Travelling as a GFE (Gluten Free Eater)
Travelling gluten free can be hard.
Preparing for travel can be stressful. Even more so if you have restrictions on what you can eat when you travel. The idea is that when you travel, you actually enjoy yourself. If you’re stressed about what you can eat then that doesn’t really happen. Travelling as a GFE (Gluten Free Eater) ups the stress level by a factor of ten. Add on being a Kosher eating GFE and you’ve just sent the stress level through the roof.
Travelling gluten free is hard. Travelling Kosher and gluten free is harder!
I’m here to help
I’ve travelled as a Kosher eating GFE a lot. Especially recently. Dear Husband and I have started taking short trips to Midwest locations that are super quiet. While I still get stressed preparing, there are a lot of tricks I use that help to reduce the stress level.
Depending upon where you’re travelling, and with who, the parameters of what you need to bring can vary. For example if you’re travelling with your whole family, kids included, you’re going to need to bring more kid friendly foods and snacks.
If you’re travelling by yourself or with another grownup (or someone who acts like a grownup) the requirements change.
Things to think about when you book your stay
These days there are lots of different lodging options. We’ve stayed at air bnb’s, cabins, hotels, condo type resorts, and family’s homes. When booking (or staying at) any of these places here are some things I recommend making sure are included. Make sure ask about them before you get there!
- A microwave – While it’s always best to consult your Rabbi, we hold by the opinion that microwaves can be Koshered. Making sure there is a microwave in the place you’re staying is one of the most essential elements. You can cook almost anything in a microwave.
- A refrigerator – Considering that wherever you go, you’re going to have to bring a significant amount of food with you, and you’re going to need a place to store it. Some hotels have mini fridges, while other accommodations have larger ones. If possible go with the larger. It will reduce a lot of stress.
- Breakfast – Does the place you’re staying have breakfast or 24 hour coffee/hot water. As a Kosher GFE, breakfast may or may not be incredibly helpful.
- I’ve found that at most hotels, the staff is more than happy to show you their gluten free items in the packaging. It can be very useful to grab Kosher gluten free bagels or packaged gluten free snacks (like Udi’s muffins and treats) for a quick snack later. There may be cereals or other breakfast items that are Kosher and gluten free. You need to ask. Don’t be shy…the staff is almost always happy to help!
- Breakfast nearly always includes fruits. Naturally Kosher and gluten free.
- Sometimes hotels offer yogurts that are Kosher and gluten free.
- Breakfast almost always includes spreads. Even if there are no Kosher and gluten free breads or crackers available, you can usually get small, pre-packaged, sealed small containers of peanut butter, jelly, butter, margarine, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard and cream cheese at breakfast buffets. These can be used for sandwiches or for making interesting dinners later.
Tools to bring
If you keep stringently Kosher, even places that have a fully stocked kitchen can be an issue. The cookware, plates, serving pieces and silverware aren’t considered strictly Kosher because they’ve been used for non-Kosher foods.
Depending upon whether you’re flying or driving can impact what types of cooking tools you take. Checking luggage or just taking a carry-on will effect what you take as well. Here are some things I almost always take with, some items I take only when driving, some I take when flying.
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I Always take…
- A portable grill/sandwich maker. I almost always toss one of these babies into my bag. It’s small and very portable. and the removable plates make it very easy to clean. I like this model because it has a display on top that shows when the grill is hot. You can make nearly anything on it. You don’t necessarily have to bring all the plates with you. Depending upon how long my stay is, I’ve even brought two – a dairy one and a meat one! I’ve made toast, any type of burger, chicken, fish, potatoes or other vegetables. I’ve even reheated mac and cheese using the waffle plates!
- Cutting Boards are an important item to bring. If you bring the lightweight, super thin ones, then you have a surface to cut, prep, and serve on. You can toss these in your carry-on or suitcase without adding almost any weight or bulk.
- Camping Silverware is another great thing to toss into your bag. While I’m a big proponent of using disposable items while traveling, it’s not always an option. I have a bunch of plastic camping silverware sets that I throw into my bag. I’ve picked them up at trade shows and they are super handy. Here are a few types that I would recommend. They don’t take up almost any space or weight.
- Knives are super important to bring. If I’m driving or can check luggage, I like to bring covered knives in different colors. I bring decent quality, not super quality, lightweight knives that I use primarily for travel. This way they don’t dull and I keep them where I can find them when needed.
- Ziplock bags are incredibly helpful to bring along. I usually take a large gallon bag an put additional gallon bags and sandwich bags inside. I use them for everything, but especially for sandwiches, snacks, storing leftovers, holding wet items. The used bags can be helpful holding small amounts of trash to be disposed of at a later time.
If you have the space
- An Electric Skillet can be extremely useful depending upon the available cooking appliances. Dear Husband and I were once stuck over Shabbat in an area where there weren’t Kosher stores or restaurants. We hadn’t planned for the stay, but thanks to Trader Joe’s stocking of Kosher poultry in most of their stores, we were able to purchase the ingredients necessary to make a wonderful Shabbat meal. As we were staying in a hotel, we didn’t have anything to cook said meal with. We drove over to the local Walmart and purchased an electric skillet. In one pan I cooked potatoes, rice and chicken – all at the same time! I even threw in green beans at the end of the cooking cycle. It was a delicious, one-pan meal.
