How We Do: Eating on Vacation with Food Allergies

We recently returned from our Spring Break trip to San Diego.  We spent Easter with Walter’s family, then did Legoland and Sea World the rest of the week.  With food allergies, eating on vacation is really hard and I get asked by friends and other allergy moms how we manage it–and it feels like a big accomplishment when we do!–so I’ll share how we did it this past week.

Remember, Leo avoids wheat, corn, peaches, pineapple, and peanuts.  His reactions are internal and delayed (he has Eosinophilic Esophagitis), which isn’t necessarily a good thing BUT we don’t have to worry about histamine reactions such as hives or, God forbid, anaphylaxis. And for the most part we don’t have to worry about minor exposures or cross contamination.


We like to choose hotels that include hot breakfasts. On this trip, we stayed at Residence Inn and they have a very nice hot breakfast buffet. Leo is able to eat scrambled eggs (offered every day) and he sometimes also would choose the potatoes. He also gets a pile of fresh fruit (this hotel always had honeydew and cantaloupe, which both kids loved).  I bring two pieces of his wheat-free, corn free bread to the breakfast area and toast them.

Oh my goodness, one day this week someone stole his GF toast! I don’t know how it happened, I was right there, but I put in my two pieces of Rudi bread, a young woman put in one piece of wheat bread, then I put in my bagels–only two pieces of toast fell out and they were not Rudi’s.  What in the world?! Honestly I can’t figure out what happened.  From then on, I guarded the toaster like a HAWK.

These buffets are great because each of us gets to eat what we want, and they power us up more than cold cereal in our room.


How you eat out with food allergies really depends on what the allergic person likes to eat. It’s easy to eat gluten free if you love salad, for example, but Leo doesn’t.  On last year’s (very similar) trip, he ate a ton of hamburgers.  We realized we could get a burger from almost any restaurant, swap out our own WF/CF bun and we were all set. But right now Leo doesn’t like burgers. Oy! Thankfully, he does like sandwiches. So on our first day at Legoland we headed to the Garden Restaurant. We ordered Leo a sandwich that had turkey and avocado. When the food came, I swapped out the Rudi bread we brought with us. (Sadly the avocado was spread on the bun, rather than sliced, so not much was able to transfer over.)  Leo liked it.

On Tuesday, we spent the morning at Sea World, but once we were ready for lunch, Walter suggested we head to La Jolla. We found a BBQ joint called Bubba’s.  As it was past the noon rush, we had no trouble asking the cashier about what was free of wheat and corn (she was very friendly and helpful). We ordered Leo a brisket sandwich with just the dry rub on it. He loved it! Again, I had Rudi bread with me, but that day, it just fell to pieces when we took it out of the baggie! Grrr. Anyway, Walter made one after the other of little open faced meat-on-bread sandwiches with a little BBQ sauce (the spicy was safe, according to the cashier, but the sweet sauce was not–and the sauce was available like a ketchup dispenser so we could add it to the dry meat in the proportion he wanted–fantastic).  I have never seen Leo eat beef so enthusiastically. I believe he ate every bite.  Praise!

Wednesday we were back at Legoland. I should add that neither Legoland nor Sea World allow outside food.  However, Legoland does not inspect bags, so that was no problem.  At Sea World, I tuck our food in between our change of clothes in our backpacks and I’ve never had a problem.  If stuff were discovered, I’d have no problem explaining why our dietary needs dictate bringing in bread and snacks. Anyway…. We went back to Garden Restaurant and this time when ordering, Walter asked if they had gluten free bread.  They did and they were able to show us the nutrition information for it so we could see it was corn-free.  Hooray!!!  Leo ordered a different sandwich this time (roast beef maybe?) and it came nicely prepared on GF bread that didn’t fall apart. Yay, another success!

I should mention another “casualty” of allergy eating. I don’t like sandwiches, I find it difficult to order at deli type places like this. So what did I order? Grilled cheese which was only offered on the children’s menu! LOL. I didn’t feel bad ordering a second kids meal (obviously Tess ordered one too) since Leo ordered off the full priced menu.  Whatever, you do what you gotta do. And the grilled cheese was yummy. 😉 One complaint about the kids meal though.  Grownup sandwiches came with kettle chips, kids meals came with Baked Lays–yuck. They were gross. 😦 Legoland, please give out better chips with your kids meal.

Thursday we spent much of our day at the hotel, swimming and doing laundry, so we ate lunch in our room. We love having a kitchenette, though I didn’t cook much last week.  Walter bought some nice deli meat from Sprouts and I made boxed GF mac n cheese.  (I ate a peanut butter sandwich, I told you I don’t do lunch meat.)

Friday we were back at Sea World.  Our typical lunch spot there is the Shipwreck Cafe but for whatever reason, that was closed. They have burgers but I think also a deli sandwich. Alas! So we headed to Calypso Bay Smokehouse since we had done so well with BBQ on Tuesday.  Also, it’s their designated “allergy-friendly” restaurant. We told the cashier we needed to speak to someone about allergies. Eventually a nice woman came out carrying a binder (turns out she was the chef). We told her our issues and she explained that all the meats were seasoned only with salt and pepper and she could serve Leo the dry brisket. She didn’t want to give Leo fries due to cross contamination with chicken nuggets in the fryer and I didn’t argue since Leo rarely likes fries anyway (strange boy) and she substituted strawberries.  She instructed us to order the rest of our food, but she would take care of Leo’s plate personally.  We did as she told us and we were able to grab our own plates and pay, explaining to the cashier that Leo was having the brisket but we were waiting for the chef. We checked out, Tess and I grabbed napkins etc. and a table while Leo and Walter waited a few minutes for the special plate.

