Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The long lines, endless delays and occasional cancellations travelers face at airports are enough to cause mild anxiety in even the most seasoned traveler. When you throw gluten intolerance or Celiac disease into the equation, that anxiety level only increases. It’s fairly challenging for any health-conscious traveler to eat nutritiously during a long day of flying with Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts as the staple airport dining establishments. So what is someone whose diet is severely limited by gluten intolerance to do? Be prepared.

According to the US Department of Transportation, only about 75% of flights departed on time in 2006, so if you’re planning to fly in the near future, there is a good chance you’ll experience some sort of delay. Be prepared by bringing lots of gluten free food with you (but don’t forget that liquids in containers over 3 fl oz are not allowed through security!). While Peanut M&Ms from the terminal vending machine may satisfy your gluten free requirement, they are not good for your waistline or your blood sugar. Moreover, delays are not limited to the terminal, where at least there are vending machines and restaurants. Delays once you’re on the plane—at the departure gate, on the taxiway and at your arrival gate—are all too common and the supply of gluten free snacks you’ve brought might be your only food source for hours.

As for the meal that some airlines provide for you on long-haul flights, the good news is that most carriers can prepare a gluten free meal for you if given enough notice (inquire immediately after purchasing your ticket). The bad news is that there is a high risk of cross-contamination because large catering companies without dedicated gluten free kitchens prepare airline food. The other bad news is that come mealtime, your gluten free meal may simply be unavailable. I’ve witnessed many disputes between hungry passengers and helpless flight attendants when a pre-ordered special meal goes MIA. If you’re willing to risk cross-contamination, order the gluten free meal but pack a back up in case your meal doesn’t make it on your flight. Don’t trust the airline snacks unless it’s a brand you’ve had before and verified as gluten free. What appear to be plain cashews may not be wheat free, as there is often wheat in nut coatings. Also, don’t forget to pack enough food for the first day and night at your destination so you can get settled and enjoy yourself without rushing to go gluten free food shopping.

After reading about the hassles of gluten free airline travel, you may have just sworn off flying forever! I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, trains and automobiles are your other options and each comes with its own set of surmountable challenges. There is a chef aboard each overnight Amtrak journey and speaking with the chef well ahead of time (check with Amtrak for this information) is an option. How much, if anything, the chef will be willing and able to do for you may vary by trip because the chefs, their pre-planned menus and, consequently, the available ingredients differ. One Amtrak passenger said they managed on an overnight trip by having the chef prepare steamed fish and a vegetable for dinner, eggs and fruit for breakfast and a salad for lunch (with dressing brought from home). If you’d rather not deal with the onboard food, it is important to know that Amtrak is forbidden by federal health regulations to refrigerate, handle or heat your food, so be sure whatever meals you prepare and bring are non-perishable, ready-to-eat, and taste good at room temperature.

Driving to your destination, although not always possible, obviously provides the most flexibility. You’re free to bring as much gluten free food as you can fit in your vehicle and with time to prepare, you can plan your route with gluten free friendly stops. Doing a quick search online, I was able to find out what restaurants and shops are at each service stop along the Massachusetts and Florida Turnpikes. Getting this information ahead of time enables you to research what gluten free options are available along your route. If you have more time and can make detours from the highway, searching for gluten free friendly restaurants in towns along the way is another option. Check out GFDelights.com’s list of gluten free accommodating restaurants to help plan your trip. Another important tip is to always keep a stash of non-perishable food and water in the trunk in case of a breakdown in a remote area or a serious traffic jam.

4 Tips for an Easy Gluten Free Travel Experience
• Prepare for the worst: pack enough food for hours of delays and cancellations
• If you’ve ordered a GF airline meal, bring a back up just in case
• Pack enough food for the first day and night at your destination
• Research your driving route and plan GF friendly stops

We at
GFDelights.com hope that these suggestions make your next trip successful and relaxing so that you’re Living Easy Gluten Free!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Living Easy Gluten Free

Welcome to Living Easy Gluten Free, GFDelights.com’s blog! While the focus of GFDelights.com is providing centralized, easy access to gluten free accommodating restaurants and their menus, this blog’s purpose is to discuss all aspects of living gluten free. Going out to dinner or attending a friend’s party—these are commonplace events that may at first seem unblog-worthy. But those of us who have had to adjust or completely reinvent our everyday routines on account of a gluten allergy or Celiac diagnosis know that what were once stress-free activities now have the potential to be anything but.