When we have the space (read: driving), we use it as a “Shabbat Blech” by adding water to the skillet and turning over the lid. For those of you that don’t know, a “blech” is a surface that facilitates bringing food to a warm temperature without cooking, so we can have warm (but not hot) food on Shabbat. It’s one of those things that I recommend asking your Rabbi about.
- Mini Cooking Utensils are helpful to have, especially if you’re able to bring an electric skillet. I’ve even found some good quality ones at Dollar Tree.
- PackIt Freezable Coolers and lunch bags are awesome. They are collapsible and keep your food cold for hours. You can put them in the freezer and they act as freezer packs – with no additional ice packs needed. These are great for keeping everything you need for a day’s outing cold and fresh.
- Disposable containers are extremely helpful. They can be bought at the dollar store or Walmart when you arrive at your destination. They are great for microwave cooking and storing already cooked leftovers. If you are driving and have space, it’s helpful to get them ahead of time so you have them when you arrive. These are cheap enough that you can even leave them behind at the end of the trip without a lot of guilt!
When travelling gluten free, food can often be the biggest challenge. What will everyone eat?
- Gluten Free Bread is always a great thing to bring. You can put it in the freezer and defrost individual slices as needed. These are great for grilled cheese (can be vegan) sandwiches or morning toast. Often hotels have butter, peanut butter and cream cheese available with breakfasts.
- Gluten Free Bagels are a must have! I make them in advance and freeze them. They are great for any kind of sandwich – including burgers, and make fabulous pizza bagels too!
- Cheese is a staple in our house. Whether dairy or vegan we always bring cheese along. I melt it on pasta and vegetables to dress them up. Even shredded cheese can be used to make a sandwich.
- Pasta! Did you know that you can make pasta in the microwave??? You need to have a high water to pasta ratio and make sure to put a paper plate under the container – it almost always overflows. But…when it’s done…it’s delicious! I usually purchase one or two larger disposable storage containers when we arrive for just this purpose. You can make and store pasta, rice, vegetables and other foods in them. If you bring along an electric skillet you can make pasta or rice in that as well.
- Burgers and breakfast sausages. We always make vegan burgers ahead of our trip and warm them in the microwave. There are a plethora of varieties available now so you can have a different type every day. They are perfect to toss on a bun or bread and bring along for a quick lunch. We’ve had them for dinner as well.
- When travelling gluten free I often rely on ready made foods. This is when I splurge. I like to find different ready made foods for trips. You can find all different types of frozen products that can be made easily in the microwave or on your portable grill.
- Frozen soups
- Pizza Bagels
- Frozen Dinners
- Frozen Vegetables can be purchased ahead of time and put in the cooler to act as freezer packs. I love getting chopped spinach or broccoli. They can be used to make Spinach Soufflé Potatoes or Potataffles (potatoes made in the waffle plates of the grill), or as a healthy side dish for any meal. Some vegetables can be purchased locally when you arrive. Riced vegetables can be made in the microwave and with a little seasoning can become a whole dish.
- Rice dishes are great for travel. Instant rice can be made by just adding water. Gluten Free Rice mixes can be made in the microwave.
- Tuna pouches are super convenient for travel. I love the ones that come flavored. They are fabulous on pasta or rice or as a sandwich to go.
- Of course any type of fresh fruit or vegetable is best. We love baby carrots! They’re a definite staple when we travel.
- Baby carrots!
- Mandarin oranges, bananas, bags of grapes, celery sticks and raw pepper strips.
- Snack bags of trail mix or nuts. You can find many varieties at Trader Joe’s or in the nut section of your local grocery.
- Protein Bars are great for travel. They can be pricy though. Traveling is a great time to splurge a little and get the flavors you’ve been wanting to try. I really like Larabars, Kind, Made Good (which are also available as granola snack bags), RX bars, and especially Quest Bars. The Quest bars are my absolute favorite as they are packed with protein and aren’t high in calories and carbs.
- Protein Snacks. I try to pack a lot into my snacks, and try to grab ones that are higher in protein and lower in carbs. To that end I’m a big fan of the Quest Protein chips. You can also pack your favorite to-go snacks. This is when pre-packed snacks are super helpful.
- Popcorn is great for trips! You can put bags of microwave popcorn in your luggage or buy some when you arrive. They are compact and make great snacks!
- TicTacs are fun while traveling and already come in portable containers! Be careful, only some varieties are certified Kosher.
Here’s some more advice for when you’re travelling gluten free!
- Be creative! Cooking while on vacation requires a certain amount of creativity. Think outside the box!
- Take a field trip to the local grocery store. This is an activity we always do on any trip! It’s so fun to peruse the aisles and see what new and exciting local Kosher and gluten free products are available regionally. I’ve found some super interesting items that I had never seen before and made sure to stock up for the trip back home.
- Farmer’s markets are especially fun. Fresh produce is a fabulous, healthy food for any trip!
- Produce picking is an awesome family activity. We especially love blueberry picking. Peach picking is fun too! While we like apple picking …it only takes five minutes for the family to fill an entire bushel full of apples. Keep that in mind when scheduling!
Make sure to read my post Cooking Kosher Vacation Style for how I’ve cooked on previous vacations! Trust me when I tell you we never go hungry on our trips!
Do you have any travel tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. Please post them below so all my readers can learn from your experience!