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  • Connie Sarros

    Gluten-Free Foods to Take Along When Traveling

    Connie Sarros
    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Journal of Gluten Sensitivity Summer 2011 Issue. NOTE: This article is from a back issue of our popular subscription-only paper newsletter. Some content may be outdated.

    Image: CC--Alden Jewell
    Caption: Image: CC--Alden Jewell

    Celiac.com 01/04/2019 - The beautiful, sunshine-filled days of summertime are finally here. This means more traveling and generally getting out of the house more to enjoy the glorious warm weather.  Whether you’re traveling half-way across the country by car with your family to enjoy a week’s summer vacation, catching a flight for an overnight business trip, or just traveling around town all day on errands, it’s a given that at some point while you’re away from home you’re going to get hungry.  

    You can now take advantage of a luxury that wasn’t as readily available to you even five years ago and that’s eating out on the run.  More and more chain restaurants are catering to the gluten-free diet.  But if you’re running kids to swimming lessons and baseball practice, plus you have to stop out for groceries, pick up a gift for a birthday party, and stop in to see a sick friend, you may not have time (or the finances) to eat out all the time.  Besides, when you eat out, portion size generally goes up while nutrition goes down. Keep reading to find out how to eat healthier by bringing along some of your own foods when you’re away from home.

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    Starting with your daily routine, whether you’re sitting at a desk at an office, on the road making sales calls, or carting the kids to and from their activities, when lunchtime hits, be prepared.  Some quick and easy foods to pack for lunch can include wraps made on rice or corn tortillas, and all kinds of salads, cubes of lean and low-sodium lunch meat and cheese with gluten-free crackers, or a slice (or two or three!) of gluten-free veggie pizza.  

    When your tummy reminds you in the late afternoon that it’s been awhile since you’ve fed it anything, be prepared by having some snacks tucked away in a bag that you brought along.  Even snacks can be nutritious and add to your daily fiber count.  If you have a small cooler or insulated bag, tuck some yogurt cups, cottage cheese snack packs, or veggies and a low fat dip into the bag along with a frozen ice pack to keep foods cold.  Hummus with gluten-free pita bread, flat bread, or crackers makes a good snack, or pack some salsa with low salt tortilla chips.  If you want a “munchie” type of snack, spoon some trail mix into a small self-seal bag; add some dried, seasoned soybeans for extra nutrition but don’t add any chocolate pieces because they could melt if the sun hits the bag.  Fresh fruit (apples, pears, bananas) are super easy to take along or you can cut up melons, kiwi, and pineapple to take in a plastic container along with a plastic fork; toss in some berries for color and extra fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants.  Air-popped popcorn is another good option, especially if you add almonds and dried cranberries to the popcorn.  Natural fruit leathers always taste good and they’re easy to pack.  Or pack a self-seal snack bag with a nutritious, gluten-free dry cereal, tossing in some dried sunflower or pumpkins seeds.

    Choose foods that not only travel well but provide as much nutrition as possible.  Peanut butter and gluten-free crackers is a healthier choice than a bag of gluten-free pretzels.  A small bag of sunflower seeds with dried cranberries is a better option than a small bag of M & M’s.  

    If you’re heading for an airport, don’t assume you can buy food there or that a meal on the plane will be gluten-free.  Not many flights offer meals anymore, but even if you are served a gluten-free meal… beware.  The FDA issued a report on the sanitary conditions at the facilities of the three largest caterers providing food to airlines: LSG Sky Chefs, Gate Gourmet, and Flying Food Group.   These three companies provide more than 100 million sky meals annually to all the big airlines including Delta, American, United, US Airways and Continental.  The report states that “Many meals served to passengers on major airlines are prepared in unsanitary and unsafe conditions...” Included in the list of infractions are:  1) Unclean equipment, 2) Workers who practice poor hygiene, and 3) At some facilities, the presence of live cockroaches, flies, and mice.  Add to this that the people who make up the meals probably have very little knowledge about cross contamination issues with gluten-free foods.   Whether you’re on a gluten-free diet or not, you may seriously want to consider carrying your own food with you when flying.

    If you’re taking your own food on the plane, be aware of airport security rules.  You can’t take any drinks through security; you’ll have to buy drinks once you have gone through the scanners.   Depending on your departure airport and the security team on duty that day, butter and peanut butter are considered gels and  may or may not be confiscated at the security check point.  

