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  • Writer's pictureJanine Flannery, @theallergyaspect

Vive La France! (with EOE & Food Allergies)


There's a big, bold, and beautiful world out there to explore, and exciting chapters in your life to write. In this post, Janine Flannery, founder of The Allergy Aspect and long time food allergy and EOE mom, shares highlights of her family's newest chapter — a recent trip to France to touch and breathe in history, architecture, and art (plus count Ferrari's!)


You'll learn how she planned, researched, and managed her expectations. You'll see how her family's 'can do' mindset made it possible to deeply {safely} experience and fall in love with a country whose national identity is synonymous with foods — wheat, butter, milk and egg-rich foods — that would put her son in the hospital.


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The Flannery family explores history, visiting Paris and WWII sites in France

When my husband and I started our family, we quickly discovered how difficult it was to raise a child with a long list of life-threatening food allergies. Navigating the world suddenly became a whole lot more challenging, though that has not deterred us from living life, including travel.


The opportunity to travel is a chance to explore the world and experience different environments. It’s about trying something new, embracing new adventures, and creating meaningful experiences — either on your own or with family and friends. Travel can be anything from a day trip, a weekend road trip, or a vacation far away.


Regardless of where your next adventure takes you, the constant with any trip is that we, as humans, need to eat. When your diet is limited, eating away from home takes extra effort, but it can be done with planning, preparation, and more planning.


This spring, my family traveled to France to explore history, architecture, and art. Notably absent from this list is ‘food’. Why? Because when you hit the road with severe food allergies and eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE) you prioritize the lived experience of discovering over eating. You eat to live, not live to eat.


I'm not going to lie.


Managing every ounce of food that goes into your food allergic son's mouth in France for 10 days — that's 25 meals plus snacks — away from home isn't easy. Especially in a country where certain culinary traditions are deeply ingrained in the national DNA. France’s pastries, crepes, chocolate, and everything that's butter, milk, eggs, and wheat are a matter of national pride. But with my son’s food allergies and EOE triggers, eating these foods would have us spending a day or more in a hospital.


With this trip in particular I realized, without really consciously making a concerted effort to do so, that our family vacations are about discovering a city, a destination and the history behind the region. We give little thought to local and regional foods to try. This trip in particular became about soaking in all the history that surrounded us (and counting how many Ferrari’s we could find casually parked on the street, just like any other car.)


The history in France is like nothing you'll ever find in the United States. You breathe it and touch it, while you relive it in your mind’s eye. We walked and walked and walked our way around for eight days totaling about 80 miles each for the week. My sons are history buffs (and in particular World War II) so a special trip to tour Normandy was powerful.


Before leaving for France I had a friend who speaks French fluently translate a few phrases to help us communicate foods that could work for our son – it was a last minute thought but it made a huge difference for us at one of the restaurant’s we visited. It changed a hard ‘NO’ from the chef into a ‘YES!’ for us.


And yes, in case you are wondering, I did have a goal for the number of safe meals my son would eat while dining out on our vacation, though I am a bit embarrassed to share it — it seems such a modest number.


My goal was two meals — just TWO meals — eaten out during 10 days on the road.


And, he did eat TWO meals out. Safely.


While I would have liked to have surpassed that goal, my teenage son wasn’t that interested in dining out. On our walk to our first planned dinner out, he said it didn’t matter if the chef could make something safe for him; he was fine bringing his own food.


He didn’t even want to try.


It turned out that the chef was able to prepare something safe for him — we used a convenient translation card to bridge the language gap. And by the end of the meal I could see his mood lift and his body moved with more ease. The stress had dissipated.

Later I asked him what he felt about the experience. He said, “…I don’t like all of the fuss and discussion that has to go into ordering, it’s not worth it.”


I mentioned to him, "I could tell your were happy at the end of the meal, so maybe it was worth it?"

We’re all learning, one meal at a time.


I want to close by sharing some of my takeaways from this family trip of a lifetime, things I learned that could be helpful to you and your family if you’re hesitant to venture far afield with food allergies, EOE, or other dietary restrictions:


1. Planning ahead at a detailed level helps you ‘slay the dragon’ of uncertainty and keep overwhelm and overload at bay.


I discovered over the years that if I start planning out my son’s meals for each day we are away from home, it takes some of the stress out of our actual travel days. Before a trip, I make notes about each day’s activities, figuring out what type of meal I need to plan for, consider where we would be eating, resources I’d be able to access (e.g., grocery stores, a kitchen, a restaurant,) and if we would be traveling with family or friends. I would save these planning sheets in a binder and would re-use them for future trips that were similar.


2. Book accommodations with a kitchen.


In France, we found it easier to stay at Airbnb's with full kitchens. This allowed us to control the foods we ate as a family, minimizing the risk of allergen and EOE-trigger encounters. It made it easier to prepare snacks and meals for the long days we spent out-and-about exploring.


3. Travel with a translated list of CAN foods your child with food allergies can safely eat.


While fully communicating your food allergies is of the utmost importance, the discussion doesn’t end there. Most chefs want to help. Doing your research ahead of visiting a restaurant and having an idea of what you can and/or want to eat there, plus details about safe preparation methods will ease your decision process and help chefs help you. This could make the difference between a ‘no can do’ to a ‘yes we can accommodate’ at restaurants you visit.


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4. Mindset matters.


Mindset can help you overcome the inevitable bumps in the road when visiting a different country. Instead of every mogul being a mountain to climb, shift your thinking so that every mountain is just a mogul. Our trip was not about the food; it was about touching history (and counting Ferrari's.)


I’m wishing you and yours new adventures and exciting, safe travels this summer.





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*(Don't miss Janine's article about her family's OIT experience — what happened, what they learned.)


 
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About the Author: Janine Flannery is the creator and founder of theallergyaspect.com, an online resource for anyone living with or caring for someone with food limitations due to food allergies and eosinophilic esophagitis (EOE). Managing these chronic illnesses for her son for over a decade, Janine’s passionate about connecting with others living with similar challenges and sharing how her family lives their life fully. With a brand management background in the natural foods industry, she brings unique perspectives with experience both as a food allergic consumer and a food industry professional. Feel free to reach out with any questions at theallergyaspect.com or visit her on Instagram (@theallergyaspect) and Facebook (@TheAllergyAspect) to learn how their family lives creatively and finds balance in the simple, every day.



Images: Courtesy of The Allergy Aspect and Anuita Studio on Etsy

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