the hard part. When you’re traveling through big cities, it’s no big deal. When you’re traveling across the whole US (as we did), through tiny towns with no services, that’s when it gets tough. My daughter is so picky and sensitive that we really have to plan ahead.

  3. My son isn’t two yet and he eats everything from escargot to dog food. Can’t trust his palate at all! I know the time is coming when he stops being so easy to please, so I’m glad to hear even if he is picky there will be options!

    • Oh, Beth! I miss those days when my kids would eat whatever I put in front of them! Hopefully your son will keep those good habits (minus the dog food)! I did the best at feeding my youngest a variety of foods as she was growing, and she is not picky at all. Maybe you’ll get lucky! It sounds like you’re encouraging your son to try lots of things, and that’s great. (I’m sure he’s eating the dog food on his own — lol!)

  4. Shannon Patterson says

    It would be very difficult to have a child that needs gluten free food, and it would be difficult to have a child that’s a picky eater. I couldn’t imagine the stress of traveling with a child that has both! It looks like you rocked it though, great job!

  5. Corinne & Kirsty says

    That must be hard tack indeed! But you nailed it! And this post will be so helpful to anyone with gluten intolerant kids! xx corinne

  6. This is so helpful! My son is super picky, but he likes things like Goldfish and chips, so I always pack those in case he gets hungry.

    • Thanks, Amber. When my kids were little, I used to travel with Goldfish crackers, too! They were a staple. (Two of my kids can still eat them. I’ve just had to find different options for my GF kiddo.)

  7. I’ve never used the Find Me Gluten Free app. I’m going to have to check it out!

  8. These tips are super helpful! Although I may not have a little one, these also work on adults lol Thank you for the advice, Heidi.

  9. Having picky eaters is a challenge in and of itself; to add allergies to that would definitely be difficult. I’m so glad to hear that you are finding ways to work around it. This article is sure to supportive and uplifting to those looking for glutten free options.

  10. Having a picky child is daunting enough and then to add a food sensitivity is a true challenge! This post will help a lot of people!

  11. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to feed family members with special diets. It’s hard enough feeding kids at the best of times!

    • Thanks, Elizabeth! You’re right. Feeding kids is tough. When I was growing up, my mom put the food on the table, and we ate it. I wish I had taught my kids that way, too. Somehow they grew up picky. I don’t think I gave them enough variety when they were younger. The special diets definitely make it harder!

  12. Wow it seems like you have to be super organized in order to travel gluten free and I applaud you. I like the sound of the app that determines whether you have any restaurants near by! x

  13. Im sure you must have packed well for someone that needs to eat gluten free. I am sure it can be difficult at times.

  14. These are great tips! I can image how difficult it must be to be gluten free and a picky eater

  15. Forward planning: you has it. Such great tips – being gluten free is so difficult anyway but you made it seem easy!
    Katja xxx

  16. One of my kids was very picky when she was younger. As the years went by, her food choices expanded and it became easier on all of us; thankfully!

    • I hope that’s the case for our family, too, Elizabeth. Of course it’s my daughter with the most limited diet who is the pickiest! We’re working on trying new things. Thanks for giving me hope!

  17. These are all great tips for eating gluten free while traveling. I know my son is gluten free and always looks things up to see if he can eat them. Researching before you leave on your trip to find the restaurants that have gluten free food is something he does all the time. Thanks for sharing these awesome guide.

  18. I love the idea of an app to find gluten free options. It seems like there really is an app for everything these days!

  19. My middle daughter has always been my pickiest eater. Then last year we found having her go gluten free alleviated many of skin problems and reduced her reactions to her other allergens. It also sparked an interest in cooking which has resulted in her actually trying new foods and liking more! You’ve got some great tips here, thanks so much for sharing this. We will definitely check out that app. Pancakes are a favorite of ours for gluten free. I’ve converted my recipe and we all like them. My kids love cold pancakes made into sandwiches with Nutella or peanut butter and jelly.

  20. Every parent traveling with gluten-free eater kids should read this post….
    It can really be a nightmare sometimes if enough preparations are not taken…
    I will definitely share it right away…

  21. Eating in restaurants can be a bit challenging but manageable. You can sure ask for any naturally gluten free food or gluten free bread most restaurants offer. BTW, the app is nice!

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