Flying Gluten Free

While I don’t travel as much as I used to, I love getting on a plane and heading going somewhere new. Or somewhere familiar, familiar enough to feel like home without the added benefit of a cat standing on my chest at 5 a.m. because, well, breakfast.

Breakfast, of course, leads nicely into the challenges of traveling gluten free, specifically while flying. For a short trip — say, the hour or so between Los Angeles and San Francisco — managing food isn’t much of a problem, though these days, even a short flight can translate to long hours. Getting to and from airports. Dealing with security. Even walking through the terminal takes time.

The husband and I used to have a tradition of eating breakfast at the airport when we had early flights. Now, generally, he indulges while I munch on a GF sandwich or other food I’ve brought along. This is because breakfast choices at most airport restaurants are limited…though this is improving as airlines and airports wise up to the fact that people are spending longer and longer in the terminals.

(Which leads to a shout-out to San Francisco’s airport — lots of great options for gluten-free diners!)

If it’s a cross-country flight, I go with one of two strategies: pack food and snacks (no soups or sauces, of course) or buy a pre-made salad once I get past security. Again, gluten-free sandwiches are a great choice. I also make GF wraps using rice paper wrappers and whatever filling I’m craving. While US-based airlines are improving their gluten-free options for domestic flights, I’ve had enough bad luck that I don’t count on this.

(Which leads to a question for American Airlines: is it really so hard to include GF potato chips among your snack choices?)

Where things really improve is on international flights. We flew Virgin Atlantic to Italy a few years ago, and while I was anxious about the gluten-free meal I ordered in advance (thank you online horror stories!), there were no hiccups. Ditto for a British Airways flight. Don’t think I didn’t pack some snacks just in case, though!

In order to make sure nothing goes wrong — though there are no guarantees! — I suggest the following:

  • When booking your flight, or soon thereafter, make sure you specify that you want a gluten-free meal. Most airlines ask that you order your meal 24 – 96 hours in advance. I suggest the 96-hour mark at the latest. Double-check your order when you check in for the flight.
  • Know that you can only order one type of special meal. So if you are gluten free and vegan, you only get one of those choices.
  • Check the airline’s website for a listing of onboard snacks/meals (depending on the length of the flight) and plan your BYOF strategy accordingly. Again, airlines are improving, but you need to be prepared.
  • If you’re bringing your own food, consider the length of the flight and how safely you can store your food to ensure you don’t get sick. Generally, you can bring small coolers/lunch boxes on the flight, but you probably won’t be able to get ice or ice-like products past security. While I’ve never had to try it, others have reported they’ve obtained ice from terminal restaurants.
  • Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations set forth by the TSA, here and here.  and  If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you are not violating any local or other laws. For example, that great prosciutto you bought in Italy? It can’t be brought back to the US.

Now to get back to sending my husband telepathic signals about that anniversary trip to Hawaii I’m hoping he’s planning! What are your favorite strategies for flying while gluten free?

Tip of the Week

A great snack for flying is hummus with veggies. Freeze no more than 3-ounces of hummus before flying. It will be defrosted and ready to eat when you’re hungry! For more suggestions for in-flight meals and snacks, click here.

Menu of the Week

This week’s menu is ready to be packed into your carry-on bag! I love rice paper wraps because they taste great and feel virtuous. You’re probably familiar with spring rolls filled with lettuce/herbs, shrimp, and maybe seasoned veggies or rice noodles. Try other proteins, from tofu to finely sliced steak. You’ll have to skip the dipping sauce, so I lightly marinate my proteins to add a bit of flavor. Store the wraps in an airtight container with a slightly damp paper towel.

  • Rice Paper Wraps
  • Crispy Garbanzo Beans (if you can’t find them in grocery store, they are so easy to roast. Make them spicy, savory, or even slightly sweet. Here’s a great recipe if you don’t have one.)
  • Hummus and Veggies
  • Udi’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (normally I don’t indulge in desserts, but these are perfect for pick-me-ups during flights)

Dealing with Language Barriers

Io sono celiaca. Tengo Celiaca. Watashi wa seriakku o motte iru.

Or, how about “I have celiac disease?”

When I went to Italy, my biggest concern was the food. As it turned out, eating gluten free in Italy wasn’t a challenge. But it did require clear communication — a challenge for me as my Italian accent was probably worse than I imagined. Now, as I plan a trip to Spain, I’m not just learning rudimentary Spanish, I’m also learning to communicate the fact I’m gluten free with waiters and other restaurant staff. Continue reading “Dealing with Language Barriers”

Gluten-Free Travel: Safe Foods

Last week, I mentioned that the one thing I do when I’m recovering from an accidental glutening is a retreat into my favorite comfort foods (the risotto was fantastic!). Having an out-of-town trip mid-process makes the entire recovery process a bit challenging.

Or so I grumbled to myself as I got up early to make gluten-free sandwiches for the trip. As my husband reviewed my stash of “safe” foods for the journey, he noted we weren’t leaving the country. As I reviewed the stash, I had to agree: I’d gone overbooard. After all, we were headed to San Diego, a place gluten-free options are plentiful…as is great Mexican food! Continue reading “Gluten-Free Travel: Safe Foods”

Gluten-Free Pasadena, California

We love eating out in Pasadena, and have a found a great number of restaurants that have gluten-free options and/or are willing to modify menu items to accommodate gluten-free diners. Please note that many of the place listed below prepare foods in shared spaces with gluten-based items, so you need to be careful when ordering.

I’ve found most of the staff and management in these restaurants have been extremely accommodating. Staff who are not familiar with what it means to be gluten free are willing to defer to managers and chefs. But, as always, ask lots of questions before ordering. Continue reading “Gluten-Free Pasadena, California”

Gluten-Free Travel: Catalina Island

Our first trip to Catalina Island after I went gluten-free was not the stuff of legend. What with this, that, and the other, I basically lived on nachos for three days. My stomach was not amused. Neither was my waistline.

This past weekend, we went back for our usual long walks, zip lining (I’m an addict), and reading on the beach. Oh, and eating. This trip, I was determined to eat well. And while I didn’t rule out nachos, I’m proud to say I managed the four-day trip with nary a cheesy chip passing my lips.

Sigh. Now. Craving. Nachos.

I digress. Avalon, Catalina’s main town, is known for tourist food. By boat, it’s about an hour from Los Angeles (and the boat ride is free on your birthday!), so it’s popular with families who want to get away for a short period of time and tourists to the region. This mix of people means a lot of the food tends toward, well, gluten-filled. Pancakes are very popular.

However, if you put a bit of effort into your dining choices, you’ll discover lots of great gluten-free meals in Avalon. None of the restaurants mentioned is dedicated to gluten-free cooking, so there is a chance of cross-contamination. I am happy to say I had zero problems with anything I ate, and didn’t need to dip into the food stash I brought on the trip. With one exception that I’ll mention in a moment. Continue reading “Gluten-Free Travel: Catalina Island”

Gluten-Free Travel: Milan, Italy

Like every gluten-free person, I think a lot about food. And when it comes to travel, food looms large in my planning — both during the trip and when I arrive at my destination. And when that travel involved a business trip to Milan, Italy, well, my “What am I going to to eat?” radar went wild.

It wasn’t hard to worry; Italy is the land of pizza, panini, and pasta. Plus, well, my Italian is less-than-fluent.

Initial research suggested I was worrying for nothing. Apparently, Italy, as a whole, is very aware of issues for people with celiac disease and/or gluten intolerance. Children are tested for celiac at a young age, and GF foods are widely available. Continue reading “Gluten-Free Travel: Milan, Italy”