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
*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:
- 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)
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.
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!
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