The holiday season will soon be upon us and with it comes dinners, work parties, potlucks and gifts. Each event filled with scrumptious foods and surprises, but if you have a food allergy something much more stressful can be lurking behind wrapping paper or baked into a treat. Holiday meal prepping and planning can be stressful without food allergies, but planning with multiple food allergies or intolerances? It can be a downright stressful experience. I’ve found the best way to handle the holiday stress when living with food allergies is by planning a dish and sticking with it. Prep your ingredients, prep yourself, and most importantly talk to everyone. If you’re cooking, ask other people about their allergies/intolerances. If you’re going somewhere, make sure people know your allergies and how to avoid cross-contamination. If you’re looking for some kitchen inspiration; below are a few of my holiday favorites that are sure to please crowds and leave you with the least amount of stress.
The holidays are a wonderful time, it gives us the opportunity to see old friends, laugh with our families, and share joy with each other. Food has always and will always be a big part of any celebration which can be hectic when you have a food allergy. As a community of people living with food allergies, we need to take a moment and plan ahead so that we can ensure we’ll be safe in any situation where meals or food are concerned. By having the right conversation with people about our allergies we can make baking and cooking a fun holiday activity. Eventually turning the experience into a wonderful and safe tradition for everyone involved.
I recently returned from a ten-day, 85-km hiking and backcountry camping trip in the Canadian Rockies, about 90 minutes southwest of Calgary. It was so enjoyable and the views were so magnificent! I went with three friends, one of which like myself, has life-threatening food allergies. We camped in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, about 30 minutes from any cell phone service so needless to say, the trip took a lot of preparation. We had to select our routes, campsites, gear, and safe food. I found that meal planning was surprisingly the most time-consuming part of the trip, especially for an adult with allergies. I have life-threatening allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and all raw fruits and vegetables, so here’s a glimpse into my camping preparations:
I am a very pragmatic individual, and since I have food allergies, I planned for the worst-case scenario. If I had an allergic reaction in the wilderness, I need to know how far I was from the nearest ambulance and hospital. This was important for our trip because we were so secluded, but I think it’s an important part of weekend camping as well. With appropriate meal planning and proper meal preparation hygiene, it is unlikely that an adult with an allergy will experience a reaction while camping, but knowing the closest healthcare facility is important because it can put one’s mind at ease. Before leaving on the trip we found that our furthest point from the trail head was 21-km and from the trail head we were 95-km from the Canmore General Hospital. We were also able to determine how many epinephrine auto-injectors to bring. Since we were quite far from healthcare services, we chose to bring a satellite phone as well, which gave us the flexibility to call for emergency services if the worst-case scenario occurred.
Overcoming previous fears
Mental preparation for this camping trip was especially difficult for myself because of a previous camping experience. In the summer of 2016, I was camping with two friends in Northern Ontario when we encountered a very large black bear. It was moving away from us into the woods, but was directly between us and the trail head. Minutes later I realized that I was having an allergic reaction. We had to get to the trail head to get to the car, but there was a bear in between us and our goal. I administered my auto-injector and we proceeded with caution towards the car, making as much noise as we possibly could to deter the bear. We made it to the car and arrived at the hospital nearly 45 minutes after my initial reaction, but not without tremendous anxiety. So the thoughts going through my head leading up to this big trip was…what if something like this happened in the Rockies?
New food exploration
I discovered my allergies in my early 20’s. I have a severe form of what’s called Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) and with this type of allergy, skin testing is not effective at elucidating allergens. I kept having allergic reactions to food I previously ate without concern. This method of uncovering allergens can be stressful because I felt that nothing was safe. Since discovering my allergies, exploring new foods has always been difficult. I used to avoid new foods altogether, but honestly that’s quite a boring way to live. So, I began incorporating new foods into my diet, trying them in safe places (in a doctor’s office, or at a hospital, or if you have easy access, at the allergist’s office), and now I try them at home with my epinephrine auto-injector in-hand. I felt that in the wilderness camping, I would be alright with my prepared food as long as I had my emergency plans in place (auto injector, satellite phone, and an escape route) since I only brought food that I was comfortable eating and 100% sure about.
So, now that I had my escape route planned and the information about the closest healthcare facilities noted, I knew that the furthest I would be away from medical services at minimum was 12 hours hiking and 90 minutes driving. To be safe, I doubled this estimate, and I brought enough allergy medication for just over 24 hours. As well, we made sure that not only was each member of the group aware of my allergies, but each member knew what to do in case of an emergency.
