Living a gluten-free lifestyle isn’t easy. But as gluten-free diets becomes more commonplace, it has become easier and easier to travel while maintaining a gluten-free diet.
Here’s a guide from me, a gluten-free RVer, to you. It includes suggestions on how to shop, cook and find great restaurants to safely accommodate your diet.
Although I’m not celiac, I am without a doubt very sensitive to gluten. My symptoms generally appear anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours after I eat food containing gluten. The symptoms—mainly extraordinary digestive pain—can last as long as a week. Since that pain lasts for a very long time, “cheating” on a gluten-free diet really isn’t an option for me.
I can tolerate a bite of gluten. I can tolerate cross-contamination. But since any more than that is debilitating for me, gluten-free eating has become a way of life.
If you’ve also kicked gluten to the curb, whether by necessity or as part of a lifestyle and diet change, here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve found work best when you’re all set to hit the open road.
Shopping For Gluten-Free Items
Shopping for gluten-free products is actually easy, in my humble opinion, as long as you stick to real, unprocessed foods. If you shop the edges of the grocery store, where you typically see produce and deli products, you can find tons of items sold in their natural state. Some ground rules for going gluten-free shopping:
- Always read the package for additives—particularly in your meat. Even if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, if you’ve got a grocery store that carries unseasoned and unprocessed chicken, beef, seafood, fruits and veggies, you can absolutely make a delicious gluten-free meal.
- Adding a side of rice will help round out the meal.
- Be wary of rotisserie chickens, packaged sausage meats and other “easy” preparations of meat. They sometimes contain hidden gluten, and sometimes the deli might add a seasoning or be less than vigilant about cross-contamination.
Whenever I’m traveling, I’ll tap on my Google Maps app and type in “grocery store near me.” After I read the store reviews and decide where might have the best gluten-free options, I use the photos and view options to determine if you can park your rig there. If not, I see if there’s a Walmart or other big box store nearby—their large parking lots usually have plenty of room for RVers, even in big cities and suburbs.
If you need more specialty gluten-free items, you’ll need to take a different approach. In this case, I’ll go to Google Maps and type “gluten-free grocery” or “food co-op” or “natural food store” and see what results I get. Food cooperatives, natural food stores and chains like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and—believe it or not—Costco, can be excellent sources of specialty gluten-free goods like breads, cereals, cupcakes, crackers, and protein bars.
Big supermarkets and even Walmart offer great selections of gluten-free goods, so I will usually start my shopping there and then pick up any incidentals separately at a natural food store when I see one. You can also use Amazon to order specialty items quickly—and get free shipping if you’re a Prime member.
Cooking for Gluten-Free RVing
RVing is truly the perfect form of travel if you’re gluten-free. So often we feel limited to boring salads or sticking to meat and produce. But in an RV, you can cook up whatever you can imagine. Cakes, pies, soups, bread—the sky is the limit.
Prefer to keep your vacation largely free from cooking? Try batch cooking a few meals at your house before you leave. With this method, you can freeze or refrigerate meals for the week ahead and reheat them in the microwave, on the stovetop or in the oven when you’re ready to eat. This also allows you to stock up your fridge with your favorite gluten-free products before you leave home. (Need your morning bowl of oats? Want to have gluten-free brownies on hand for when the family gets donuts or another off-limits treat? Batch cooking is the perfect solution.)
It is so much easier to turn down dangerous-to-you food when you know you’ve got well-balanced, delicious meals already prepared and ready to eat. I especially enjoy keeping lots of veggies on hand when traveling. It can be tough—not to mention, expensive—to get enough veggies in a day (I strive for at least six servings daily), so I’ll supplement my meals out by snacking on veggies and fruit.
Finding Great Restaurants While Gluten-Free RVing
My absolute favorite app since going gluten-free is the Find Me Gluten-Free app, available for both iPhone and Android platforms. The app itself is free, though a paid version is available. One option on the app is to search for what restaurants with gluten-free options are currently nearby. You can also search with certain keywords, such as “pizza” or “Thai” or “dedicated gluten-free facility”—the latter of which is an amazing option. I’ve been to three dedicated gluten-free restaurants so far and it just feels life-changing to be able to walk into a restaurant or café and literally order anything you’d like to eat. (Shout out to Erin McKenna’s Bakery in Orlando, FL, Aime’s Love in Longmont, CO and Dad’s Café in Cheyenne, WY!)
The bummer part about the free version of the app? You won’t be able to read the reviews unless you use an internet browser on your phone or computer. But even the free version helps me to figure out my options. From there, I can Google “gluten-free” and the name of the restaurant to learn more.
I’m happy to report that living a gluten-free lifestyle is very easy in an RV. If you’re ready to try it for yourself, I highly recommend RVing in Fort Collins, Colo. It’s an absolute foodie town. Almost any restaurant in the Denver and Fort Collins area offers fantastic gluten-free dining options. In search of more recipes and mouthwatering meal inspiration? You might also enjoy these articles on five easy RV dinner ideas, five roadtrip-worthy food festivals in the U.S. and six vegan restaurants worth road-tripping for.