What to pack, how to prep when you're a food-allergic traveler

The thrill of travel is my siren song. I used to dream of filling a passport before it expired. Never happened, but I did manage to get to many great places. Machu Picchu, Xi'an, Tulum. Life can throw you one curveball after another, some good, some not so good. Layoffs, pink slips, food allergies. My high-flying life came to a decidedly more earthbound home. For several years I had time to travel but not the money.

The bitter and the sweet

As we get older, we begin to appreciate that one is enhanced by the other. Fast-forward several years and I am slowly building an entrepreneur's life. This means we swing from one trapeze landing to another, sometimes the grip is so tenuous, the next check so long in coming. But we learn to live with the anxiety that would have done us in before and push on, move forward. Grab and let go. Let go, grab.

This week I'm preparing for my first trip to Europe since my flight through de Gaulle to go to Mali but the last visit when I stayed and explored was a media trip to Valencia, Spain. That was wonderful, too. Both trips like evanescent dreams. Wonderful memories.

New opportunities, new challenges

I'm getting on a plane again 48 hours from this moment. I'm off to Brussels to work with the fabulous Nathan Fong on behalf of sustainable, delicious British Columbia seafood. After our success at  Seafood Expo North America (#sena2014) - stir-frying with the Trade Minister! We're bringing the dynamic duo to the largest seafood expo in the world, Brussels! Now I'm dealing with multiple food allergies. Looking at the food there, dairy is definitely going to be a problem. I won't have time to shop all over and my Flemish is pretty weak. I think I've got this one down though: "Aangenamen Kennismaking" (Nice to meet you) it's just plain fun to say, isn't it?

It's hard to explain to someone who doesn't have food allergies. But imagine you're somewhere unfamiliar, and you literally cannot risk eating food because you may end up in anaphylactic shock. And traveling in a professional capacity, you don't want to make every group meal a tiresome litany of your issue and allergies. "Who knows Flemish for 'allergy'?"

Moules Frites? Waffles? (butter, dairy) Carbonnade? Waterzooi? (butter, cream) Food, glorious food. It's what I live for, what I organize my life around, what I share with friends, family and clients. But the prospect of being unable to find anything to eat made me realize I now have an extra list of travel prep tasks: researching, prepping, baking, planning. Even the flight to Belgium is a problem. Special diet meals include vegetarian (with cheese, nuts) Asian Vegetarian (may include dairy); Vegetarian (dairy). So what can I eat during the flight? Grab and go in the airport? Can you trust the labels on pre-packed foods? The fast food training? Erm, no. Basically, there was not one option that I could choose that was both free of dairy and free of tree nuts. Swiss International Airlines announced an "allergy friendly" service but to me it sounds like only a baby step further than what other airlines do.

Chips? (made in a facility that also processes nuts) etc. It's impossible!

Luckily, I'm a good cook. And I have good friends. And a very caring husband. He has turned into the best food sleuth!

My goal was to find things easy to pack and dense with protein to keep me going in the worst case scenario.

Tips:

1. Research, research, research. What are the typical foods in your destination? What capacity does your hotel have to accommodate your allergies? (Or even, to speak English?) Check with TSA and your airlines.

2. Pack pouches. Really good tuna, quinoa cereal, and terrific peanut butter all come in these easy-to-pack pouches. Thanks Doc!

pouches

3. Bake ahead. Energy Bites; Crackers, Apple-Quinoa Cake.

choco chunks, fruit

rye crackers

travel snack

4. Try to order Allergy warning cards in the destination language. I ordered cards from Allergic Traveler - hope they'll arrive in time!

 

Recipes:

The energy bites are great pre/post workout snacks. I love that they're not overly sweet and they're super easy to customize. This is based on Kim O'Donnel's original recipe from her Washington Post days. Her Lulu's Cookies became my Choco-fruit Energy Bites.

Choco-fruit Energy Bites

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 C of a combo of: sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and sesame seeds (I omitted sesame and used a combo of peanuts, bran, amaranth for the third 1/2 C.)
  • 2 tablespoons flax seeds.
  • 3 C flour [I used 1 C Irish Wholemeal flour +1 C White Whole Wheat + 1 C AP flour]
  • 2 cups rolled oats [I used rolled instant] + 1/3 C brown rice crispies + 1/4 flaked coconut
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried fruit - cherries, prunes, apricots
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3/4 C coconut + canola oil
  • 3/4 C honey + golden syrup
  • 1/2 - 3/4 C cup Enjoy Life chocolate chunks (free of 8 major allergens and made in an allergen free facility)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast seeds on a baking sheet about 8 minutes, or until the seeds turn a golden color. Be careful not to burn seeds.
  2.  Remove from oven and allow to cool thoroughly.
  3.  In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder and salt.
  4.  Soak dried fruit in hot water for about 15 minutes. Drain, but reserve soaking water.
  5.  Add dried fruit soaking water to dry mixture, plus oil and honey. With a rubber spatula, stir until combined. Add cooled seeds and stir to combine, then add fruit and chocolate chips. Don't over-mix.
  6.  Form teaspoon-sized patties onto a cookie sheet, preferably lined with parchment paper.
  7.  Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Don't over-bake; the cookies will turn into rocks.

Makes about 50 cookies.

I love that these are like two bite energy bars without all the overly sweet, highly processed ingredients. These are like bites of shortbread chunks of sweet dried fruits and chocolate.

 

What are your tips for traveling with food allergies or intolerances?

Next up, the apple quinoa cake!