    A little extra thought has to go into how you pack foods being taken into planes.  Tupperware and plastic containers are great except that cabin pressure changes can cause the seal to leak.  Self-seal plastic bags are ideal, just remember to squeeze out as much air as possible before sealing the bags.  If you have a large purse, put an ice pack into a small tote bag, add the packed food containers to the bag, then squeeze the tote bag into your purse (or briefcase).  Back packs also work for packing foods.  If you’re going on a long trip and need to take larger amounts of food with you, you can find soft-sided ice chests that have wheels and a handle or you can even use a small carry-on suitcase with wheels, or even think about shipping dried foods ahead of your arrival.  If you need foods for your return trip, be sure to pack non-perishable items.  It wouldn’t hurt to put a large sticker on your backpack, suitcase or ice chest that reads, “CELIAC”.  Finally, to be on the safe side, take a note along from your doctor that states both your diagnosis and the need for your special diet.
    If you’re driving across America’s highways, you have more flexibility when packing foods because you can pack a cooler and probably have access to a microwave at the rest stops.  You’ll still want foods that are easy to hold and easy to eat.  Some one-handed snacks include celery sticks filled with cream cheese or peanut butter, gluten-free protein bars, homemade muffins, dry cereal, hard boiled eggs, and let’s not forget cookies.  If you take cookies, think about baking some that have nuts, uncontaminated oats, or some of the healthier alternative flours instead of the marshmallow-chocolaty-caramel-gooey kind that have almost no redeeming nutritional value.  If you remember to pack a plastic spoon, individual containers of applesauce and/or diced fruits with peel-off lids are very convenient to have in the car.  Individual cans of tuna with the small packets of mayonnaise are good with gluten-free crackers or bread to make a sandwich.  A marinated bean salad will hold for several days in a cooler, as will veggie gluten-free pasta salads or wild rice salads.  Assuming that rest stops will have a microwave available, there’s a large variety of gluten-free individual food packets you can pack like Thai Kitchen rice noodles, flavored or unflavored uncontaminated oatmeal packets, soup containers with tear-off lids… or pack some baked beans with cooked sausage slices in a plastic container; add a side of gluten-free cornbread and a drink and you’ve got a great lunch.  Cooked chicken wings can be eaten cold but remember to take plenty of extra napkins along.  Then there’s always the time-honored staple box of raisins.

    Don’t let this disease keep you from getting out of the house.   There are always viable options of foods to take along when you’re away from home. 

    Granola Bars by Connie Sarros

    Loaded with fiber, these bars stay fresh for several days.


    • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
    • ½ cup brown sugar
    • ½ cup light corn syrup
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • ¼ cup gluten-free flour mixture
    • 3 cups uncontaminated oats
    • ½ cup shredded coconut
    • ½ cup sunflower seeds
    • ½ cup sesame seeds
    • ½ cup chopped pecans
    • 1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
    • 1/3 cup raisins

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with nonstick spray.  In a large bowl, use a rubber spatula to blend the oil, brown sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla.  Stir in the flour mixture and oats until blended.  Add the coconut, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pecans, chocolate, and raisins.  Stir until evenly blended.  Spoon mixture into the baking pan, smoothing the top with wet fingers.  Bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden.  Allow granola to cool completely before cutting into bars.  Yield:  48 bars.


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    6 hours ago, DH/gluten-free said:

    I’ve seen gluten free warning cards printed in different languages on this website previously but can’t find them now!  Help!  We’re traveling to Mexico & I wanted to print up the Spanish gluten warning card. Thanks for your help!

    I think you can just google them.  There are usually ones you can print yourself for free

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  • About Me

    Connie Sarros travels the country speaking to celiac support groups.  She has a DVD “All You Wanted to Know About Gluten-free Cooking” and has written the following books:

    • Newly Diagnosed Survival Kit
    • Wheat-free Gluten-free Dessert Cookbook
    • Wheat-free Gluten-free Recipes for Special Diets
    • Wheat-free Gluten-free Reduced Calorie Cookbook
    • Wheat-free Gluten-free Cookbook for Kids and Busy Adults
    • Gluten-free Cooking for Dummies

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