Allergies on the Road View More

Today’s allergy entrepreneur sharing her story is Amelia Atkinson, the founder and creator of Pillows & Pitstops, a website that helps travellers find recommended stop-offs on their journey. When my family drives from Cheshire to Cornwall, our food options normally comprise a packed lunch, or scouring the service station signs for an M&S or McDonalds. Is it possible to enjoy (rather than endure) a journey when travelling with food allergies? As someone with allergies, who is also a fellow nutmum, Amelia believes it is. Here she explains how Pillows & Pitstops can help…

Allergies On The Road

We parents of allergic kiddies have two things in common:

  • We’d all rather have the allergy ourselves than subject our children to it
  • We all feel a little bit sick when trying an independent new-to-us eatery. Do they really understand the severity of what we are telling them?

Idealistic – Stay at home, eat our own packed lunches and wash our own cutlery.

Realistic – We will have times when we want, or need, to grab-and-go, eat on the hoof.

Learning to live with an allergy includes understanding that our on-the-run eating isn’t quite as spontaneous as others can enjoy. But it is also accepting that, in most cases, there are options for eating out and places that do really get it. You just have to find them.

So what can we do on journeys? Do our kids with allergies have to stick to The Car Picnic? Or can we share with them the joys of en-route detours to great leg-stretching open spaces, local handmade food serveries and beautiful countryside?

Plan ahead. Allergies shouldn’t stop you enjoying your journey as much as your destination, you just need to plan your route and the timing of breakfast/lunch/potential wee request to head straight for a gorgeous place that speaks your language. (You certainly don’t want to drive 10 minutes off route to discover ‘Gluten Free’ is a foreign phrase to the only café around).

I’ve found some great Allergy Friends…

The Elm Tree, just off the M1 near Chesterfield, has a great menu with each allergy given a number and each dish allocated the relevant digits. And a children’s play area to boot!

Bellis Brothers Farm Shop on the Wrexham road (a North Wales route) has an entire gluten free menu that’s not far short of the standard one.

While Tebay Services on M6 (Cumbria) have even been known to go and make food especially for particular allergies. NB. Along with Gloucester Services they are two of a kind – not your average service station!

As a fellow allergy sufferer and mum of one too, I want to encourage you all that with careful planning, catering for allergies on the road doesn’t need to be disheartening with a feeling of Groundhog Day.

Plan in advance

Choose your spot

Call in advance

Enjoy the comfort of sharing your burden


I run a website where you can find great places to stop along your very OWN route. will present a map crammed full of recommendations to suit you and will always mention if they are sympathetic to allergies.

We’d always love more suggestions of any little gems you’ve found too. But we do try to steer clear of chains. We support our local businesses!

Amelia Atkinson

Contact details



Twitter: @PillowsPitstops


Pillows and Pitstops logo

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My family’s “free from story” has recently been featured on the Holland & Barrett website. In the post, I talk how we were thrown into the nut free world when my son had anaphylaxis at 20 months old and the massive learning curve in those first few months after diagnosis, when we were trying to figure out how to keep a nut allergic toddler safe and well.

In this post “Going on holiday with a nut allergy”, I share my tips on holidaying with a nut allergic child. This was originally published as a guest blog for Holland & Barrett.


As any parent knows, holidaying with small children requires a lot of organisation. Holidaying with a food allergic child requires organisation and then some! Prior to taking a child with a severe nut allergy on holiday in the UK, you would be wise to look up your nearest supermarket, chemist and hospital and research safe local restaurants in advance. Holidaying abroad requires even more preparation.


At one of our first allergy appointments, we were told that flying might be a risk for our son. For example, if an airline hands out bags of peanuts and each passenger opens their bags at roughly the same time, we were advised that the peanut dust thrown into the air might be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.

The prospect of your child suffering anaphylaxis during a flight doesn’t bear thinking about. Yes, you could administer the EpiPen, but the shot of adrenaline can be only a temporary fix. Getting your child to a hospital for emergency treatment would be a challenge if you were 35,000ft, mid Atlantic.


