For anyone who has self-imposed or allergy-imposed dietary restrictions, eating out at restaurants and while traveling can be incredibly difficult.
My boyfriend and I are both celiacs and are both constantly traveling or working incredibly long days. In both circumstances, being prepared to eat on the go is integral. But it's not enough to just grab a granola bar and say you'll wait until dinner. Often he'll work out of town for 5 or 6 days in a row or I'll have 18 hour days in the air port - and you need REAL food to survive that long. And we've gotten pretty good at handling these different circumstances. These tips are also perfect for anyone looking to maintain clean eating habits when going on vacation or out with friends. Sometimes it's hard to avoid temptation when it's right in front of you. But if employ the same techniques those with food allergies do, you remove the OPTION of temptation!
1. Bulk Cook
It doesn't matter if you're going away for a weekend or if you just have a stupid-busy week at work, bulk cooking is the best way to stay on track with your eating habits and avoid going long periods in a day without eating because you don't have time to cook. A few other bloggers posted great blogs about food prepping, and you can click here to check it out.
And here's another.
If you're going away and need to take your food with you, focus on foods that will keep longer. Swap out animal proteins for plant proteins (chick peas, lentils). Cook a sh*t ton of quinoa - in a pinch it tastes good cold and warm. I always use this base recipe to make sure I never go hungry:
> 1C Quinoa
> 1 1/2 C Chick Peas
> 1 C Lentils
> 1 1/2 C Broccoli
> 1/2 C Diced carrots
> 1/2 C Chopped celery
> 1/2 C Chopped Green Beans
1. Cook 1 cup of quinoa
2. In a wok, heat 2 tbsp of oil (your choice) + spices (I always do chilli flakes, a pinch of salt and garlic). Let the spices simmer on low (2) for 5-6 mins.
3. Add in the carrots, broccoli, celery & green beans and cook on medium (5) for 7 minutes.
4. Add in the chick peas & lentils. Stir the mixture and cook for another 5 minutes.
5. Add in the cooked quinoa, stir and warm on low (2) for 3 minutes.
6. Serve or store!
I always split up this mixture into single serving freezer bags WITHOUT any meat. That way you can add meat to it as you please to stretch out how many meals you'll get out of it, or keep some packs out of the freezer without spoiling. It also tastes great cold, so it's perfect for camping.
2. Get a food saver
Food savers should be called life savers (cheesy...). But they really are. Not only can you create individual tv-dinners (that don't taste like cardboard), you can then bulk-buy meat and freeze what you don't need right away.
3. Get a Costco Membership
The amount of money we save on meat and quinoa alone makes it worth it. Plus they're great about taking product recommendations and getting new items in!
4. Buy a hot plate
Sometimes breakfast can be a hard one. Breakfast joints often use that liquid egg carton stuff, which is a) gross b) generally not gluten free. And when everyone is sitting around you eating pancakes and waffles and you're pretending to really love your glass of water, having the option of cooking 1 or 2 eggs can make all the difference.
**Yes I know it's illegal to have one in a hotel room, so don't tell anyone. You can also get ones that plug into the cigarette lighter of your car. "Won't I look crazy cooking eggs in my car?"
Your options are look crazy or go hungry - you'll get over it fast**
You can't have diet restrictions without some foresight. If you're going on vacations, look into the hotel/resort/city first. Most restaurants have their menus online now, or you can pick up the phone. I've had great luck at resorts in Mexico because it's a lot of simple ingredients + corn-based products. But I've had a hard time traveling in certain states in the USA because the standards are different (and I'm very sensitive).
If you're traveling to an amusement park, they'll usually have an allergy guide right on the main website and will list which food vendors throughout the park are safe.
If you're road tripping, try and seek out some local hot spots. Facebook is FULL of "Ontario Celiacs" and "San Diego Vegans" type groups. Ask the people who do this EVERY DAY in the city that you're going to. I often get the best suggestions from these groups.
Sometimes no matter how much you cook and plan, you can be stuck somewhere and NEED to eat something. So knowing what your last resort options are is always helpful. **Tip: Map out the distance between your hotel and nearest grocery store. It might be cheaper to cab there and back then sit down and have a mediocre meal at a restaurant**
6. Be on Schedule & be prepared
Sometimes you can avoid eating out/bringing food with you. But you have to manage your time properly - give yourself enough time to get a full meal, or at least a snack, before you go to a restaurant. That way when you're having that mental battle with yourself ("Well it SAYS gluten-free...but I don't know about cross-contamination/their suppliers/etc etc"), you won't be driven by hunger. Try and load up your car/purse/diaper bag/whatever with granola bars & protein powder. That way when you ARE running late, past you will have your back!
*Side note: get on board with protein powder. I personally HATE the stuff - it tastes like sand and makes me want to die. But when I'm traveling and can't use my hot plate/am out of options, being able to kick back a protein shake in between meals will keep me from tearing faces off due to hunger. I do have to do it hovering over the sink while praying I don't puke...but it's a step*
7. Stick to your guns
If you DO end up in a restaurant and you're worried you'll get glutened/served something you can't eat - don't be afraid to speak up! This is usually the case with chain restaurants that don't have full allergy guides.
It's better to look picky than it is to be sick and miserable for the rest of the day. If you're super sensitive, play it safe. Stick to single ingredient options like edamame (no spices or sauce!), shrimp cocktails or simple salads (no dressing, just veggies and MAYBE chicken if they have a separate prep area). Will you get a fabulous gourmet meal? No. But you won't go hungry!
8. F*ck shame
I carry food with me almost any where I go. And not like little granola bars or bags of almonds - full meals. Because I need to eat and I don't want to be in a circumstance where I have to go hungry. I once had a whole chicken breast wrapped in cellophane at the airport just chilling in my purse (yes security asked a lot of questions). I then split it with my dog.
I've also pulled an entire container of chicken & pasta and ate it in the bar at the Ritz.
I can't count how many times I went to a restaurant and brought my own meal. I used to feel so shameful about it and thought that the waiters/who I was with would hate me for it. I freelance as a wedding photographer and I used to go sit in my car and eat in the parking lot just so the other guests wouldn't think I was nuts. But then I realized...I don't care. I'm HUNGRY and I need to EAT. I'm not going to eat at 4pm so that I can sit patiently while my friends eat dinner at 6. They end up feeling bad and rushed because they don't want me to feel out of place. So if I'm in a restaurant I'll always tell the waiter/waitress that I have extreme allergies and I've brought my own food. I'll also order some sort of drink that isn't water (just so I'm not a total dick).