Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Preparation key for fun travel with food allergies

Pamela threw herself on the floor, pounding her fists and crying, "I don’t want to leave the beach!" If I were 3 years old like my daughter I would have been doing the same thing Saturday morning when we were packing to leave our favorite North Carolina beach spot, Oak Island.

We had just enjoyed a fabulous week at the beach. The hot, sunny weather gave us plenty of time to ride waves, play paddleball at the water's edge, collect seashells, splash in tide pools and make sand creations. We also made time to ride the ferry to the North Carolina Aquarium, hit the mini golf course a couple of times and play a few rounds of Ocean-Opoly. Our beach experience focuses on enjoying activities and each other, rather than food treats and restaurants. But my trip preparation largely focuses on food.  

Sure I gather the kids' favorite beach toys and toss in plenty of tubes of California Baby sunscreen, but I spend most of the time during the week before we leave in the kitchen. I make and freeze meals free of peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, egg and soy, so that my son, Joseph, can safely enjoy his vacation instead of worrying about his multiple food allergies. Joseph, 8, and Pamela help plan a menu that includes many of their favorite foods, such as pizza (made with King Arthur Flour Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix, Daiya mozzarella style shreds, homemade fresh tomato sauce and bacon). Several batches of muffins make for easy breakfast and snack options, and I freeze cupcakes and cake slices that I had made for birthdays and other celebrations during the month before our trip. Of course, there is some negotiation on meal choices based on the cooking tools I bring, but the kids are always pleased to have a week's worth of favorite meals lined up. For example, I don't bring my big pot or mixer so mashed potatoes are out. But no one complains about the French fries I make on the cookie sheet I bring. My George Foreman grill is a helpful multipurpose tool because I can grill burgers one night and switch out the plates in the morning to make waffles ('Cause You're Special Hearty Pancake and Waffle Mix). 

The increase in allergy-friendly products during the past few years has made travel a bit easier. Thanks to companies like Enjoy Life Foods, I can pack safe cookies, snack bars and cereal for my family to enjoy. There are other essentials I pack, such as Vance's DariFree non dairy milk alternative, that I know I won't find at the local grocery store. But because the beach is in our state, I am familiar with what the grocery stores in Oak Island carry. For example, I knew I could provide Italian ices at the beach by stopping in the local Food Lion for a box of PhillySwirl ices.

Of course, my packing wouldn't be complete without ensuring that I had included full prescriptions of all medication and safe brands of any over-the-counter medications that might be needed. In addition to the medicine pack that is always with Joseph (including two EpiPen auto-injectors, Benadryl and an inhaler), I also packed a medicine bag to keep at the condo that included two more EpiPens, all of the medicine Joseph takes for daily maintenance of his seasonal allergies and asthma, plus the nebulizer and a full prescription of Xopenex. We also know the locations of the closest urgent care, pharmacies and hospital in the area.

My preparation continues when we arrive at the rental condo. I wipe down all surfaces with Clorox wipes, then cover kitchen counters, the microwave interior and refrigerator shelves with paper towels. The extra layer or protection just makes me less worried about anything the cleaning crew might have missed when I think about all of the allergen-filled foods that had likely been eaten in the condo before us. Despite booking a smoke-free, pet-free condo, I always hold my breath during the first day, waiting to see if Joseph's asthma will act up. In fact, his peak-flow readings were higher than usual during the whole week — maybe there is something to the theory that salt air helps asthmatics. By the time I put our pillows on the bed and set up the beds (Joseph brings his own bedding to try to avoid asthma triggers) I'm ready to sink my feet in the sand and breathe in that salt air.

I could enjoy my children's shouts of joy as the ocean welcomed them with waves lapping over their bare feet because I had done what I could to create a safe zone, including reiterating the rules that are in place at home and away. While Pamela and Joseph only ate the allergen-free foods I prepared, the adults sometimes did indulge in local flavor. I appreciate that Gary's dad, who traveled from out of state so we could enjoy a vacation together, sat in his designated seat at the table, let me handle all of the food, washed his hands after every meal and waited for me to serve the kids first before I touched any unsafe food in the one spot I had allowed takeout meals to be placed. Joseph and Pamela enjoyed lots of quality time with their Papa Sal during our trip because he was willing to defer to my judgment about how to keep my child safe. He even asked me to inspect his sunscreen to be sure it was safe to wear near Joseph.

When our trip was over, I was thankful for a lack of allergic reactions, asthma attacks or worrisome health issues with my kids. I was especially glad that the only tears were shed over the end of a wonderful time. Food-allergic families can never take a vacation from vigilance, but we sure can enjoy a trip to the beach.

For more tips on travel for people with food allergies, visit:
·      Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), http://www.faiusa.org/page.aspx?pid=410
·      Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), http://www.foodallergy.org/page/traveling-tips