You need to make arrangements with the airline, to keep the flight as nut safe as possible. A 2013 US study identified various safeguarding measures a nut allergic passenger could take, which would reduce the risk of a reaction mid-flight. Measures included not using the plane’s pillows or blankets and asking for a nut-free buffer zone (where passengers within a certain number of rows do not eat nut products during the flight).

When we travelled to Portugal last year, my approach was to confirm with the airline by email that:

  • We could bring our own safe food on board (rather than trusting an airline meal to be nut-free).
  • A note had been added to our booking, alerting check-in staff, security and cabin crew of the allergy (and of our need to carry EpiPens).
  • They would restrict the sale of nuts on the flight and make an announcement asking passengers not to eat nuts or nut products.
  • We could pre-board, so that I could wipe the tray tables, arm rests and area around my son’s seat with travel disinfectant wipes.

Even taking these precautions, there is no guarantee the flight will be 100% nut-free. However, they helped me have peace of mind that I had controlled the risk as much as I could.


Yes, check whether a travel insurance policy covers anaphylaxis. Some either don’t, particularly where a child has been hospitalised for an allergic reaction in the previous 12 months, or charge a huge premium for anaphylaxis cover – around £100 is not unusual.


It’s also worth applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), so you are entitled to free, or reduced cost, healthcare in Europe. The card does NOT replace travel insurance – you need both. But if you’re holidaying in Europe and you’ve got an EHIC, you’ll be entitled (in most European countries) to the same treatment that local citizens are entitled to – extremely useful in emergencies. It’s completely free and valid for up to five years.


It’s a good idea to have a spare set of EpiPens, in case the first set is used (or lost) during the holiday. If you are going somewhere hot or very cold, have you got an insulated EpiPen case to carry them in? You may also need a doctor’s note, explaining the need for EpiPens, to show security staff at the airport.


Although you may now be a pro at deciphering food labels in the UK, you need to learn how to do the same in a foreign country. If you travel within the EU, the top 14 allergens must be highlighted in the ingredients list in the same way as in the UK. If you are travelling somewhere that is popular with British tourists (or ex pats), you may find labelling in English. If not, you need to swot up on the translations for your allergens. I found it useful to know the translation for the phrases “contains” and “may contain” too.


If you are travelling to a non-English speaking country, could you explain your child’s allergy to a restaurant manager? If your child suffered anaphylaxis, do you know the emergency number to ring and enough of the local language to summon an ambulance? This is where translation cards are invaluable. You can order translation cards from a professional provider (such as Allergy UK). They describe your child’s allergy in the local language and detail how to describe an anaphylaxis emergency. Make sure the whole family has a few copies just in case and also, practice saying the phrase/condition in the local language. Keep a set in your hotel room too – next to the phone in case of an emergency.


On that note, particularly if your child might be attending a kids club, it’s worth considering getting your child a waterproof wrist band or necklace medallion with ‘nut allergy’ on (these can be ordered online in advance and often in various foreign languages).


It’s a good idea to pack some safe food in both your hand luggage (for the journey, with sufficient supplies if you are delayed) and your suitcase (just in case the range of safe food at the local supermarkets is limited).


It pays to research the potential restaurant options in your resort online, in advance. I emailed our hotel prior to departure. We set our expectations at eating in for the entire holiday, so were very pleasantly surprised when the hotel manager talked us through the safe food options on arrival.


As well as knowing how to call an ambulance, it’s reassuring to know the location of the nearest hospital, chemist or doctor. You can research this in advance and could keep a map handy with each location marked.


Going on holiday with a nut allergy can be daunting. When we holidayed abroad, I felt thrown completely out of our comfort zone. We went from feeling confident (in so much as you ever can be) in managing our son’s allergy, to going back to that sense of trepidation you have in the first few weeks post diagnosis, where everything is new. We will definitely holiday abroad again. It would be a shame to let the food allergy shrink our family’s horizons. Travelling abroad safely can be done, with extra energy and additional organisation.

