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.