Gluten-free travel is never easy. I got really lucky on a recent trip to Kentucky with not one, but TWO dedicated gluten-free restaurants along the way to my destination. That's not normally the case, especially living and traveling in the South.
While I was able to eat three meals at those two amazing restaurants (Wheatless in Bowling Green and Annie May's Sweet Cafe in Louisville), I had to do some serious planning for the other five meals. My husband and I are producing a YouTube video series/soon-to-be documentary called Southern IronMom which features a 40-year-old mom from our hometown who competed in Louisville IronMan. We were on the run for the entire 16-hour event and really had to be prepared so I could eat safely along the 140.6 mile race course. My solution? The GFree Genius Travel Kitchen. No, I don't eat at restaurants that are not dedicated gluten free. I get sick every time I do, so even for a quick overnight road trip, I pack up the travel kitchen and all the food I plan to eat, then pull the vehicle over and cook in a parking lot or a rest area using my Coleman camp stove at meal time. On the day of the race, my car was parked in a garage more than a mile from the finish line, so that's where I set up to cook. The extra effort is worth the trouble, especially since there are two people in our household who can't eat gluten.
Yeah, I could pack cold sandwiches or homemade "Lunchables," but that gets old. I only do that when I'm traveling by air. I prefer to eat hot food for dinner. I'm set in my ways. On race day, I prepared hot breakfast sandwiches using Glutino English muffins for the morning meal, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, then soup for dinner. I heated the soup while I was cooking sandwiches, then put it in a Stanley food container to keep it hot until dinner time. It was easy to prepare, clean up, and enjoy safe gluten-free meals while I worked.
Here's a list of GFree Genius Travel Tips:
1. Precook meals to reheat. I make all sorts of things to take on the road--chili, tacos, burgers--and freeze it in disposable containers or Ziploc bags, and store them in the cooler.
2. Select a hotel with a kitchenette or at least a microwave. Be sure to bring your own pan/microwave-safe bowl/utensils to avoid cross contamination.
3. Pack a camp stove for roadside cooking or an electric burner to heat/cook food inside the hotel room. (Important tip: electric burners have a protective coating on them and will smoke up a room during the first use. Be sure to use it at home a couple of times before taking it on a trip.)
4. Make sure the cooler's plug is closed before you put it in the car. As the ice melts, water will leak from the bottom of your cooler all over the back of your car and will make you angry.
5. While eating dinner, heat a pan of water on the stove to wash/rinse dirty utensils.
6. Pack an insulated food container. I put boiling water into the empty insulated food container to heat the core. After about five minutes, I empty the water and add hot soup or chili. The food container keeps the food hot for 6-8 hours, so I have a hot gluten-free dinner option without having to break out the stove again. Sometimes I cook a batch of soup in the morning before leaving home and put it in a 2-liter insulated food container. Piping hot dinner is ready when I need it! Click here to see previous soup post.
So, here's what I take in my GFree Genius Travel Kitchen:
* Camp stove (and fuel)
* Deep skillet with lid
* Small pot
* Pot holder
* Can opener
* Paper plates/bowls
* Plastic forks/spoons
* Paper towels
* Dish soap
* Storage container to use as a sink
* Insulated food container
* Measuring cup/spoons
* Water (for cooking and cleaning)
* Ziploc bags
* Electric burner
I keep my travel kitchen supplies together at all times, so all I have to do is grab one big tote and put it in the car. I prefer to take my food with me from home, but you could easily stop by a grocery store and buy what you need to cook a meal if you have the right tools with you.
While it isn't always easy, cooking meals on the go is always the safest option for my family when there is not a dedicated gluten-free restaurant nearby. I savor the moments when I can enjoy a meal at a gf restaurant, but with a little pre-planning, cooking on the go removes the possibility of my son and I getting "glutened" and we enjoy trips so much more when nobody is sick.
What are your tricks to gluten-free travel? Please share your ideas in the comments.
UPDATE: Wheatless BG closed in May 2017 and reopened under new ownership/management with new hours of operation.
