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How to Eat a Gluten-Free Breakfast While Traveling 05/14/2008 - Staying at a Hotel or Bed and Breakfast with Breakfast Included

With your trip you will have to stay at a hotel or resort. I am going to discuss my thoughts on how to eat and stay safe. I will be talking about breakfast because some hotels and B&B’s offer free breakfasts. Lunch and dinner are different subjects that need to be discussed in great length.

It is very important for you to keep the Gluten Monster away during your trip.  If you are in a hurry just grab some fruit, clean it, and leave.  If you want to stay, you have to monitor how the wait staff warms the food up.  In the past I have asked to see the ingredients from various boxes so don’t be afraid to ask to see packages.  You are looking for a variety of things. After I find out if I can eat the food I again observe the staff and how they handle the food I will be eating.

  • Are they careful or sloppy?
  • Do they use the same plate in a manner that might cause cross contamination?
  • Once I decide that I can eat the breakfast I wait until they bring fresh food out and I take food from the fresh plate.
  • I do ask for clean plate if they use the same plate for everything.
  • If the staff does use the same plate I ask if they can use a different or fresh plate for me.  I also sometimes give them my plate and ask them nicely if they could put some of the cooked product on my plate before they do anything else with it.
Always explain your diet the best you can and let the staff know that you have a special diet and that they have to be very careful with your food.  Tell them you get very sick and you must be extra careful.  If the staff doesn’t speak English well you can try using a gluten-free restaurant card in the language they speak, or just keep it short and try to explain in the easiest possible way.

In the hotels where they warm up sausage, eggs and pancakes I have found that I was able to eat the breakfast sausage and the eggs.  These products came to the hotel already cooked and frozen so all the staff had to do was put them into the microwave and heat them up. I just asked to look at the boxes that the food came in so that I could read their ingredients. As mentioned, I always wait for a fresh batch of food to come out, and I even go as far as to use a clean fork to serve the food out of the pan or plate before it is dumped into the chafing dish. 

I would have already explained to the wait staff in detail of my special diet needs so they will already know that I take my health very seriously. By taking the food out of the pan I hopefully take care of the accidental cross contamination from other patrons.  If you take the food out of the pan as it sits there for all to use you are taking the chance that somebody has spilled a crumb into the pan.  Be kind to the wait staff and they will help you.

For the other products served at the hotel like fruit be sure to wash it to make sure it is clean.  If they are using bulk cereal it is probably not a cereal that you can eat so stay away unless you read the ingredients on the box or are certain that it is gluten-free.  Remember that bulk cereals might have different ingredients than the versions that you are used to—or it could be another brand or another type. Hard boiled eggs are sometimes available—just be sure to ask for them right out of the pot or wash them very well.  Some of the eggs have vinegar in the buckets to preserve them so be careful to read it thoroughly and also ask the staff if they have poured the end of a bucket into the bucket you are looking at.

In small kitchens like these you will find that the staff will often pour the remaining food back into the container if it can be reused. You have to determine if this is happening. Notice if the containers are very full or empty—will the staff let you open a fresh bucket or box if you ask?  If it is early they won’t have much trouble doing that for you because they are going to use it anyway, but if it is at the end of breakfast they might not want to open a new container. 

Remember to always have a plan B and to be nice. If necessary have your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper that can be used to explain your illness.  Sometimes it is easier for people to read celiac disease so they can understand.  I always grab a piece of fruit for later in case I have trouble finding lunch and it is a good snack to have.  Once you have your breakfast it is out to lunch.

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Gluten-Free at Buffet Breakfasts
If you are at a hotel that offers a buffet breakfast for free it is the same procedure as above.  Always try to get a fresh pan as it comes out to eliminate cross contamination from other customers.  Try to talk with someone in charge like the manager who could help you if they are not busy. Be nice and explain your illness and how sick your will get.  Don’t be afraid to ask for the ingredients.  Ask for them to cut or tear the ingredients out of the box for you if possible.  Sometimes they have written them down for me and brought it out to our table.  Make sure you ask whether they using fresh eggs or “egg products.”  Also ask if they are putting something in the eggs to keep them from turning green.  If they are using real eggs they have to keep them from turning green.  Real eggs turn green from the heat and the chefs sometimes put lemon juice or vinegar in the eggs while they cook them.

Always ask—no matter how silly you think it is—whether they add anything to the food. Seasoning salt sometimes has wheat in it, so ask if they use something besides just salt
and pepper. Remind them how sick you will get if you eat a little piece of gluten and never be ashamed to ask.  Always ask for your food to be unseasoned—that also eliminates the risk here.

Whatever you want make sure that you try to get the freshest that they have and also use a clean fork to retrieve your food. Most of the tongs or spoons are going to be used from one container to the next.

If the staff can help you they will, so ask and be patient don’t expect to be out fast.  If you are expecting to be fast then you probably will be sick.  In some cases you can ask for some fresh products from the back.  Find the person who has been helping you and if the food you want is taking a long time to empty or just isn’t getting refilled on the buffet line.  Ask if someone can go to the back and get you some food.  Hand them your clean fork and ask them nicely if they can use this to get the food on your plate.  As long as you are nice they will help you. Always try to ask someone who seems to care about the establishment where you are eating—you will know them.

