Friday, August 1, 2008

Traveling and Eating Out On a Specialized Diet

It’s hard enough to eat in a restaurant when you are concerned about calories, fats and cholesterol. Thankfully, more and more of our favorite places are offering healthier alternatives on their menus and the occasional meal that doesn’t precisely meet our caloric goals needn’t be a serious problem. However, when you must consider food allergies, sensitivities, diabetes and other less forgiving dietary needs, it can become a real challenge to eat away from your own kitchen. For many of us, it really is such a bother, fuss and even a risk that we simply don’t. It’s unfortunate and not a lot of fun sometimes but it can feel as if there is no other choice.

Here’s the good news. There are plenty of choices if you are willing to do just a bit of research, speak up at the right moment and can be just a bit flexible. Let me explain what I mean by starting with a vacation.

The first thing I do after we choose our destination is find out about restaurants in the hotel or around where we’ll be staying. This sort of information is readily available online and in guidebooks. The fast food chain restaurants are easy to research since most will list their ingredients on their websites. This means you can plan at least some of your meals before you even leave home. In the more traditional, sit-down restaurants, you can call ahead and ask about their ability to accommodate special requests. Most establishments are happy to cooperate and provide their patrons with a meal that will suit special dietary needs. A word of advice on this, if I may. When you do arrive for your meal, be considerate and keep your requests simple. Asking for basic dishes that have been adjusted to your needs will make it easier and more pleasant for all involved. Also, be prepared with your request and don’t make the server play Twenty Questions with you to figure out what the chef should prepare.

Just checking into surrounding restaurants will likely take care of your concerns. However, there are additional options. If you will have a refrigerator and maybe even a microwave where you will be staying, plan to have at least some of your meals and your snacks in your room. When you arrange your accommodations, you can ask about markets and grocery stores in the vicinity. Now, before you start chucking imaginary tomatoes my way, hear me out. I know having to do all the cooking and cleaning up on a vacation isn’t really what most of us have in mind. However, planning to have breakfast or lunch in the room each day really isn’t such a hardship, is it? Even an occasional dinner in the room can be relaxing after a full day of sight-seeing and the like. As an added benefit, just consider the savings over eating three meals a day in restaurants. Even if your hotel charges an additional fee to have a refrigerator in your room, you will still end up saving more than you spent and will have the convenience of having at least some of the foods you need right at hand.

I promise you, this is really very easy and it works. A recent trip to Disneyland was made very easy by the ingredient lists available everywhere, even the small snack carts scattered around the park. Remember to ask at any fast food location, even if you couldn’t find their ingredients lists online. They will be able to provide you with the information right there in the restaurant.

Of course, going to restaurants in your home town is even easier. Just a few local calls will give you a list of places where you can go to have a great meal made to suit your needs. You don’t need to be afraid to ask. If they can’t or won’t accommodate your dietary needs, you didn’t really want to eat there anyway, right? Just remember, try to keep your requests as simple as possible, know what your restrictions are so as to be ready to explain them succinctly and be as flexible as you can.

I’ll be on a brief hiatus for the next week or so since I’ll be out of town at a conference. And yes, I did call ahead and do my research. The conference staff has most kindly helped arrange special plates for me at keynote luncheons and dinners, the hotel has arranged to provide a refrigerator in my room and the conference staff helped me locate a grocery store that is walking distance from the hotel. I won’t have to worry about finding safe, healthy meals on this trip and it required only a few emails, a bit of time online and a phone call.

Don’t let your special diet keep you from the fun of a vacation or an evening out with friends and family. Let’s go eat that!

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