Oh, and we asked the chef if she had any gluten free bread and she did not. Turns out this smokehouse didn’t do sandwiches–it was meat (either brisket or chicken-on-the-bone) served with a dinner roll and fries.

By this time, we had run out of the Rudi bread I’d brought from Phoenix and Walter’s trips to Sprouts and Safeway came up empty, so we now carried Rudi’s cinnamon raisin bread.  We weren’t sure how that would go over in a beef sandwich, but somehow we got through.  This was not Leo’s favorite meal of the trip, I’ll tell you, but he ate a lot of the brisket, to my surprise and delight. (Unlike the meat at Bubba’s which was chopped, these were just strips of meat–and plastic flatware didn’t really allow us to change that.)  Bottom line: that was probably the last time we will eat at Calypso in Sea World.


Thanks to our many many trips to San Diego (Walter’s family lives there), we now have a few favorites we can rely on.

After arriving in SD on Saturday night, we drove to our old favorite Pizza Nova. They have a safe GF pizza Leo can eat. The rest of us love the diverse menu. Tess ordered mac n cheese off the kids menu, I ordered chicken fettuccine alfredo (it was quite good) and Walter had a seafood pasta I believe.  This isn’t Leo’s favorite pizza in the world, but we all ate well.  It also is right on the marina for a great view. Service is excellent. Highly recommend!

Our big meal on Easter was a lunch my father-in-law prepared (pork roast, I think we fixed the kids quesadillas, can’t remember) but by evening we decided to order Domino’s for everyone. God bless Domino’s for adding GF pizza to their menu a few years ago–they make it possible for us to eat almost anywhere. Praise!

Monday night after Legoland, we went to Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza in Carlsbad. We knew from eating at one in SD that they offer a brown rice penne Leo can eat. He ordered it with marinara sauce and parmesan and was a happy camper. Yay! (I so wish there was a Sammy’s here in Phoenix.) The rest of us enjoy their diverse menu. Tess ordered the hamburger sliders off the kids menu and Walter and I were oddly in sync, each getting a chicken wrap.

Tuesday was our half day at Sea World. After Bubba’s for lunch we spent some time on the beach, then headed to the in-law’s house for dinner.  We brought in Mexican from a local spot and we made Leo his normal burrito (rice tortilla, cheddar, homemade guacamole, Macayo’s taco sauce). Everyone was happy. 🙂

Wednesday we were back up in Carlsbad.  We left Legoland and returned to a spot we found last year: Blaze. This place is neat, you order a custom pizza and watch it be built and fired.  They have a safe GF pizza for Leo who ordered his with red peppers. Tess got sausage, I got pepperoni, and Walter ordered the Artisan (I think it was called).  Again, not Leo’s favorite pizza in the world but he ate it up.

Thursday was our rest day and we ended it at the in-laws.  My father-in-law made fried chicken (his specialty, yum) and we whipped up another burrito for Leo.

Friday, we had a long, glorious day at Sea World, then headed back to Pizza Nova. What can I say, it is easy and yummy! And we had a super server that night (I think his name was Marc?). Leo and I had pizza (it was quite good), Tess had pasta, Walter had lasagna.  Again, everyone was happy.  Yay!

On the Road

We always stop during our 6 hour road trip for lunch. After a later start last Saturday, we stopped at McDonald’s in Gila Bend.  I had packed sunbutter and jelly sandwiches for Leo in a lunchbox with ice pack. We either do it that way or bring a bun and order a hamburger.  On our drive home the following Saturday, we ate at the Arby’s in Yuma. This is a favorite of ours because it’s at a less-busy exit than most of their fast food choices. I had packed Leo a quesadilla which he ate, then we got him a little turkey sandwich and put it on the cinnamon bread. Whatever works–he ate it up.

In terms of advice for allergy travelers all I can say is try your best. It’s trial and error and we’ve been doing this for years. One thing I didn’t do on this trip that I usually have to, is call restaurants.  To find restaurants I usually search on yelp for “gluten free” in our current location.  If I find a place that offers GF pizza or pasta, I have to call them to ask about corn ingredients. I remember one time I found like 5 Italian restaurants in the area (this must have been last summer in Anaheim) that had gluten free pasta but in the end NONE were safe for Leo–all were made with corn.  It’s so frustrating! Which is why it was refreshing on this trip to have so many places that were tried and true.  Huzzah!

Also, it seemed a new world opened up when we realized we could just bring in our own bread or bun. Like I said, we did that a LOT on our trip a year ago when Leo was willing to eat burgers. Suddenly we could eat almost anywhere. And the restaurant doesn’t care–they don’t have to cook anything differently, they’ve never questioned us about it. Hopefully now that Leo likes sandwiches, this will open up a range of places too, bringing our own bread.  (After the falling-apart-bread-fiasco at Bubba’s I started traveling with his bread in a plastic lunch box to protect it as best I could.) We have also done some trips where we get Domino’s 3 nights in one week when that was where we were finding success. It’s not ideal, but he got fed, then you go home and eat like normal.  Last year’s trip to Anaheim I cooked several nights in the hotel room–even brought (and used) the crockpot! Plan ahead as best as you can, then be flexible.

It was only a few years ago that we couldn’t stay at a theme park for a whole day. We would go to Sea World when it opened, stay about 4 hours (surviving on snacks I’d brought into the park) then leave for a late lunch, usually back at our hotel. That’s why we put off Legoland and Disneyland for so long (the kids had been begging for years, especially about Legoland), we knew we would need to stay in those parks all day. It was only last year that we felt ready to do so. Anyway, it’s nice to look back on how far we’ve come.  It’s not easy, but I’m grateful how well this trip in particular worked out.

Any questions? Please let me know in the comments!