(BPT) - Traffic delays, long wait times and hungry little tummies - for all the rewards of spending time with your children, traveling with kids can be a challenge. But when the child has food allergies, those challenges can start to look like insurmountable - and even life-threatening - obstacles.
"It is possible to travel safely and happily with your food-allergic child," says Lynda Mitchell, president of the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation. "Families don't have to give up on travel because of the challenges. Extra planning and some hard work can help ensure a family trip is safe and fun for everyone."
More than 12 million Americans, including 6 million children, have food allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Many of those children have allergies to foods and ingredients commonly thought of as "go-to" foods for trips and vacations, including milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. These allergies mean convenience foods, fast foods, restaurant and airline meals are often unsafe for food-allergic kids.
To ensure your family trip stays safe and is as enjoyable as possible, Mitchell suggests the following seven steps:
* Plan meals before you leave home. Prepare heat-and-serve or ready-to-eat snacks or meals for the road. Shop for items that you will need which may not be available for purchase elsewhere, such as allergen-free snacks.
* Carry a sizable cooler or even a portable refrigerator that plugs into the car or hotel outlet to keep perishables cold while you travel.
* Choose hotel rooms that offer microwaves and refrigerators - or even a full kitchenette. This will allow you to reheat your food and safely store it in the hotel room. Often, you can request a refrigerator in your room and many hotels will waive rental fees if you show them a letter of medical necessity from your doctor. Staying in a room with a kitchen also allows you to safely prepare your own meals.
* Purchase individually packaged foods as much as possible. Juice boxes, for example, take up much less refrigerator space than a large bottle of juice.
* Some safe foods, like fruits, will be readily available at any grocery store, so only take items that you might not be able to buy locally - such as peanut-free cookies.
* For extended visits, like holiday trips to a relative's house or a long family vacation, consider ordering food online and having the items shipped to your destination.
* Bring all your medicines, like epinephrine autoinjectors, and consider bringing extra medication in case of emergency.
"Even while traveling, you must continue the strategies you use to prevent allergic reactions and to be prepared to treat reactions," Mitchell says. "Be sure to bring your own emergency medicines, epinephrine autoinjectors, such as EpiPen or Auvi-Q, and other emergency medications, as well as a written emergency action plan just to be safe. Take an extra supply of autoinjectors as a backup plan."
Whether you drive or fly, make sure your child's medications are in their original containers with the prescription labels on the package. Consider having your child wear medical identification jewelry on the trip, and carry a chef card that will alert restaurants about your child's food allergies.
As for prepared foods, don't take chances, Mitchell advises. "If you can't ascertain if a food is safe for your child, don't risk it. Avoid high-risk situations like deli counters, desserts, buffets and salad bars where food allergens can hide, or where food can become contaminated with allergens during the course of its preparation, storage or serving."
Finally, Mitchell adds, don't let your child's food allergies diminish the fun of the trip. "It's important not to over-emphasize food," she says. "Food is a big part of social interaction, but down-playing the importance of food allows you to emphasize other fun things, like sights you will see together or spending time with loved ones."
To learn more about coping with food allergies, visit www.kidswithfoodallergies.org.