Someone asked recently how to manage during holiday trips with children on special diets. It’s actually easier than you think. Firstly, give yourself a pat on the back for going on holidays with a child on the Autism Spectrum. That’s a bigger challenge than most parents of neuro-typical children would think. We need to consider about our child’s sensory issues with airports and strange hotel rooms, the change in routine for a child who is fixated on a particular schedule, the lack of home comforts and all the things that makes our day just a little bit easier.
When you throw in special diets and 20+ different supplements, now that’s taking holidays up a notch.
Maintaining the GFCF diet on holiday is actually a lot easier when you’re travelling within Asia. Whether it’s Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia or other Asian countries, there is always rice dishes, mee hoon, kuew teow, congee, and many more Asian foods are naturally GFCF. Even soy, egg, corn and seafood free diets are easy to implement. Just ask them to hold the ‘kicap’ ie. soy sauce, tauhu or tofu, eggs etc when ordering your fried rice or noodles. Fish sauce or ‘kapi’ is commonly used in Thai dishes, most kids are fine on it, otherwise please ask the chef ‘no fish sauce please’.
Other commonly available foods on a western menu that are GFCF are french fries, grilled fish and fried chicken wings. If you are on a low-salicylates diet, then you’ll just have to be the fussy, difficult customer and insist on no tomatoes, brocolli, pears or whatever it is your child can’t have. However, asking politely, lots of smiles, apologies and tips goes a long way to make sure our dining experience goes easier and the chefs and waiters make sure they get our orders right.
Always bring your favourite digestive enzymes such as DPP-IV, Phenol Assist, Trienza or No Fenol on you at all times. Every morning, I used to pre-mix the enzymes in a container with diluted juice and bring along a giant syringe to give to the girls throughout the day whilst on holidays or when going out. If your child can swallow capsules, always make sure you have a bottle of water handy. I’d give them their enzymes in the car, on aeroplanes, in restaurants, by the pool, on the beach, on boat rides, at the animal sanctuary, whilst jungle trekking, you name it, we did it.If you are lucky enough to afford a holiday in a 4-5 star hotel or resort, breakfast buffets may be a bit hard as our kids can see the big platters of bread, cheese, cakes and other no-nos. But, it’s do-able by choosing a table furthest away from the buffet lines helps a lot. Make sure you choose and pick the food and serve him yourself. Some kids will comply when told not to eat their sibling’s toast or ice cream, but for some you may need to explain to other family members on holiday not to eat such foods in front of your child. Hopefully, they will understand. Otherwise, stagger breakfast times eg. one group eats at a different time, the special diets group eat either at a separate table:-( or eat at a different time. Yes, we do want all our children to be included in all the group activities and mealtimes, so find a way to compromise so that the other members of the family don’t feel like they’re not on holiday either.
You can look up on the hotel website for their restaurant or room service menu. If it’s not available online, call up the hotel a few days beforehand to inform them of your dietary needs. Inform the hotel (not your travel agent) to make sure the chefs have GFCF options if possible. A special mention to Shangri-La Rasa Sayang in Penang Island- one of my favourite resorts ever, their breakfast buffets even have several different types of gluten-free breads! We really enjoyed the Hard Rock Resort in Penang, however most of their menu items are western-foods. Not much asian-food choices, we ordered chicken rice twice a day every single day we were there. Luckily the girls didn’t mind the monotony. On the last day, they ran out of chicken rice so I asked Room Service for fish and chips with a side-order of plain rice. We just scraped the batter off the fish, no big deal.
You can even bring along a box of GF pasta, and ask the chef nicely if they could substitute the pasta dish with the gluten-free one. Be nice to the waiters and restaurant staff:-) Politeness and smiles goes a long way to get what you want in most Asian countries. And tipping is most appreciated too.
When ordering from ‘warung’ or food stalls, don’t forget to mention “no MSG please” or “no Ajinomoto” (the most famous brand of MSG)
I also like to bring food from home, this especially saves time when you’ve got a child who’s constantly hungry and you’re not sure if you can get to a cafe or the hotel in time to order a meal. Or worse, if I was worried that there might not be a GFCF option on the menu. Also a great way to save some money instead of ordering from the hotel all the time.
Some of my favourite foods to pack are home-cooked fried rice, GFCF pasta meal, fried chicken drumsticks, fried meehoon, home-made chicken nuggets, stir-fried chicken with vegetables, fried fish with some white rice separately. If I bring enough of the stir-fry, I can serve it the next day by ordering a portion of plain rice from room service. Some of these foods are enough for at least 2 meals. For snacks, I also bring a loaf of sliced home-made GFCF bread and peanut butter or any other appropriate nut butters and jams. Home-made or store bought GFCF cookies, potato chips and even sandwich fillings such as margarine, a couple of slabs of roast chicken breast and a whole cucumber, seriously!
I sometimes bring my own preferred brand of popper-sized juices as many of the juices available at the hotel may be full of preservatives, artificial sweeteners and flavourings. If your child still drinks milk from a bottle, bring enough boxes of rice milk to last throughout your stay PLUS an additional 2 boxes just in case of spillage or extended stays. Don’t forget to check if there is a mini-fridge in your hotel room. If you are staying in only 1 room with 1 fridge, then you may not be able to bring so much home-cooked or fresh food as you’ll need the space for your refrigerated supplements and opened rice milk cartons. However, we usually book 2 connecting rooms and I empty out all the canned drinks and snacks from the mini-fridges, hide them away safely and place it back before check-out. Most service apartments usually comes with large-sized refrigerators, microwaves, stove and even rice cookers.