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Lisa recently holidayed at the Coma Gran, Majorca with her nut and kiwi allergic son and gluten intolerant daughter. Here she shares her family’s food allergy friendly travel experience! 

We travelled to Majorca to the resort of Sa Coma with our 13yo son who is anaphylactic to cashews/pistachios/kiwi (we avoid all nuts/peanuts including traces) and our 4yo daughter who is gluten intolerant and also has a nutfree diet. We stayed for 10 days at the Coma Gran and had a great experience.

Thomson were great on the flight, they made an announcement in both directions and did not sell any nut products. We did not hear any moans or comments or see anyone flouting this guidance. We wiped down all of the tray/seat area and my son only ate sweets for the 3hr journey (his choice not mine,  I did have a big stash of other snacks just in case he was peckish !!).

The hotel did their best to cater for him and he did have a good selection of plain foods that were safe. They had a buffet and a grill area where the chef cooked steaks/chicken/pork etc in front of you without any marinades etc so this was brill. The desserts were out-of-bounds very nutty and they had pistachio ice cream too. We avoided breakfast cereals and pastries but they had cooked breakfast everyday so were quite happy with this. They were very clued up for the gluten free food for my daughter, this seemed easier for them to understand than nut-free, however the head waiter was very helpful and happy to check labels for us at any time. So overall our children faired very well for food !

I was great to be able to have an all inclusive style holiday, it worked very well for us. Although travelling abroad with nut allergic children is daunting it is so worth all of that preparation and effort !!

Thanks so much for sharing, Lisa!

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The safety of nut allergic flyers has come under the spotlight this week, after Fae Platten (aged 4) “lost consciousness on a plane when a selfish passenger ignored three warnings not to open a packet of nuts”. Fortunately, she recovered having been given the EpiPen but was “left with badly blistered lips and a swollen tongue”.

As Maureen Jenkins, Clinical Director of Allergy UK explained:

“Airborne particles from nuts have the potential to kill those who are allergic to them. These particles are even more readily inhaled from the recycled conditioned air in an aircraft.”

Whilst Ryanair deserve credit for making the announcements asking passengers not to eat nuts, for me this incident highlights the need for all airlines to implement an actual ban. Can you picture the scenario if an airline said  “Well, we said we weren’t selling fireworks, and we politely asked people to refrain from lighting them, but unfortunately he had a box in his hand luggage and he didn’t see the problem…”. Ludicrous, exactly.

To be meaningful a request needs to be enforceable. Picture the scenario if the police had no power to enforce speed limits. Although there is a 30 mph sign at the sign of the road, someone is run over by a driver doing 70. Would society find it acceptable for:

  • The police to say they did all they could: they put up a speed limit sign.
  • The driver to say I like driving my car fast: that’s my right. If I might hurt someone, well, what are they doing out and about and trying to cross a road?

Yet these types of justifications are raised when airlines say “we made a PA announcement” and passengers say “it’s my right to eat peanuts” and “so don’t take your allergic child on a plane”.

At the moment, nut allergic families are grateful for the 30 mph sign. However, as the Ryanair incident illustrates, even when an airline makes a request, that may not be sufficient.

As I understand it, it’s the dust from nuts which makes them pose a particular airborne risk. The confined space of an aircraft cabin with its recycled air then compounds the problem. It’s not the same as sitting on a bus or train. And added to that, it’s a damn sight easier to summons an ambulance when you’re not at 30,000 feet.

So if there is a nut allergic passenger, and nuts onboard could be potentially life threatening: don’t nuts need to be banned?

How can nut allergic passengers reduce their risk of an in flight reaction?