Once all the preparation had been complete, it was time to explore the Canadian Rockies. This trip was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life! I swam in glacier waters, I saw many different kinds of wildlife including a grizzly bear and a large buck, I experienced some of the most glorious views from mountain tops, and really learned what it takes to hike and camp in the mountains. I spent 10 days with my closest friends, experienced highs and lows (literally and figuratively), and learned to work together. With the right preparation, weekend camping and backcountry camping can be very, very enjoyable experiences, even as an adult with allergies.
Let’s face it, we’ve all looked at a menu with hesitation. Wondering what limitations or substitutions await you. We’re all on the edge of our seats waiting for the lines “made on the same grill, pre-made at another facility, or may have come into contact with.” It can be so discouraging that you almost want to wait to crack open that menu until you can talk with a server or chef. I’ve always held off on making decisions on ordering until I’ve spoken with someone, that is, until I stepped into the most magical place on earth and was handed a menu that helped me put away my worries and strife.
The Vacation Kingdom of the World. You don’t get a title like that without being a well-rounded, fine-tuned, working machine. Now full disclosure, I am no slouch when it comes to Walt Disney World (WDW). We started going to Disney in the early 90’s, a turbulent time in the family as we had my newly discovered risk-for-anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree-nuts and my brother’s newly discovered food allergy to eggs. With all these food allergies packed into one family, we decided to pack up a trailer and drive from Ontario, Canada to the great state of Florida (a three day excursion mind you) and camp at the Fort Wilderness Campground. This way, my mom and dad could be in charge of all the food we ate because I was terrified to eat anywhere other than my mom and Grandma’s house.
Now, it may not come to anyone’s surprise that The Walt Disney World Company has their food allergy game figured out, but at the time I was still scared, I didn’t have the self-confidence to try the food in the parks. That was until I turned 13. Things changed and I became more confident in myself and my food allergies, and was ready to try new dining adventures. I had my very first dining-out experience at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom.
Since then, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for WDW. In such a safe and welcoming environment, I could discuss my food allergies with an actual chef, who took the time to explain the menu and reassure me of their due diligence. It was this stepping stone that laid the ground work for me to become more confident in speaking about my food allergies in restaurants anywhere. I learned to look over menus carefully and talk to servers myself and ask the right
questions. Because their cast members were so well trained and prepared, it rubbed off on me and helped me understand the value and importance of taking this time to be sure of my food choice and feel safe about them.
Fast forward to January 2017. My partner Steve and I decided to travel down to WDW to ring in the New Year with the mouse. I am continually impressed with how restaurants treat food allergies, but I am knocked off my feet in awe of how the Walt Disney Company is changing the game when it comes to food allergies. When you’re planning a trip to WDW, it’s in your best interest to book dinner reservations in advance. Booking online is the first step in WDW’s food allergy preparedness. You have the option to fill out all your food allergies in detail before you even step foot in the restaurant.
When we finally arrived to our first dining reservation, I was greeted with the question, “who has the allergy in this party?” and then promptly handed an allergy-friendly menu. The menu had detailed dishes from appetizers to desserts, outlining all ingredients and what dishes were free of certain allergens. It’s hard to put into words how I felt in that moment. I wanted to cry and laugh all at the same time. It was the first time I was able to go through a menu with confidence before speaking with someone from the restaurant. When we placed our order, the server asked if I felt comfortable and if I needed to speak with a chef just in case. I couldn’t help but remember that shy 13-year-old, who blustered up the courage to talk with a chef about her food allergies. I was bursting with emotions thinking about how a tool such as this will help kids just like me build confidence and a voice when it comes to their food allergy. Instead of being presented with a bunch of no’s and off-limits, we finally have a menu that is full of options and
Remember, the onus is still on you to disclose all of your allergies and take all of the necessary precautions you would usually take at any restaurant. It’s hard to guarantee anything, but WDW gets pretty close in my books!
The Walt Disney World Company truly gets it. They understand the mental toll it takes to dine out with a food allergy regardless of being a confident adult, or a parent with their child. They’ve stream lined a process with 100% visibility from putting menu’s online, to informing the restaurant when you book a reservation, down to a beautiful allergy-friendly menu. They also have the opportunity to look over menu books at quick server restaurants, and give you the option to speak with a chef at buffet style dining halls in their resorts. It is magical for a lack of a better term, but I think the word fits nicely considering the location. Food allergy awareness has come a long way and WDW is certainly looking like a gold standard contender. They are continuously innovating and discovering new ways to ensure everyone has a safe and happy dining experience while on vacation.