Loaded nachos, fried zucchini, mozzarella sticks, fried pickles, boneless wings, chicken alfredo, baked ziti, Cajun pasta, Monterey chicken, chicken tenders...Wait a minute! This can't be a gluten-free restaurant!
As I reviewed the menu at Wheatless, a dedicated gluten-free restaurant in Bowling Green, KY, I called the server to the table just to double check that everything was completely gluten free. I have never been to a gluten-free restaurant with such an expansive menu filled with items that are typically NOT gluten free. She assured me that everything on the menu is 100 percent celiac safe.
I told my husband, "Pinch me. I must be dreaming!" Then I studied the menu trying to decide on what to order. The possibilities were endless! We arrived in time for breakfast so I settled on the All-American Platter. Just a few minutes later, two plates filled with eggs, bacon, home fries and pancakes were placed in front of me and I started eating. This was the first time I'd eaten breakfast in a restaurant since May when we traveled to Florida and I was beyond excited. My husband ordered the heart-healthy platter with egg whites, turkey bacon, fresh fruit and toast. We both enjoyed the toast so much, we purchased a loaf of bread to bring back home.
We knew we'd be passing through Bowling Green on our way back home two days later, so we made plans to visit again for lunch and we were not disappointed! We shared Cajun pasta and the chicken tender platter. Both dishes were excellent.
The server told me that more than half of the customers are not gluten free, but they love the food and they keep coming back. Wheatless has a fast-casual atmosphere with lots of space, and even a private room for large groups. She explained that Wheatless moved to the new Campbell Street location in March 2016 with changes to decor, an updated menu and the addition of a bar serving gluten-free and gluten-removed alcohol (gluten-free beer and gluten-removed beer is not the same thing). Click here to read what the Gluten Intolerance Group says before consuming beer if you have celiac disease or severe gluten itolerance.
Wheatless is a first of a kind in Bowling Green, or any place I've ever been! I have never seen such a gluten-free oasis. Wheatless didn't have the feel of a "Mom & Pop" establishment like most gluten-free restaurants do. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it was just different. It felt more like a chain restaurant with the set up and decor. The owners hope to grow it into a chain, and they've recently started offering franchise opportunities. I spoke to a regular customer and was told that the next Wheatless location will either be in Louisville, KY or Nashville, TN (fingers crossed for Nashville as it is a shorter drive from where I live).
In addition to the amazing menu, Wheatless also has a grab & go pantry complete with seasoned flour, cake mix, bread crumbs, frozen appetizers, and whole cheesecakes. There is also a dessert case with a variety of sweet treats. The selection varies each day.
So, here's a quick list of what you need to know about Wheatless:
1. It is awesome.
2. Breakfast is awesome, but it is only available on Saturdays and Sundays.
3. The grab & go pantry is awesome, so be sure to bring a cooler and stock up on frozen chicken tenders, fish sticks, mozzarella sticks, and more.
4. Don't forget the baked goods in the case near the front door.
5. There is a separate room for large groups. If anyone wants to throw a party, please invite me. I want to come!
6. There is a full-service bar with gluten free beverages. They also offer gluten-removed beer.
If you're plans take you near Bowling Green, KY, I highly recommend Wheatless. They are open seven days a week. Click here to check out their website for hours and menus.
Do you have a favorite dedicated gluten-free restaurant? Comment below to tell us all about it!
"Teal pumpkins, Mom! Look at the teal pumpkins," exclaimed a little boy from Michigan as he and his family walked into Annie May's Sweet Cafe in Louisville, KY last weekend. "I can eat here!"
His mom rattled off a list of her son's food allergies to the young lady behind the counter and she said everything was safe. So they ordered, and ordered, and ordered some more.
"Can I have seconds?" he asked even before he got his "firsts."
I know the feeling! It was amazing to walk inside this dedicated gluten free, nut free, soy free bakery and order anything I wanted. That's exactly what I did. The great news is that they offer allergen-friendly treats year-round, not just this time of year.
