July 31, 2014

Gluten Free Emergency Rations

Rice Crisps Pepperoni and Swiss Cheese

Emergency Gluten Free Rations - No Refrigeration Required!

I’m in the marketing biz for a high tech company and this week the whole team was on the road to put on our annual client conference.

Location? A large hotel conference and banquet facility in the middle of downtown Salt Lake City. There are a number of restaurants nearby where I could get a safe, gluten free meal, but with the requirement to be there and working from 6am until sometime in the evening, dining out was not an option. I had to rely on hotel food.


I’ve written a lot about the challenges of eating while on the road, but the gluten free dining nightmare equivalent of Saw 3D has to be dining in a large banquet facility. I have about as much faith in the safety of gluten free meals from a banquet facility as I do in Chloe Kardashian winning the Presidency in 2012. (For those of you not really into reality TV and politics, that means I’m not really all that confident.)

Given the number of times I have either gone on hunger strike out of fear, or gotten sick from restaurants, I’ve started to bring my own food when I travel. This usually puts me frighteningly close to the 50 pound luggage weight limit imposed by most airlines. Usually I bring snack foods like Glutino Pretzels and Riceworks Chips. You know, TV snacks appropriate for football games – not meal replacements. This time, with some creative inspiration from Aunt Rissy, I took one step closer to “gourmet in a suitcase” with the following:

Besides the fact that 2 out of 3 of these items have really silly names, they were actually chosen for another reason: None require refrigeration prior to opening and one could argue that refrigeration may never be required. I think I saw some of these things in the trunk of Mad Max’s car.

World Famous Pepperoni Cheese Cracker Sandwich!

World Famous Pepperoni Cheese Cracker Sandwich!

The real genius in this selection is that you have everything you need for mini-sandwiches. A lot of them. The recipe is pretty simple and can be prepared in a hotel room without utensils, if you’re willing to spread the cheese with your hotel room key card.

  • Two rice crisp crackers
  • A boatload of pepperoni slices
  • A sizable gob of creamy swiss cheese
  • Eat in one bite. I found out the hard way that trying to take small bites out of the mini-cracker-sandwich generates lots of crumbs and the housekeeping staff gets cranky.

An added benefit is that these mini sandwich gems contain all four basic food groups essential to joyous living:

  • Bready stuff
  • Greasy meat product
  • Cheese! (Did I mention I really like cheese?)
  • The stuff you get to lick off your fingers when you’re done

In all seriousness, this turned out to be an awesome plan. I had them for lunch three days this week and was quite satisfied. They are tasty! And I really like that Laughing Cow Creamy Swiss Cheese. I figure 4 or 5 of these are equivalent to a real sandwich, more or less. Add some rice chips on the side and I felt like a real human.

Definitely a do over!

I’d love to hear about your creative solutions for dining on the road. What ideas do you have?

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  1. Gretchen says:

    My easiest go-to pocket ration is a Tanka Bar and a Larabar. They both keep for a reasonable time, are pocket-sized, and are easy to eat. They are also minimalist on ingredients. (I have other food allergies so have to be careful what I eat.)

    Other options, mixed and matched:

    Aged gouda. If it’s deeply aged it will keep for a very long time at room temperature. This is my favorite travel cheese because it won’t spoil easily even though it doesn’t have preservatives. I also like Babybel but I prefer it if I have access to a fridge.

    Beef or buffalo jerky. (I like it to be minimal in ingredients and grass-fed; this needs to be watched cautiously for gluten but I have a local rancher who makes jerky without soy sauce or anything like that and I love it.)

    Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, etc. Since I can eat tree nuts I like to stock up on these. Protein and fat are satiating, and it’s often a lot easier to get a gluten-free piece of fruit or plain white rice or a potato on the road than something safe with protein.

    Dried fruit. In case I can’t find fresh fruit on the road.

    Canned garbanzo beans. More cumbersome than most but so filling. I can eat these with just salt, pepper, and olive oil or tahini or something and be satisfied; it is a little more like “real food” than the snack foods that are my emergency rations. These are better for car trips than plane trips, though it’s easy to find gluten-free garbanzo beans at most endpoint locations, if you have access to a market.

    Tasty Bite Indian entrees are doable anywhere you have access to a microwave, and probably doable with one of those coil heaters you can drop in a coffee cup, as long as you bring a heat-safe bowl too. I haven’t tried a coil heater yet but it’s tempting because sometimes hot water is hard to get. Since they’re stored in shelf-stable soft packs they’re a lot easier to travel with than heavy cans.

    Tea bags: because it’s nice to have SOMETHING hot, and most restaurants have a pretty grim tea selection. (I can’t do much caffeine so coffee is usually out, and I don’t really like decaf.) If I’m drinking my own tea in a restaurant I just order their tea so they’ll bring me hot water, and use their tea if it looks good and my own if it doesn’t. I’ve had a Starbucks in an airport give me hot water for my tea for free, though, even though I offered to pay (I tipped.)

    Instant black bean flaked soup is also nice for the ‘I just want something hot to eat’ feeling, and are easier to make than a tasty-bite entree.

    I like to scout for markets near my destination. Though sometimes that can be kind of limited! On one trip where we didn’t have a car, the only market in walking distance was a Russian import store about a mile away. I can’t read Russian so most of the foods were not something I would attempt to try with my list of dietary restrictions, but I did score a nice soft cheese that was a bit like quark crossed with labneh that was made in the US so labelled in English and using US laws (so I knew they had to label wheat if it was included, plus traditional cheesemaking is unlikely to include gluten.)

