Summer is here! Day trips to zoos, theme parks, baseball stadiums and water parks are all fun ways to relax and enjoy the weather. Trips like these are part of what makes for great summer memories, but the gluten-free diet presents a set of challenges for both kids and parents. With a little planning and research, however, these trips can be the highlight of your family’s summer.
Parking it gluten free
A day trip to a theme park or water park can be a fun getaway when time is short, but some parks are more accommodating to gluten-free customers than others. For Tracie Baker from Bellefontaine, Ohio, planning ahead is the key to making sure her 16-year-old daughter, Dharma, can eat safely. “The worst thing is to arrive at your destination and find out that you have little to no options. That will make for a miserable trip for everyone,” she says.
Baker and her family have visited several water parks in Ohio and found that Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky had menu options: “Dharma has food allergies beyond celiac disease, so we always have fewer choices than other families might have, but we make it work.” Baker always requests a room with a refrigerator or microwave for her family if they are staying overnight, and they pack most of their food. “Great Wolf had fruit options for breakfast that could supplement what we brought along and even had a nice restaurant that had eggs,” Baker says. “They had cleaned everything before they fixed her breakfast so as not to contaminate.”
Great Wolf locations feature the Lodge Wood Fired Grill restaurant with clearly labeled gluten-free items on its menu, from entrées to side dishes, appetizers and Mason jar salads. French fries, sweet potato fries and calamari are all prepared in dedicated gluten-free fryers. Deemed a “gold standard” destination by the website Allergy Eats (allergyeats.com), Great Wolf has 17 locations in the U.S. and one in Canada.
Several theme parks can accommodate gluten-free guests, most notably Disney World. “Disney was doing it right long before anyone knew about gluten free,” states Pamela Cureton, registered dietitian nutritionist at the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Twenty years ago, a child could go to Disney and get treated with meals that were safe and delicious.” Cureton experienced the magic of Disney’s gluten-free meals herself when she recently attended a workshop at the park. “They had a regular buffet and a gluten-free buffet. The chef came out to speak with me when I had questions and even showed me what brand of pasta they used. They do a fantastic job.” Cureton also recommends Hersheypark in Pennsylvania: “They have lots of selections, such as gluten-free buns, chicken tenders, pizza and French fries, in several places in the park.”
Making it work
Many well-known theme parks across the country can easily serve gluten-free guests, but how should you deal with a park or a zoo that offers limited options? Sharrett recommends calling ahead to see whether food can be brought in a cooler. Baker also suggests not going to a theme park or zoo too hungry. “We always try to get Dharma a good meal before going to the parks just to be safe,” she says. “If we plan to be there all day, we take food with us.” (For tips on stocking your day trip cooler, see “Keeping it cooler” sidebar.)
Cureton also recommends checking if there is a local celiac support group in the area of the theme park or zoo that may have suggestions on gluten-free food options in the park or conveniently located restaurants. “Utilize the websites of the parks, utilize phone apps, even old issues of gluten-free magazines that feature individual cities or destinations,” she says.
What would summer break be without the nation’s favorite pastime? Ballparks carry naturally gluten-free items like cotton candy, Cracker Jacks, nuts, bottled water and soda. In recent years, nearly all Major League Baseball parks have expanded their options to include a variety of choices. Some are located in specific gluten-free carts, like at Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies, which offers hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, cookies, brownies and two beers from Golden’s Holidaily Brewing Company. Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nationals, features its Gluten Free Grill in the Center Field Plaza. Others sprinkle gluten-free options in various stands throughout the stadium. Research where these items are located before the game—it may even help you determine the best place for your family to sit. Visit the website of the individual ballpark or other resources such as Gluten Free Philly (glutenfreephilly.com) for more information.
No matter how you plan to spend the lazy days of summer—whether it be fun in the sun at a water park, a visit to the zoo, or behind home plate—planning ahead for safe gluten-free eating can make relaxation the most important point on your agenda.
Want more information, tips and destinations for gluten-free travel? Check out our Travel section!