For gluten free holiday travelers, navigating food situations is tricky business. Between sketchy “gluten free” airline food, airports, time spent on the road, and staying with friends and family, holiday celebrations provide many bumps and hurdles for those of us on a strict gluten free diet. With my family across the country, traveling for the holidays is something I do frequently. Here are some lessons I learned along the way!
1. Be wary of gluten free airline food
I tried getting the gluten free airline meal twice. The first meal included a salad with croutons, and the second meal had salad dressing that contained wheat. In general, if someone offers me a gluten free meal and part of that meal contains obvious gluten, I assume they are not careful enough to inspect other ingredients.
My Solution: I bring my own food. If you are traveling domestically, you can bring your own delicious meal and eat it happily without worrying about customs. If you are traveling internationally, at least for the first leg of your flight, you may eat whatever you please, as long as it is finished prior to exiting the plane. And to save you some embarrassment - please do not bring fish. Not on the plane, in the car, on the train, or in public in general. I LOVE fish and eat it frequently, but no one wants the cabin to smell like fish, especially when it's not on the menu.
Tip: Because of TSA regulations regarding liquids, avoid flying with soup, stew, or any other meal with a high water content. It will be confiscated.
2. Pack a cooler for long road trips
My guess is that you already do this one. In fact, I bet you packed a cooler before going gluten free. The important part, however, is to remember that you may be traveling with gluten eaters who want to stop and eat at restaurants along the way.
This, my friends, is an opportunity for you to get a little competitive and educate your company about gluten free food! I always make sure to pack something delicious and “normal” looking since there are quite a few GF-wary folks in my company. Now you can flaunt your healthy, well balanced meal and drop not-so-subtle hints about how you “eat better, feel better, have more energy, and save money” by eating gluten free. I've created a few gluten free converts this way 😉
3. Bring your packable kitchen!
Alright friends, now is the time to take advantage of that DIY cooking kit you created! This provides everything you need to cook simple meals for a small number of people. But what about those big family dinners...
4. Take advantage of disposable cooking liners
This tip has been a lifesaver in multiple communal eating situations. While I generally try to minimize waste, this is an area where I cheat a little. Bags for roasting a turkey, foil placed over gluten pans, and slow cooker liners can make your family’s cookware safe for you! Disposable pans are also an option, especially if staying somewhere for an extended period of time since they are reusable.
Helpful hint 1: Lining a pan with foil but afraid the foil will break? Place a layer of wax/parchment paper down first. Make sure the foil covers the entire pan and goes around the edges too.
Helpful hint 2: Make sure you line the cookware yourself or are at least present for this step - I’ve watched family members altruistically volunteer to help and lay items down on a crumby counter before then lining a slow cooker with the crumb-side up - yikes!
5. Feeling ambitious? Offer to cook (some of) the family meal
I’m fortunate enough to have a gluten free partner in crime (my spouse is very supportive and eats gluten free too), and we have been cooking the majority of the family meal on and off for several years now. Our family’s traditional turkey/ham/stuffing/cranberry/etc. can be a lot for us to make gluten-free for a large crowd, so we offer a theme Christmas and generally use the grill if one is available (yup, outside in the cold) or our own gluten free griddle. These tools produce a lot of food fast. Some of our favorite theme Christmases include Backyard BBQ, Hawaiian, Pacific Northwest (Salmon and greens), and “everything on a skewer”. Our family loves the creativity, and interspersing these with traditional holiday treats is refreshing and fun!
Bonus: You get to have a break from the crowd to play chef, and some family members may even dress up!
Helpful hint: Make sure to discuss “theme holidays” with your family ahead of time. Our family was excited for us to do the heavy lifting on cooking and to try something new and creative, but this may not always be the case. Also, since you are doing the cooking, get another family member to do the shopping for items you know will be gluten free (vegetables, meat, etc) to save you a little time.
Comment below with your best hints or tricks for gluten free holiday travel and cooking in host kitchens!