    On plane travel days we like to take fried rice or biryani or a frittata in a see-through plastic container, in case they decide to confiscate it. I haven’t had any food get confiscated yet, but I have had some get tested for being a bomb because it came out wetter than usual! So not wet on the food is a plus, that was just a miscalculation when we cooked it and we didn’t have time to come up with something dryer. Anyhow this really helps for peace of mind because I have only ever gotten ONE gluten-free meal on a plane despite requesting it on every flight I’ve ever been on, and that meal was… pretty darn grim. Even my gluten-capable of husband prefers the plane meals we pack to the ones the plane gives him.

    • Gretchen – Thanks for sharing all the great tips with our readers!

      I’ve taken the beef jerky route too and that’s an excellent way to get something reasonably filling. And of course it travels really well – by design.

      I love the Tasty Bite meals as well. One thing I’ve done in the past, with moderate success is to heat up the bags in the hotel room coffee maker. Not quite like using a stove, but I thought it was a pretty creative improvisation :-)

      Grocery stores are always a bonus if they are nearby. Packaged hard-boiled eggs are a great option. Of course these need refrigeration. I may have been known to empty the cold part of hotel room mini-bars to hijack the space for my stuff!

      • I’m impressed that you managed to make a Tasty Bite entree in a coffee maker! That fixes the normal problem of getting hot water out of one, that it tastes like coffee. (Not so good if you’re making green tea….) because the bag seals off the coffee taste. I’ve always managed to wangle access to a microwave, but it’s nice to know that the boil-in-bag option really works.

  2. Rudi’s loves this blog post! What about bringing along a loaf of Rudi’s multigrain bread and some nut butter, you could even still use your extra hotel room card to spread the nut butter! Rudi’s has been talking about traveling alot on our Walking in your shoes blog and definitely enjoyed reading about this Gluten-free adventure! Thanks for sharing!
    -Tighe, Rudi’s Gluten-free Bakery

    • Wow! You win the ‘Traveling Gluten Free Innovation Award’ for the idea on using the room key as a butter knife! I LOVE that!

  3. My wife just signed me up. “It’s more about survival, not cooking.” Pretty interesting so thought I’d post.

    I’ve been doing the GF thing since my VA doc figured that celiac was the cause of my constant anemia; about 3 years now. My wife got right on the diet and that has worked out great as she is magic in the kitchen. But out and about is what this is post is about. Being a GI eating prepackaged stuff cold or hot is old skool, picky I’m not. I am also not afraid of carbs, protein or a little fat but now after 55 years of eating any and all I want I now find I’m on weight control watch so I have to be careful now or I suffer the comments of my coach (my son) at the gym.

    My number 1 back up is a Larabar. My brilliant wife brought these into my life. I keep one or two in a pocket or in my day ruck at all times. These things are fantastic and gotten me by in several situations. On the road when I am out of the cool stuff my wife sorts out and buys or if I am unprepared I get by on corn chips, cheese, meats that I can self certify GF by the label. Fruits and vegetables are safe. Nuts are great. You can work with yogurt and a carton of milk to get it, but I have to be careful on too much milk at one shot. Peanut butter can keep you alive for longer than you may care to eat it, and a washed finger is all you need if you don’t keep a plastic spoon in your pocket. But then I don’t leave home without a lock blade knife and my Gerber Multi-Tool (check bag if required). Then all the water you can drink is available in nearly every part of the USA I’ve been in right out of the tap, if the taste is rough you can cut it in some toss away plastic bottle with an authorized fruit juice, or a packet of sugar or fake sweetener or if you’re hot a bit of salt that you find on some counter someplace.

    In my more travelin’ days even before celiac I carried chow in my bags as I am a cheapster. I always found that if you asked around you could find some kind of store you can make in a reasonable walk. Sometimes the route was dicey, like one place I was at in Denver, but you gotta do your own risk calculation.

    I’ve also found that nearly everyone in the hospitality biz knows someone with celiac or knows someone who knows and that number grows all the time. If you ask in a way that is looking for help and not demanding it (not a martyr complex like reformed smoker) you can get squared away real fast. I was in Spokane a week ago and went into a Mexican chain place (which the name now eludes me) as my son was wanting to eat. I asked about GF and the cat behind the counter was all over it; almost like he had been waiting for the moment to pull out the company brochure and then walk me through the menu. He was even more careful about what I’d try then I was as he backed me off the corn torts as they “MAY” have been near wheat flour torts. Sweet!

  4. Using Disposal plates, cups, and utensils will minimize
    clean-up and water use. He then discusses the parts of kits in chapters divided into these categories:
    Fire & Light, Signaling, Navigation, H2o & Meals,
    Shelter & Protection, Knives & Equipment, Medical related, Multi-Purpose Parts, and Miscellaneous Parts.
    The RCC then contacts the appropriate agency closest to you and notifies them of
    your identification and location.

  5. I travel to the Peruvian Andes where I volunteer in a small village school. Wheat and barley are major staples for them. Some of the ladies in the village understand my diet and will make me traditional food with only corn flour, as well as foods made with chicken, guinea pig, corn and potatoes. They know I can eat those as long as there’s no wheat/barley used. Food I have when traveling in the states, abroad, or just to visit my mom for the day are: GF GoPicnic varieties (delicious, creative, if a little small), TruBars, Kind bars. Also: dried mango, GF crackers, peanut butter, small juice boxes, containers of nuts, small individual sealed cups of cut-up fruit. I have a ziplock bag in my backpack with plastic spoon, knife, fork, salt, pepper, and a small container of gluten enzyme capsules for when I fear I may have been glutened after all; these seem to help the reaction be a little less painful if there wasn’t too much gluten and I take one or two promptly.

  6. Oh! Also travel with my Triumph dining cards in many languages; those are so helpful.

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