Florida Guide > Dining
Special Dietary Requirements
When you have special dietary requirements, travelling can become very daunting. No access to supermarkets you know and the thought of eating out in restaurants can be a nightmare.
Fear not - travelling to Florida and sticking to a strict diet will be much easier that you may think.
I have travelled to Florida several times now. Both I and my 10 year old son have Coeliac Disease and cannot eat gluten – a protein found in wheat, barley oats and rye and therefore many processed foods. We have learned many tips which will be helpful to others with food allergies/special dietary requirements.
With many airlines you can order special meals. However, although they can be very nice, sometimes they don’t turn up. Also, on shorter flights it is unlikely that they are able to offer you anything, when the main snack is a sandwich or similar. Even the snacks with drinks seem so often to be pretzels. We always eat at the airport before flying, and then any in flight meal is a bonus. Virtually all airports of any size have a McDonalds or Burger King and both these companies we have found to be very helpful.
Also, take a bag full of snacks with you. We take GF (Gluten Free) crackers, fruit, dried fruit, crisps etc. It may not be nutritious, but it will keep you from starving when all around are eating.
You have to declare any food products you are taking into the USA. You are given 1 form per family to complete on the plane and there is a tick-box for food stuffs. Meat and fruit / vegetables are not allowed at all. If you have uneaten items containing meat, or fruit and veg they should be left on the plane.
I have declared and taken in GF flour, biscuits, cake and rice cakes. Just declare it on the form and explain to the customs people you are on a special diet and you have bought some supplies to see you through the first few days. They haven’t even asked to see them yet.
Labelling is as inconsistent in the US as it is in the UK. Do not assume that because you can eat something in the UK its OK in the US – they may use a different recipe. Some things are clearly GF – for example I found tortilla wraps that were made entirely of corn and were therefore GF. For anyone else with Coeliac disease, you could contact the American celiac society, who will send you a list of manufactured products which are GF. I had a list posted to the villa that I was going to stay at. It’s not as complex as the UK one, and probably isn’t necessary for adults, but it was very helpful in identifying which sweets/candies are GF. Reeses Peanut Butter cups and Hersheys Kisses were our favourite GF finds.
My best find, recommended by a member of the Orlando Villas forum – the font of all knowledge, was Chamberlains. This is a massive health food shop, situated on the 17-92 John Young Parkway, just south of the 192. It had all sorts of specialist food – wheat free breads, dairy free this and that. Our best finds here were GF cookies, GF chocolate brownies to die for and GF enchiladas. This one shop meant that my son and I could enjoy some real treats on holiday, that we couldn’t get in the UK.
Renting a villa puts you in charge of catering. This does not mean hours spent cooking, but space to prepare a safe and healthy snack, somewhere to store food and more options than you would have in a hotel. All this - on top of all the other benefits of villa rental too! There are lots of quick meals you can buy at the supermarkets – eg hot cooked chickens which can instantly be served at your villa with a salad.
I bake my own bread/rolls in the villa giving me ideal snacks to take anywhere. The villa we own has a very well equipped kitchen for you to do proper cooking and baking if you wish , as do many other villas.
These are a real godsend for us. One of the frustrating things about eating out is always having to ask the waiter about what you are going to eat. Buffet style restaurants have a wide range of plain meats, vegetables, salads and fruits. It’s quick easy and cheap to get yourself a good GF meal here. Our favourite is the Golden Corral. Here at breakfast time they will cook omelettes to order, while you wait. In the evening all the food is on display – you do not have to order steak separately.
McDonalds/ Burger King
The burgers themselves in both these restaurants are 100% beef. They both serve salads too. It is not unusual to ask for a Big Mac – no bread – they even have a button on the till which turns your request into a No Carbs version. Thank the Atkins diet for that. These are useful restaurants that you find everywhere and extremely useful at airports.
It seems far more common that people want something a little different from what is on the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask for a certain dish without sauce, or onion rings or bakend sweet potato instead of chips – sort that should be fries! Customer Service is key in the US and virtually everyone you meet is eager to please.
If you are eating at Disney parks, mention that you have special dietary needs when you book your table, and they will do great things for you. I have not done this myself but have heard of some fantastic meals cooked to order for those with special dietary requirements - not just normal meals with the interesting bits taken out, but prepared with special ingredients brought in just for you.
Alternatively, you can take food into the parks. Although you may read it is not allowed, we took a packed lunch into every theme park in Orlando. You bags will be searched, but the security people are only curious as to what is in your sandwiches! Leave them in a locker if you don’t want to carry them all day.
I hope this has helped any of you who have special dietary requirements, considering visiting Florida. There is plenty to eat – don’t blame me if you have more than a few pounds to lose when you get home – I did too!
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Page added on: 28 October 2004
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