 Don’t forget to ask how they cooked your food.  Just because the sausages are gluten-free doesn’t mean they cooked them that way.  They could cook them on the same grill that they cooked the pancakes on and you will have bread on your sausage!  Most places cook sausage and bacon in the oven but you need to ask how they cook everything.  Are the scrambled eggs cooked on the grill—if so can they cook you a small batch on the side?  Keep that in mind with all of the food you are going to eat.  Don’t forget to be careful and remember about cross contamination  

A Sit-down Gluten-Free Breakfast
For your sit down breakfast you want to make sure they cook your entire meal ala cart.

  • Cook your eggs in a fresh pan.
  • Use olive oil or real butter to cook them not the spray can of oil.
  • Have your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper or gluten-free restaurant card that tells the cooks about you and your illness and let them know how to cook your food.
  • Tell them in great detail how to prepare your food,
  • Ask them to use a fresh fork to grab items if need to be..
  • Not to use garnish or spice on your food.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a clipping of the ingredients from the box if you want to check to see if you can have the sausage or ham.
  • Tell them about the cross contamination from cutting boards, knives, tongs and the table they work on.
I can’t emphasize this enough—you have to judge for yourself how busy the place is.  This is the most important thing you have to remember.  As humans under stress do stupid things and the cook could fall under that.  Just think of how you would do if you were working there.  Would you, for example, have enough time to get part of a box that you threw away two hours ago when you started breakfast?  The type of restaurant matters to.  Is this a Motel or is it a very successful chain that pays well and has good benefits.  This usually means the staff is very good.

These tips can help you but you do have to make sure that you inform the staff, waitress, manager and hopefully the person who is cooking your meal.  It doesn’t do any good if you tell one person and they forget because they got busy.  That is why I always try to tell the manager when I enter.  In your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper make sure you give them exactly how to cook your meal.  Don’t assume they will do it because you told them you get very sick.  As a chef myself, if I read something and it told me to use olive oil and not salad oil—I would do as it said.  If it said use oil I would grab the closest product or even margarine.  Even when busy if you read something it should stay in your head.  When you’re busy and someone tells you that table #22 has celiac and needs gluten-free food…well it could get lost if I am busy listening to 20 different orders, so bring a form or gluten-free restaurant card that they can read.

 Gluten-Free Travel Hints:

  • You should always try to get the manager to help you.  In any restaurant they have the most time to help you and they will help you because they typically care more than the regular workers (today’s restaurants have employees that come in one day and are gone the  It is sad but that is the way it is so at least try to get the manager.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask for anything. If you want a hot dog or the chips they put on the side of the plate ask for a bag with the product inside.  Take out your safe and forbidden lists if needed and look at them to see if you can eat a product. 
  • Always have your Chef Daniel's restaurant paper with you in your wallet or purse.
  • Always have a copy of your safe and forbidden lists with you in case you need it to read ingredients.
  • Always have a gluten-free restaurant card in the language you need.
  • Cross contamination is the greatest risk for a celiac when traveling.  Cross contamination can happen and you would never know it, such as when the chef uses a knife to cut a piece of bread, and then they use the same knife on your vegetables, or when the chef uses a pair of tongs to flip a breaded chicken and then uses them to flip your sauté chicken.There are too many other ways to mention, but the main thing is that gluten could be on the tool before it is used on your meal, and it doesn’t matter how safe the chef thought he was because you got one crumb and you are sick for days and that ruins your vacation.

Keep the comments coming and together we will get rid of the Gluten Monster!

Chef Daniel P welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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4 Responses:

Joan Terry
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said this on
18 May 2008 10:34:35 AM PST
Your articles are great! I am a seasoned traveler on cruise ships. However, my husband and I are taking a river cruise on the Danube on a small vessel in June. I do very well on the larger cruise ships, as I am assigned to a sous chef . Thanks for your wise advice. Keep it coming!!

Peggy Corra
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said this on
15 Aug 2008 5:53:30 AM PST
Just wanted to mention that in Brazil an ordinary, everyday food on breakfast buffets is 'pao de queijo,' a little cheese-bread ball that is naturally gluten-free because it is made with tapioca flour, not wheat flour. It is such a treat to have a bread item that I know is safe for me to eat.

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said this on
15 Oct 2008 4:09:35 PM PST
I use Google maps when I'm traveling to find out if there's a Whole Foods anywhere on my route or in the city to which I'm traveling. I then pick up some gluten free biscuits, quick bread, or cereal and take it with me to the breakfast buffet. I put my bread in a napkin on a plate and heat it in the microwave or else I make a bowl of the cereal I brought. Sure I'm paying for it, but I know it's something I can eat. If we're staying somewhere for more than a couple of nights, I try to book a suite or condo where I'll have access to at least a semblance of a kitchen and a frig in which to store some gluten free goodies.

old dame reporter
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said this on
06 Jul 2013 11:01:09 AM PST
Gluten-free pals... we are all so glad to be well (I had 50 years of pain)... even so... should we have a write-in campaign, thanking the manufactures but encouraging them to make the products a bit larger? Half a loaf and tiny pizzas, yes great quality and healthy for us, but wishing for the full loaf and big pizza for the price. Just an idea.

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