Almost since the moment our children started eating solid foods we have dealt with child allergies. First with our daughter and a terrifying allergy to peanuts. Then a year later, our son and his challenging allergy to dairy.
This one hit us especially hard.
Multiple trips to the ER, significantly more experience with an EPI-PEN than I gained during my 12 years teaching, and starting from scratch with our recipe index.
We are to a point now, about a year later, that at home we have it well managed. We have found brands that work for him and collected a range of tasty meal ideas. That’s the easy part.
As you know however, we love to travel. We love to eat at new restaurants. Try new foods. Having a child with allergies changes that. Suddenly it is scary to eat something you haven’t had before. It is scary to go somewhere new. It is terrifying to walk around in the world where people enjoy offering free food to small adorable children. (It happens WAY more than you would think.)
It has been and continues to be an issue for us, but we have learned a few things to share about travelling with a child who has allergies.
When you are done reading, please share any tips you might have. We are still learning and would love to connect with other families on the same journey.
1. Research Beforehand
One of the amazing things about our modern world is that almost everything is online. This includes most restaurant menus. While not all places list their ingredients, this at least gives us an idea of whether we can find something for him to eat.
When in doubt we always call ahead. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
We also both have the app Allergy Eats on our phone, which helps find restaurants near you that are friendly to people with allergies.
2. Speak Up!
You are your child’s advocate. You are teaching your child how to deal with their allergies out in the world.
We believe it is important for our child to be honest, polite, and clear about their needs when they eat out. We kindly, but firmly expect all restaurants to check their labels and ingredients.
It is awkward at times. Some people do not understand the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. Some people do not understand the definition of dairy. (Nope, eggs don’t come from a cow) However, almost everyone is more than willing to help you out and make accommodations when you politely and clearly explain what you need.
We love kidecals.com for awesome, waterproof labels. We use them on all of our water gear (swim suits, beach bags, towels, etc) and other clothing that tends to get misplaced (mittens, important stuffed animals). For this purpose, we have simple ones with our name and phone number. This way if we leave suits or towels at a pool, beach, or swim lessons it is much more likely we will get them back. We have been hugely impressed with the waterproof labels.
We also have a set of allergy labels for our son.
They simply state his name, his allergy, and that his epi-pen is in the diaper bag. Although we are usually with him, one of the scariest things for a parent who has a child with allergies is the moments you aren’t there to speak up for them. We use these stickers to draw attention to the bag that holds his epi-pen, label his snack boxes, water bottle, and other food containers. Although we always verbally tell anyone watching our son about his allergies, it gives us a little more piece of mind that there is a visual reminder as well.
Kidecals come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors for all ages.
4. Bring Oreos and Buns…
When all else fails, pack an acceptable alternative.
I have a container with a few Oreos in it whenever we go to a party, restaurant, or other situation where dessert is likely. Oreos (which are surprisingly a vegan food) are a cookie my son loves, so when cheesecake or ice cream are the only options, he is okay with the alternative.
Likewise, if you are going to a restaurant and your safe food options are limited, bring your own. We have done this on numerous occasions, including showing up to a hamburger joint with our own dairy-free buns, and have never had anyone get upset. Indeed, servers are often relieved that they don’t have to be concerned about setting off some sort of attack.
On road trips we pack a loaf of dairy free bread, peanut butter, and jelly. We make sandwiches in the car rather than stop at places we aren’t sure about. I hate the lack of spontaneous eating this brings because I do truly love this part of travel, but to keep my kiddo safe it is worth it.
At the end of the day, do what you need to do in order to still live life and keep your child with allergies safe.