Valentine’s Day is one of the most romantic days of the year. Maybe you and your long-term partner are planning a weekend getaway to relax and enjoy each other’s company or maybe you and your girlfriends are planning on celebrating ‘single ladies’ style. No matter what your relationship status is, you can’t deny that Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday. I didn’t really start celebrating Valentine’s Day until I started dating my boyfriend. I remember being very nervous the first Valentine’s Day we celebrated together because I had actually no idea what I was going to be able to eat. I was so worried that we would get to the restaurant and then be forced to leave because I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. So my advice? Don’t be like me! Be confident and take initiative! Over the last four years of dating my boyfriend, I’ve come up with some tips and tricks to master Valentine’s Day:
Plan ahead! – Going out for dinner? Think ahead. My boyfriend and I already contacted the manager of the restaurant we are thinking of trying this Valentine’s Day, two weeks in advance. Valentine’s Day itself is a very busy day/night at most restaurants, so don’t contact the restaurant the day of. Contact the restaurant maybe two, three, or even seven days in advance and speak to the manager. The majority of classier restaurants usually also do special “Valentine’s Day” menus and these menus are typically different from their usual menus. Just because you’ve been to a restaurant before does not mean it’s going to be safe for you on Valentine’s Day. The manager will be able to give you the best advice on what is going to be safest for you. Once you get to the restaurant, request to speak to the person you’ve already contacted. I’ve had amazing experiences at The KEG, Baton Rogue, and Copacabana on Valentine’s Day.
Laura Secord – If you’re allergic to peanuts and tree nuts and have never had the opportunity to try Valentine’s Day chocolate in a box because of the enormous amount of nut products in these chocolate filled boxes, Laura Secord has your back. The 100-year-old Canadian chocolate franchise has an assortment of peanut-free and tree nut-free chocolates in both bars and boxes. They even have a special Valentine’s Day nut-free chocolate assortment box. I picked up a box the other day and it was incredibly delicious. Start making hints to your date that you’re craving some delicious Laura Secord nut-free chocolate this Valentine’s Day. Go Canada!
Keep it simple! – There’s honestly no need to go out for dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Keep yourself safe (and save yourself some cash) by inviting your Valentine over to your place this Valentine’s Day. Make an allergen-safe dinner at home together and watch a cool movie. You will not only have a great time, but you and your Valentine will bond by being able to share with him/her your allergen-safe secrets. You (and your wallet) will be grateful that you’re not out on arguably the busiest dining out night of the year.
Don’t make Valentine’s Day revolve around food! – Who said Valentine’s Day had to be associated with food? Celebrate the day with your loved one by doing something or going somewhere that you wouldn’t usually go to; take a trip to Niagara Falls, go skiing, or take out those skates and go to the nearest ice rink. You make your own fun!
The most important piece of advice I can give you is to enroll your loved one. Share with your Valentine your worries and come up with a game plan in advance together. Get asked out on a date and you’re told that the restaurant is a surprise? Immediately take the initiative and share with your date that you have allergies and you’d love to be a part of planning so that you two can find a suitable destination for you. My boyfriend now takes initiative even before I do! It’s not supposed to be a scary or stressful night, so find a way to have fun with it.
My friends and I always try to do something to celebrate the New Year. I feel like it’s just such a fun night to enjoy out with your friends/family. Two years ago, my friends and I planned to go to Niagara Falls for New Year’s. We were so prepared; we booked everything way in advance, purchased our tickets for our New Year’s party, and figured out who was driving. The group I was going with was a very responsible group and they had all known me since elementary school, so they were very familiar with my food allergies. We were all so psyched to go to Niagara!
I’m a pretty frugal person when it comes to money, especially since I was still a student in University, so I assumed that my friends and I were going to eat at fast food restaurants for the majority of the time in Niagara. I actually love fast food restaurants as they are literally EVERYWHERE and I’m very familiar with what I can and can’t eat. On New Year’s eve though, my friends stopped by this lavish Italian restaurant just outside of our hotel. They made reservations for that evening, without even bothering to call me and ask me to come over and check the menu. When they arrived back at our room and told me our plans, I didn’t think much of it. I was more angry at the fact that I would be spending 30+ dollars on a dinner that I really didn’t care to eat. I would’ve much preferred something quick. I didn’t bother to go downstairs and check the place out because I just thought I’d investigate it when we went down there for dinner.
At dinner, the place was very accommodating of my food allergies. I spoke to the manager and he assured me that they were going to do everything they could to prevent any sort of cross-contamination from occurring. To avoid any miscommunication between myself and the staff, I ordered a very simple dish. However, around3 hours later, I broke out in MASSIVE hives all over my body in the middle of our New Years party. My best friend and I went back to the room while everyone else stayed at the party.