According to a 2013 study by Professor Greenhawt and colleagues, the following steps might reduce a nut allergy sufferer’s chance of an allergic reaction on a plane:

  • Making a request for accommodation from the airline.
  • Wiping down your tray table.
  • Not using the plane’s pillows or blankets.
  • Asking for a nut free buffer zone.
  • Asking the flight staff to make a request announcement that passengers do not to consume nut containing products.
  • Requesting a peanut free and/or tree nut free meal, or not eating the airline food at all (Sam Sadleir’s experience on Virgin Atlantic highlights the benefits of taking your own safe food onboard).

For those airlines who provide buffer zones, it seems a typical request would be for 3 rows either side of the nut allergic passenger. However, the Jet Blue website, for example, states they will organise “a buffer zone one row in front and one row behind the allergic person”.

In Fae Platten’s case, the man with the bag of nuts was four rows away. The Mirror reported that although Fae’s mum rushed her to “the front of the plane, the air conditioning meant there was no way she could get away from the nut particles circulating in the air”.

It therefore seems that whilst the risk reduction strategies might help ordinarily, a buffer zone or an unenforceable polite PA request would not cover the scenario of someone sensitive enough to react to airborne proteins, where a selfish and/or ignorant passenger decides to go ahead and launch nut particles into the air regardless.

What happened to Fae (and also the reaction suffered by a 9-year-old girl on a flight to Dublin earlier this month) underline what could happen when flying with a nut allergy. Whilst I don’t think these incidents would necessarily make us swear off air travel with our son, they will serve to heighten my anxiety next time we fly.

I’m just hoping that the press coverage of both of these incidents sparks a review of the airlines’ policies, and leads to them banning nuts (after all, the alternative solution of banning nut allergics would surely be disability discrimination!).

Please sign the petitions to ban nuts from planes…

Lynn Noble from Ballyclare has launched a petition to all airlines to ban nuts and nut products from planes. If you haven’t already, please do sign and share the petition. The more attention this issue can receive the better.

Lianne Mandelbaum (@NoNutTraveler) is also campaigning in the US for nut allergic people to be able to fly safely on commercial airlines. In her powerful speech from a FARE event, she asked:

“Does a child have to die on an airplane in order for airlines to enact policies to protect allergic passengers?”

Sign her petition requiring airlines to institute a Bill of Rights for food allergic passengers here.

Which airlines are nut allergy friendly?

Last November, the Anaphylaxis Campaign produced a chart setting out the published policies for different airlines: Food allergies – airline comparison.

How have you fared in practice? Below are the details of the experiences Joanne, Steph and I had with Wizz Air, Thomson and Monarch respectively. It would be extremely useful to know which airlines accommodate nut allergies well – please post a comment below to share any recommendations!

Monarch Airlines

“We flew to Faro with Monarch in March 2014. Before booking, I had called Monarch customer services to ask about their nut policy. I was assured that all I had to do was to call them after we had booked, to add a note of my son’s allergy to our booking. They sent me an email confirming that:

  • We could bring our own food onboard (as they couldn’t guarantee their inflight meals would be free of nut traces).
  • A note would be added to our booking so the check in, security and cabin crew staff are aware of D’s allergy and know we are carrying EpiPens.
  • The sale of nuts would be restricted on our flights.
  • The cabin crew would make an announcement asking passengers to refrain from eating any nuts or nut based products they may have with them.

I booked our flights, called customer services again, and was told D’s allergy had been noted against our booking. I called a couple of days prior to departure and again was assured that D’s allergy had been noted against our booking.

When we arrived at Manchester to fly out (and again when we arrived at Faro for the return journey), D’s allergy had NOT been noted against our booking!

We had to go through the rigmarole of the check in staff adding the details onto the system – which wasn’t straightforward at Faro when I spoke zero Portuguese and the check in lady had limited English.

Once these problems were overcome, the security, gate and cabin staff could not have been more helpful. They didn’t sell nuts and they did make the PA announcement as promised.”

(Louise, March 2014)

For the full story, see Holiday in Portugal with a nut allergy.

