Vacation and Travel on a Special Diet for Autism and ADHD (Part 3: In the Air)

As a mom of 4 children, with a son who has ASD and ADHD, I have become a pro at traveling with dietary restrictions. We are an international family: I’m from Texas, but we live in Austria (Europe, not Down Under!), where my husband comes from, and we take extended trips to visit friends and family back in the states.

So, whether we are driving for hours between big cities in Texas or on vacation here in Europe, flying domestically or internationally, we’ve literally experienced it all!

The key to my sanity?

Planning ahead– and of course, ALWAYS having a back-up plan!

Taking a few extra minutes to plan ahead is a life saver. Especially when it comes to airlines.

You are stuck in a small space, with limited resources and food availability on board, and no options.

You can request special meals, which differ depending on the airline you travel with. BUT you can’t always get everything your diet requires, depending on how many restrictions or allergies you have.

Unfortunately, GFCF and artificial additive free isn’t a meal option. You can get vegan food (to eliminate the dairy products and accommodate casein free). You can get gluten free food. But you can’t get both in one, nor are you guaranteed to get anything free of artificial ingredients.

If you have multiple food intolerances that don’t fall under one broad category for their special meal options, you will have to pick and choose from the meal you choose and make up the rest with what you bring with you.

Fortunately, there is usually an ingredient list on specially requested meals, so at least you can see what is in the food they serve. (This isn’t usually found on regular meals.)

Due to your lack of options once on board, I recommend carrying enough food to last you through your entire trip. Let’s face it: you can’t always trust that the airline is going to get your seat reservation right, much less your meal choice. Add to that the possibility of unexpected delays, flight changes, and whatever else can come your way when traveling by plane, it is always safest to plan for the worst case scenario.

If you make it through the flight with the best scenario and don’t need your food, you then have a meal ready for you at your destination, when everyone is tired and not up for figuring out where to eat.

Now, it’s easy enough to pack a meal or two (depending on how long your travel), but with the added security restrictions on liquids, it can get tricky. You may not carry anything with more that 100 ml of liquid in it. That’s 3.4 ounces – less than ½ a cup!

The TSA phrase for liquids is “3-1-1” – that is 3 ounces, as many will fit into 1 quart sized bag zip lock bag (and it must be able to close), 1 per passenger.

According to the TSA website,

Medically necessary liquids and gels, including medications, baby formula and food, breast milk, and juice are exempt from the 3-1-1 rules, and are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces (100ml). They are not required to be in a zip-top bag. Officers may ask travelers to open these items to conduct additional screening and passengers should declare them for inspection at the checkpoint.”

It is best to carry an empty water bottle with you and fill it after security check. For dairy free milk, you can fill several small 100 ml bottles as long as they fit into a quart sized bag.

Full packages of non-dairy milk boxes aren’t allowed, even if factory sealed and obviously unopened. (Yeah, I tried that, based on the quote above, with a note from the doctor that we have dairy allergies. Big expense and waste that you don’t want to deal with! I think it all comes down to who you have inspecting you at the time.)

It is easiest to just stick with water for the duration of the flight. To date, there is NO special drink allowance for food allergies. ONLY “medically necessary liquids” – which is vague and open to interpretation by the individual employees.

By allowing space in your carry-on luggage to pack your meals and snacks, you are saving yourself time and effort and potential reactions to foods to which your child is sensitive or allergic.

Have you had success with travel on a restricted diet? Be sure to share your tips and experiences in the comments.

**If you found these initial tips helpful, look for my upcoming e-book filled with more information, ideas, resources and recipes for a successful vacation on a special diet. Be sure to register for my newsletter here to be on the advance notice list for when it is available!

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