Thankfully, nothing further happened, but the hives were definitely a downer on the evening. I’m not sure if they were from something I ate from the restaurant, but I had a feeling it was. Everything else I ate/drank that evening, I was very familiar with. That was the last time I will ever let my friends choose a restaurant before discussing it with me. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten there if I didn’t feel comfortable.Two years later, I’m no longer friends with any of the people I went to New Years with (besides the one girl I went back to the room with). I learned that you shouldn’t be afraid of speaking your mind and telling your friends what makes you comfortable/uncomfortable because IT’S YOUR HEALTH.
The holidays are upon us once again! With the holiday season there are inevitably lots of gatherings, parties and celebrations. Whether it is family get togethers or work parties, food certainly plays a big role this season and is a time to be on high alert for those of us with allergies! Here are my top 5 tips to having a happy and safe holiday season with allergies.
Remind your family members about your allergies
The holidays tend to be the time of year where family members who you may not have seen for a while will be getting together to celebrate. For those more distant relatives it can be hard for them to remember that you have an allergy – especially if you are allergic to more than one thing. Instead of being frustrated and dealing with an awkward situation where you can’t eat items at your family gathering, don’t be shy to gently remind your family about your allergies. It may feel slightly uncomfortable but people often feel bad when they realize they have brought something you are allergic to so it’s better to let them know in advance!
Watch out for those baked goods
As common allergens are frequently found in baked goods, it is important to be extra careful around these items. The holiday season usually means lots and lots of baked goods – cookies, Christmas pudding, pies – you name it, somebody is baking it! I have found that people often bring things into work or there are trays of baked goods at parties. It is always important to ask about ingredients and watch for cross contamination. You will generally be safest if you avoid the baked goods unless you can guarantee that they are safe!
Prepare in advance for work parties
There are usually lots of fun parties to attend during this time of year. If you have an invite to a work party do your research! Look into where it is being held and if there is food being served. As it can be hard to find out all the details you are doing yourself a favour if you prepare ahead of time by eating before you go. Some parties may just have appetizers and drinks so you could be starving anyways if you haven’t had a good dinner before attending!
Make your own treats
With the limitations most people with allergies have when it comes to baked treats and goodies it can be quite disheartening having no fun holiday baked goods to eat. Get creative in the kitchen and make things yourselves! You can even have some friends over and have a holiday baking party. That way your kitchen is stocked for the season and you can even bring your own treats with you to gatherings and parties so you can ensure your sweet tooth is satisfied and you don’t miss out!
Don’t get stressed by the little stuff
With so many get togethers over the holidays, this can sometimes be an added stress for those with food allergies. Don’t let it get to you if you miss out on some desserts or can’t eat everything at your work party. Remember this is a time of year to celebrate and enjoy those you are with – not what ends up in your belly! I always try to put a positive spin on my restrictions by saying that I won’t put on as many pounds this time of year or be the one on New Year’s Day hitting the gym. Of course, I somehow always manage to find a few allergy-safe treats before the holidays are over!
Hope these tips help you all have a very happy holiday season!
From stunning mountain tops, to lush rainforests and deep canyons, combined with a remarkable history, rich culture, and of course Machu Picchu itself—the hard question is, what isn’t calling you to Peru? South America has long been on my list of places to visit with Peru at the top of countries to explore within this vast continent. So needless to say, as soon as the time was right, I purchased my ticket! While travelling to a new country in a continent you’ve never been to causes a great deal of excitement and anticipation, it also leaves you with some unknowns to be discovered. This holds especially true when travelling with food allergies. With that said, I am a firm believer that you should not let your food allergies hold you back from new and exciting experiences! I found that with the right preparation, I was able to accommodate my allergies to wheat, eggs, and peanuts, and not have my allergies hold me back from making the most of my travels to Peru!
When planning any trip/vacation there is always extensive preparations beforehand. From booking your flights, to nailing down your itinerary, and of course packing a strategic suitcase, there is always something to be planned or done. Of course, there is always an extra degree of planning when you have to consider your allergies. Whenever I am picking a country to travel to, I need to look up what their typical cuisine is and assess the likelihood of finding some allergen-friendly food options. I found that when researching common Peruvian dishes, most consisted of grilled meats, potatoes (over 300 varieties…yay!), grilled vegetables, quinoa, and soups. Luckily, most of these work well with my wheat, egg, and peanut-free diet! I also ensure that whenever I am travelling to another country where English is not the primary language spoken, that I bring my allergy cards. These allergy cards are laminated cards that I’ve ordered online which are the size of business cards and state in whatever language I order (in this case Spanish): my allergies, pictures of the specific food allergens, and also feature a specific card that states I need immediate medical attention and need to be taken to a hospital where they speak English. I’ve used these cards in the past in Tanzania, Nepal, and throughout Europe and have had very positive results. I also like to always have Google Translate on my phone, as another means of translation if needed.