Wizz Air

“hello…just thought I would share my latest travel experience with Wizz air….that flies mostly on the continent but also to Luton, Doncaster, Glasgow and Liverpool. I was amazed to find they had a promotion on board where if you bought an alcoholic drink you got a free packet of peanuts!!! and they also sold peanuts. I asked them discreetly if they would not promote or sell peanuts on the flight and they were very happy not too. On the outward journey they made an announcement on the tannoy and on the way back they just didn’t sell/promote them. I have emailed the company to thank them and also suggested they looked for alternative snacks… I am keen to show gratitude and have extended the opportunity to provide further info if need be… “

(Joanne, June 2014)


“I was disappointed with Thomson airlines though – they had no record of M’s allergy despite being informed by the holiday company, and the rather dismissive stewardess on the inbound flight just said, “does he have his epipen?” when we told her! Practically speaking though, this didn’t cause a problem as we took snacks and bought pringles that M could eat if he felt a bit peckish; we hadn’t ever intended to have the airline food. Last week we did get an apology from Thomson after I made my concerns known to Sovereign, the holiday company… hopefully it might make a difference next time, or to someone else in the same boat (or on the same plane!) as us.”

(Steph, May 2014)

For more details of Steph’s trip to Gran Canaria, see Steph’s story: Holiday in Gran Canaria with a nut allergy.

Who have you flown with? Please do share your experiences by posting a comment below – let’s start a list of helpful airlines!


Further information


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I thought I would share a couple of nut allergy “firsts” from our holiday to Fowey, Cornwall at the end of June. Aside from the sun shining the entire time (our recent holidays have been near total wash outs), this was the holiday my son got to eat his first ice cream cornet and first fish and chips. I have to say he was definitely more impressed with ice cream. Here’s how we got on.

Ice cream by the scoop

When D’s peanut allergy was first diagnosed, we had an appointment with our allergy nurse where she gave us practical advice on allergic living. She talked us through things like how to order a restaurant meal and warned us of the potential for cross contamination in places like cake shops and ice cream parlours. From then on, I’ve had it in my head that ice cream cornets were on the “banned” food list. If we’ve ever bought an ice cream when we’re out and about, I’ve stuck to prepacked ice lollies, with ingredients lists I can read and from manufacturers I trust.

At home we buy tubs of Kelly’s Ice Cream. When I contacted them about their nut policy, I was advised:

“All of our ice cream in tubs (1Ltr / 2Ltr etc) is made in a nut free factory so it will be suitable for people with nut allergies. “

So when we visited Readymoney Cove, my eyes lit up when I spied a Kelly’s Ice Cream van parked at the top of the slipway. They sold ice cream cornets and had several flavours available (including vanilla, chocolate, plus I think strawberry, mint and honeycomb). I had a chat with the lady in the van, who told me she used a clean scoop for each ice cream and let me read the ingredients lists on the tubs. The box for the cones stated they were free of nuts and nut traces.

On one visit, the lady in the van warned me that bits of chocolate had sprinkled into the vanilla tub. She gave me the box to check the ingredients list and fortunately it was Cadbury’s flake, which is on the Cadbury “nut absent” list and something D could eat.

The downside is that D now thinks he can eat ice cream cornets wherever we go. Cue an outraged preschooler when we visited Restormel Castle and all they had in their freezer were Callestick Farm tubs, all bearing a may contain nuts label.

Takeaway fish and chips

We were hoping for a chippy tea when we moved house back in January but alas it didn’t happen. Having had a workout hauling buggy, toddler, preschooler and beach kit up Browns Hill, we were drawn in by the mention of takeaway fish and chips on the blackboard outside the Safe Harbour (58 Lostwithiel Street). We placed an order, having checked that there were no nuts in the ingredients and that they weren’t cooked in peanut or nut oil. (With hindsight, I should have also checked whether any peanut or nut containing foods were fried in the same oil.)

It was great to have a safe takeaway option and add another traditional “seaside-y” eating experience to our holiday.