Owner Annie May McGill, a former school teacher with no restaurant experience, but plenty of food allergies, taught herself how to bake so she could enjoy great allergen-friendly treats. After a lot of trial and error, she perfected her recipes and opened Annie May's Sweet Cafe. In addition to sweets, she also offers breakfast and lunch items. To keep customers with food allergies safe, Annie May doesn't allow anyone to bring food outside food into the bakery, and they mill their own flour to make sure it is safe from cross contamination and to get the perfect blend. They celebrated their five-year anniversary in June.
So, what's next for Annie May's Sweet Cafe? As crowds of customers continued to walk into the bakery, Annie May explained that her business is growing and she expects to outgrow the current location at 3110 Frankfort Ave. in Louisville, KY within the next one to two years, so a new location could be in the near future. She told me that she is also looking at expanding into local delivery. Takeout Taxi currently offers delivery of Annie May's orders, but she said they are considering offering delivery themselves. Delivery would've been perfect for someone like me that isn't familiar with the area and had limited time to get out.
We got stuck in crazy traffic in Louisville and barely made it to Annie May's Sweet Cafe before the kitchen closed, but I was able to order the last pizza of the day and it was AMAZING!!! That crust--I don't know how they make it, but it is incredible! It is soft, yet crispy. The picture just doesn't do it justice! It tastes better than any gluten-free pizza I've ever tried. Mmmmm. Dairy-free diners won't miss out on this one, as Annie May's also offers a dairy-free cheese option for pizza.
We visited on the day before IronMan Louisville, a 140.6 mile race, so participants came in to "carb up" before the big race day. They nearly wiped out the baked goods before we arrived, but I was still able to snag a couple of sweet treats for the road. My choice? a goldmine cupcake (chocolate cupcake filled with caramel) and a vegan super cookie (oh-so-good chocolate chip cookie sandwich filled with chocolate frosting, then dipped in chocolate)-and yes, it was as delicious as it sounds!
While the selection was slim when I visited, Annie May explained that the case was filled with super cookies, oatmeal cream pies, brownies, cupcakes and more earlier in the day. While I missed out on the brownies and cookies, she told me her top selling products are always available through the online store. They also offer sampler boxes to allow customers to try a variety. Then she told me about the new "Anniemayniac Club," a monthly subscription service that has earned its own hashtag, #anniemayniacs. Anniemayniac subscribers receive a "surprise" box of goodies from Annie May's Sweet Cafe each month that includes popular customer favorites and new seasonal items. There are four box options, so check out the website for details and pricing. All prices include shipping.
If you live within driving distance of Annie May's Sweet Cafe, I highly recommend stopping in for lunch or dessert. If you don't live within driving distance, I suggest clicking here to order online or join the Anniemayniac Club to start getting a surprise box shipped to you each month! If anyone is looking to send a gluten-free gift, THIS IS A GREAT IDEA!!!
My name is Belinda and I am an #anniemayniac.
This review is based on the experience we had during a recent visit to Annie May's Sweet Cafe. I did not receive free product or compensation for this review. It's just a really awesome gluten-free place to eat and I wish I lived seven hours closer. I recommend it to anyone who is gluten free, vegan or has food allergies. See the disclaimer below for allergens:
Annie May's Allergen Disclaimer (as posted on their website and on menus):
Although all items made in the facility are free of gluten, nuts, and soy, we cannot guarantee cross contamination for our dairy, soy and egg free items. We take every precaution to prevent that cross contamination of these items does not occur. Although we do not use any products that contain tree nuts or have been cross contaminated with tree nuts, we do use coconut milk and some coconut based products and, in 2006, the FDA classified coconut as a tree nut. Therefore we cannot claim a tree nut free status. However, we do claim to be tree nut free, excluding coconut.
If you have any questions about allergens, contact Annie May's Sweet Cafe directly by clicking here.
Are you an #anniemayniac? Comment to share your favorite item at Annie May's Sweet Cafe!