When it comes to planning my itinerary, I again take some extra considerations. For this particular trip to Peru, the first part of my trip that I planned was a four-day trek. When researching trekking companies, I considered their ability to accommodate dietary restrictions. The company I decided on was one that actually asked clients to list their dietary restrictions on their initial intake form. After further communication with this company they assured me that they regularly accommodated food allergies and would be able to provide meals during the trek that would be allergen-safe. Since this trek was only four days out of my two weeks of travelling, when I was planning what other cities and sites I would be visiting, I also looked up what health services were closest and the presence of any English-speaking hospitals. I kept a log of the name and locations of these hospitals and health services hoping not to ever actually need them, but knowing just in case!
Finally, when it came to packing for my trip, along with trying to strategically fit enough clothes and supplies for two weeks in one hikers backpack I also ensured I packed allergy-friendly snacks for what I thought might last the better part of two weeks as well as multiples of my auto-injector as well as anti-histamine pills.
After months of lead up, the day of my trip finally arrived! After two long plane rides I arrived safe and sound in the city of Cusco— a city in southeastern Peru. This is the city you are likely to visit if you are trekking to or planning to visit Machu Picchu. Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu, Cusco is a city that is very traveller-friendly. I spent two and a half days in Cusco as I acclimatized to the high altitudes. During my stay, I found I was able to eat out with relative ease with waiter or waitresses either able to speak English or by using my allergy cards. One of my favourite restaurants had to be a place that specialized in vegetarian/vegan dishes and used only organic ingredients grown in the sacred valley (and believe it or not, this was also probably one of my cheapest meals eating out!!).
After the two and a half days spent in Cusco it was time for some trekking! The trail that I hiked is known as the Salkantay trail and is a 64 km hike over three days that leads you to the base of Machu Picchu, where on the fourth day you actually spend the entire day visiting Machu Picchu. The trek was everything I could have wanted and more. The days were tough first hiking up through the Andean Mountains until finally reaching the Salkantay Pass and then hiking down into the forested valleys below. Every type of weather and degree of temperature seemed to be experienced and every form of clothing worn. The scenery and dramatic landscapes were absolutely spectacular and humbling at the same time, not to mention made every blister and worn out muscle worth it. Food wise, I always had food options I could eat on my trip. While the trekking company provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, which I was able to eat, they also provided trekkers with a snack— which I found more often than not I could not eat. I definitely under-estimated how many granola bars I would go through while hiking 20+ km a day. One near miss at the end of my trip came after my trek was finished and when I was out for dinner and drinks with my fellow trekkers. Arguably the most popular alcoholic drink in Peru is known as a “Pisco Sour,” a cocktail consisting of pisco (brandy commonly found in Peru and Chile), lemon juice, and bitters all shaken together with a creamy froth added on top. It wasn’t until I had my glass and was about to take my first sip when a friend of mine listed the ingredients of this drink again and added that meringue was the finishing feature on top of the drink. This of course meant that the white froth I was about to slurp up was just beaten egg whites and would have lead to a less ideal end to my trek. So, instead of this drink, one of my fellow trekkers got an extra drink and I got to try the pisco sour minus of course any egg whites.
The rest of my travels took me to the Lake Titicaca region of Peru— this lake being the highest navigable lake in the world. I began my travels in the lakeside city of Puno, I visited islands on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, before following the coast down to Bolivia where I spent several days on the Bolivian side of the lake (I highly recommend giving a visit to the Bolivian side if you ever find yourself visiting Lake Titicaca!) Now being away from the popular traveller city of Cusco, it was definitely a rarity to come across locals who knew English and I either relied on using my allergy cards when eating out or fellow travellers who happened to be able to speak English as well as Spanish. I also was out of my packed snacks not long after my trek was finished. When it came to purchasing allergen-safe snacks, I quickly learned that bananas and avocados not only taste a million times better in South America but stay ripe for days longer and pack well without bruising as easily as they do in Canada. I also ate way more Pringles then I care to admit. With all of that, I am happy to say that I did avoid any allergy incidents at all of the restaurants that I visited and was still able to indulge in some fantastic Peruvian cuisine! For anyone visiting Peru/Bolivia my top food recommendations have to be their Ceviche quinoa soup and for anyone super adventurous perhaps some Alpaca steak!
Anyone with food allergies knows the extra hurdles that come with travelling, but that’s not to say allergies should be a barrier to getting out and exploring the world a little more! Comment below with your favourite travel destinations and what you did to ensure you stayed safe while travelling with allergies!