I just returned from a week-long vacation with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. Everything went successfully for the most part. I did have a couple of issues, one due to my own carelessness, and one which I believe was due to eating “gluten-free” oatmeal for breakfast everyday.
When I travel, I carry a container with utensils I use for eating and meal preparation. I have slotted and non-slotted spoons and spatulas for cooking, a few eating utensils, a knife for cutting, measuring cups and spoons, a can-opener, scissors, a strainer for draining pasta, a mini mesh strainer (for rinsing single servings of quinoa before cooking, for example), and other essentials. The container is wide and flat, which makes it easy to pack into a suitcase. For dishes and other eating utensils, I have a kit from Light My Fire, similar to this one, which, with all pieces packed into the larger triangular container, also fits easily in a suitcase. I also use hard-sided coolers for eating meals outside the home because they can be easily cleaned in a sink with dish soap and a paper towel.
I decided to buy most of my food in single-serving containers to avoid having to bring home a lot of opened items. I bought things like canned vegetables, meats, Beanee Weenees, and beans. These were in small cans with just one or two servings. I bought canned soups and frozen dinners. I bought single-serving packs of microwaveable rice. I bought a couple of single-serving containers of yogurt. I bought packs of single-serving Lays Classic Potato Chips and single-serving bags of popcorn. I bought bags of fun-size Snicker bars and York Peppermint patties for my dessert. I also bought fruit cups. For eating out, I tried to stick with simple things that would have the least amount of cross-contamination risk. I purchased a six-pack of Ensure shakes, Kind bars, and bananas for those meals. I had packs of Nature’s Path gluten-free oatmeal to have for breakfast. I bought pieces of fresh fruit and a can of mixed nuts to eat with the oatmeal. Using simple foods like these allowed me to prepare meals with minimal hassle and with the least potential for cross-contamination.
We found a few restaurants with gluten-free options and that knew how to handle cross-contamination. I was able to eat at these without issue. We traveled to Gulf Shores, Alabama. The restaurants were The Hangout, Lulu’s, Acme Oyster House, and Cactus Flower Cafe. It was wonderful being able to eat out with my family instead of having to eat food I brought in myself or eat at the house before or after, although I could not do this at every place we ate. One restaurant my family really wanted to try was Lambert’s Cafe, home of “throwed rolls”. We’d heard about it from others we knew. I just wish we were in a position to try it four years ago! We thought about trying it on the way there the first day, but it was so busy at lunch time that we decided to go really early the next day. I figured I’d just eat back at the house afterwards, and my family seemed fine with that. For the kind of restaurant it seemed to be, I figured there was no hope of finding anything there safe to eat, so I didn’t even bother asking about foods without my reactive ingredients. We had an issue with wifi at our house, so I had the distraction of trying to get in touch with the owner of the vacation house while my family was eating, so that kept me from being too unhappy during that meal. I drank a diet soda while everyone else ate. We stopped to get a few things at a grocery store afterwards, and I bought a Snickers bar to tide me over until I could get home and eat something. We did drive around some more before we finally made it back to the house, so having the Snickers bar definitely helped. One thing I found out after-the-fact was that the Find Me Gluten Free app listed Lambert’s Cafe as having a gluten-free menu. I remembered looking and not seeing such a thing at the restaurant, so I was surprised. Perhaps I should have asked the server when we were there! Another restaurant at which we stopped also did not have gluten-free options, Tacky Jack’s, so I ordered a diet soda and had an Ensure, a Kind bar, and a banana while the others ate. The waitress was kind enough not to charge me for the soda.
For the road trips there and back, I packed simple items like shakes, bananas, yogurt, Beanee Weenees, fruit/nut bars, and fruit cups. Before we left, I was able to make a salad at home to take for the next night’s dinner, just in case we were still on the road at that time. On the way back, I had two meals with Ensure shakes and fruit/nut bars. I had a banana at one meal and a pear at the other. The other meal was a can of Beanee Weenees with a fruit cup and yogurt. These were the easiest to put together in a short amount of time, and required little preparation and handling, so they were pretty low-risk also. I packed separate hard-sided coolers also to keep meals yet to be eaten uncontaminated.
While I was able to keep myself from exposures for the most part, I did have a couple of issues. One was early on and most likely due to a careless mistake on my part. Since at first I had no idea what might have caused it, I went out to buy a lot of replacement items in case my original items were somehow contaminated. It turned out the original items were fine, so the replacement items will get used over time eventually. It wasn’t completely a waste. It was just a careless mistake that I had made at that particular meal and that didn’t affect my other supplies that I had brought for the week. As the week progressed, I noticed feeling more tired and weighed-down. My sleep also wasn’t as good as it was early on. I figured it was from all the stuff we’d been doing and even from staying up late and watching TV before going to bed. When I began to notice more similarities to my wheat/gluten exposure symptoms, I started to wonder about the oatmeal I’d been eating every morning for breakfast. Some “gluten-free” brands don’t use oats grown under a purity protocol and use oats mechanically cleaned through a process that’s supposed to remove wheat and barley grains. While these contain less than 20 ppm of gluten, allowing them to be labeled gluten-free, there could still be enough traces to cause symptoms to build up over time. I wondered if this might be what was happening to me. I decided not to have oatmeal the last morning for breakfast. I had planned to eat at the house before we left, but I ended up packing something for breakfast instead and just having that wherever the family decided to stop. Even though I was tired from not sleeping well the night before, I didn’t feel as fatigued and dragged-down as I had the previous two days. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, or perhaps it wasn’t. I plan to be careful with “gluten-free” oat products in the future. I definitely won’t be eating them everyday like I did over this vacation, unless I can find products with oats grown under a purity protocol.
This was a trip that I was really dreading, since it was the first time I’d traveled anywhere since I discovered my super-sensitivity and that my reactions were very likely allergic. I’m glad that things went well and that I was able to plan and eat safe meals for the most part. I did learn that I have to be very careful with gluten-free oat products and only eat those occasionally. Hopefully for the next trip I can find oatmeal packets containing oats grown under a purity protocol.
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