Every week we’ll be looking at another aspect of life from the gluten free perspective. Whether it’s dining out, travel, health and beauty, social events, or gluten free current events, we’re here to share what we’ve learned from our experiences in the hope that we can make your gluten free lifestyle more enjoyable. If you’ve been recently diagnosed and don’t know where to start, or if you’re a seasoned pro and are just looking for a few tips, let us help you live easy gluten free!

Let’s start with the most basic of weekly activities: going out to dinner. Most people love eating out; it’s fun, it’s easier than cooking...or is it?!? Unfortunately, for those of us who have to worry about ingesting gluten, dining out can be anything but fun and easy. Sometimes waiters think they know what gluten intolerance is and try their best to help, but in reality their understanding is limited and the consequences of eating hidden ingredients that contain gluten can be disastrous. Then there are servers who don’t appear to care enough, resulting in having to send back your meal time and again, which can be frustrating and embarrassing, not to mention unappetizing. Too often what starts off as a promising night on the town ends with a gluten intolerant diner who is aggravated and hungry and in the worst case, ill.

I’ve painted a rather bleak picture, but the good news is that with some planning and practice, the above situation can usually be avoided. First, if this isn’t a spontaneous event and you have the opportunity to call the restaurant ahead of time, do so. After making your reservation, ask to speak with the manager and explain your dietary needs in detail, using your
gluten free restaurant card as a guide. Ask for a list of specific ingredients in any dishes you’re considering (if you have internet access to the menu, for instance) and inquire whether the chef has experience cooking for gluten intolerant diners. Ask that a note be included with your reservation if the same manager will not be present when you arrive. Calling ahead of time will answer your questions and alleviate the stress of having to explain your dietary restrictions in what can be a dark, loud and rushed atmosphere. By calling ahead, you are also giving the manager, the chef and the wait staff (if the manager is particularly vigilant) the opportunity to prepare—a generous gift in the often unpredictable and frenzied restaurant industry. Know that if you are able to call between the lunch and dinner rushes, you will have a much more relaxed and attentive listener.

When you arrive, ask to speak with the manager, announce yourself to him or her and request that they communicate the details of your earlier discussion to your server (always have your
gluten free restaurant card on hand to clear up any confusion). In doing so, you now have a waiter who has been briefed on your situation so that you have less explaining to do and more time to enjoy yourself. Moreover, your server is more likely to pay attention to detail and make a strong effort to succeed when getting instructions from their boss versus from you. You also have made an ally in management to assist with any problems that may arise that evening and with whom to touch base before or during any future visits. Be sure to always thank the wait staff and manager at the end of your meal if he or she was particularly helpful. Showing your appreciation can go a long way in securing future cooperation and hassle-free dining. Following this simple advice is a great way to establish a network of local places where you can dine with confidence and in comfort. The more you prepare ahead of time, the more enjoyable your experience should be and as you frequent particular spots, the more effortless the process should become for both you and the establishments.

Don’t be afraid of taking such an assertive approach. You may feel uncomfortable at the prospect of being a “fussy” customer, but doing so will benefit both you and the restaurant. Not only will you have a pleasant, healthy dining experience and be able to enjoy time with family and friends outside the confines of your gluten free kitchen, but the restaurant will also profit from having you as a satisfied customer. When a restaurant does an excellent job accommodating you, you will tell your friends, email a gluten intolerance listserv and maybe even blog about it, increasing the restaurant’s business and helping anyone in search of a non home-cooked gluten free meal. Feel free to add your reviews to the restaurant profiles on
GFDelights.com’s list of gluten free accommodating restaurants. If you’ve discovered a place that’s not yet on our list, send us an email and we’ll add it!

6 Tips for an Easy Gluten Free Night on the Town
• Call ahead
• Bring your
gluten free restaurant card
• Announce yourself to the manager upon arrival
• Have the manager speak directly to your server about your gluten intolerance
• Thank members of the staff who were particularly accommodating
• Spread the word! Tell your friends and
GFDelights.com about your find.

We hope you’ll visit again for more tips on Living Easy Gluten Free!