When we drive down and stay in serviced apartments with a complete kitchen in Singapore, I even bring a small bag of uncooked rice, cooking oil, salt and even tumeric, our favourite spice. I can easily buy fresh fish or chicken and vegetables from a supermarket there and I’ll cook for the entire family. Cheap, healthy and special diet friendly.
Request beforehand with your travel agent, by email or call up the airline for a special meal according to your dietary needs. Most airlines are happy to accommodate. If flying by Air Asia, do pre-purchase your meals when booking online.
I also bring enough bottles of rice milk, juice, snacks such as potato chips, GFCF cookies and a main meal in case they get hungry before the meals are served on the plane or in a busy airport without much food choices. I always pack straws, small forks, spoons, even a small plastic or melamine bowl, plate and lots of wet wipes in my hand luggage. We’ve gone through many airports loaded with rice milk, juice and water and the security personnel were kind enough to let us bring them on board because they understood that these were for our children.
However, there are no restrictions on bringing liquids packed into checked-in luggage, the only security issue is for hand-luggage.
For checked in luggage, please pack your supplements and foods preferably all in 1 suitcase. This way, if customs needs to inspect it, you only need to open 1 bag. Make sure you label that precious bag properly. Do pack liquids especially rice milk cartons in several layers of plastic bags in case of spillage. If possible, pack precious rice milk, supplements and foods into the sturdiest bag you have. Place refrigerated items in chiller bags with enough ice packs.
Before travelling, to make packing easier, I research the country/city that I’ll be travelling too. Find out if rice milk and GFCF snacks are sold there. This way, we don’t have to bring so much especially rice milk as some of our children consume so much of it and are particular which brand they prefer. If travelling to Australia, rice milk, ready made gluten free breads and many types of GFCF foodstuffs is sold in every Woolworth and Coles supermarkets. In Singapore, many of you know where to buy them.
When my kids were younger and drank lots of rice milk, I calculated how much milk and snacks they would need. I counted the hours from the moment we left home by airport taxi, the time to check-in, the hours until boarding, the flight time, the time it would take to collect the luggage, the trip to the hotel AND account for 6 hours delay time just in case. This happened to us flying back from Singapore to KL, our 9pm budget airline flight was cancelled and we were bumped to a flight the next day. Which meant a 12 hour layover in Changi airport. Luckily we managed to get a room in the airport hotel. We had run out of rice milk by that time so Paul ran around Changi airport at midnight looking for soy milk with the lowest sugar content, because there’s no way they stock organic rice milk in airport shops. It was a blessing that Maya was so tired and desired milk so much that she didn’t reject the different taste. As it is, Paul bought 2 different brands just in case she rejected one of them. Bless him.
A special mention to the Super Dad who recently told me how their son after drinking an entire bottle of milk on a long-haul flight, threw up the entire contents of his tummy all over his poor dad. Not only did they worry about not having enough milk for the rest of the flight, the poor father had to sit in wet, stinky clothes. I bet they got a lot of dirty looks from the other passengers too. So yes, please bring a change of clothing for your child AND yourself:-)
When we went to Sydney last year, we didn’t have a direct flight. We had a transit stop in Singapore, so counting the taxi drive from home to KLIA, the pre-boarding time at the airport, 55 minutes flight from KL to Singapore, the transit in Changi Airport, the 7 hour flight to Sydney, 45 minutes drive to the Sydney holiday apartment AND taking into account of any delays, I had to make sure we had enough milk and snacks for 2 little girls. For our hand luggage, we brought 6 milk bottles filled with rice milk in a chiller pack and an unopened carton of 1 litre rice milk. Malaysian customs let us through, but when we transited via Singapore airport, they told us a 1 litre container wasn’t allowed. So we opened the milk carton and poured it into 2 of the girls’ empty milk bottles up to the rim, the girls had drank a bottle of milk each since then. We even emptied out the mineral water bottle and poured the milk in. That seemed to satisfy the airport security and onboard we went sloshing with rice milk.
I also pack a small first-aid kit including thermometer, Panadol, anti-histamines, fever suppositories and cold, cough, flu medication just in case. What can I say, I’m a disaster-plan freak!
On certain trips, we felt that the girls had been on the diet long enough and that they have healed enough that they can enjoy occassional breaks from the strict diet. It is up to you whether to maintain the diet and supplement regime or decide if your child is ready to have a short break from diets and biomed, so long as you bring lots of digestive enzymes and pray that there’s no regressions.However, many parents have successfully maintained the strict diet and complete list of supplements whilst on holidays. A special mention goes to RR who not only maintained a strict diet, complete supplements as well as the rigorous AC chelation protocol which requires 4 hourly dosing even when on holiday in a freezing house-boat on a remote river, no electricity, >4 degree Celcius weather as well as pack in all the sightseeing and excursions. Yes, she managed it all. Not only that, the entire family had the best holiday ever.
Hopefully your guardian angels will ensure you, your child and the whole family have the best holiday and all goes smoothly!