Eating out

Ice cream aside, we didn’t do much eating out on this holiday. In fact, our only “family meal out” was at the Treloggan Road McDonald’s on the outskirts of Newquay. They were as nut allergy friendly as the Trafford Centre branch, with the added benefit of tray liners detailing the allergen information for each product.

There were several occasions where we took the easy option and brought along a packed lunch for the kids whilst Ian and I grabbed a pub lunch. However, I did ask about nut allergies at the following two pubs. D didn’t actually have a pub meal at either, but I would definitely keep both in mind for meals out on future Cornwall holidays:

The Galleon Inn, Fowey

The Galleon has a patio area with bench tables overlooking Fowey harbour. I can vouch that it’s possible to navigate a buggy through from the Fore Street entrance to the patio at the back, where the children can boat spot whilst you grab a drink. As for nut safe food, the staff advised us to steer clear of anything made on the grill but said their chilli con carne and lasagnes (meat and vegetarian) “are home made so should be fine”.

The Miners Arms, Mithian

In the age before children, we used to zoom down to Cornwall of a weekend, renting a cottage in Mithian in staggering distance of the lovely 16th century Miners Arms. These days, on Cornwall holidays, we factor in a nostalgia drive from Gwithian to Mithian finishing up at the Miners for a quick pint in their beer garden, plying the kids with Quavers and drawing pads to keep them quiet for 10 minutes. I talked nut allergies with the landlady, who told me that there were meals on the children’s menu that were nut free. When I mentioned about “may contains” and cross contamination, she said they could deal with this – I should just explain about my son’s allergies to the staff on the day we came for a meal.

For more reviews of places to eat out in Cornwall, see:

 A relaxing break…

This was our first holiday post diagnosis where nut allergies have almost taken a back seat. I don’t mean we were complacent, obviously the allergies are always “there”. However, when we were planning our days the first thought wasn’t “where can we eat”. We got into the habit of taking an emergency packed lunch each day, in case we couldn’t find food on the go.

My son was delighted with his ice cream cornet (the first time and then on every subsequent trip to Fowey) and we were touched that he had a taste of childhood normality, for something we had assumed was off limits.

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Steph travelled to Gran Canaria in May 2014 with her nut allergic son. It was their first abroad holiday post nut allergy diagnosis. Here’s her review of the nut allergy friendly Lopesan Villa Del Conde, Meloneras

I wanted to let you know about our holiday to Gran Canaria, with my 8 year old son (M) who is allergic to almost all nuts and sesame.

The holiday was was fantastic and went without incident (although the airline – Thomson – weren’t the best – more below). I’d more than recommend the hotel we stayed at – Lopesan Villa Del Conde, Meloneras. I was dreading the buffet breakfast and evening meals – but the attention that the restaurant staff gave to M’s allergies was great. After a day and a half they knew him by sight, had a note in the kitchen of his allergies – and one of the chefs would give him a personal tour of the restaurant pointing out exactly what was safe for him to eat. And there was never an evening where he couldn’t eat what he wanted – except perhaps once or twice when pistachio ice cream was next to the vanilla, and so we gave it a wide berth in case people had been a bit casual with the scoops.

We had Allergy UK translation cards with us and used them everywhere we ate – what a Godsend they were, and made everything a million times easier. Plus I think that the sight of the card made the whole issue seem rather official and serious (of course it is serious – but you know what I mean!) so waiters in cafes that we visited were very helpful and double checked menu items with the kitchens to make sure they were safe. So all in all we had a great holiday that turned out to be a lot more relaxing than I had anticipated.

I was disappointed with Thomson airlines though – they had no record of M’s allergy despite being informed by the holiday company, and the rather dismissive stewardess on the inbound flight just said, “does he have his epipen?” when we told her! Practically speaking though, this didn’t cause a problem as we took snacks and bought pringles that M could eat if he felt a bit peckish; we hadn’t ever intended to have the airline food. Last week we did get an apology from Thomson after I made my concerns known to Sovereign, the holiday company… hopefully it might make a difference next time, or to someone else in the same boat (or on the same plane!) as us.

Thanks so much for the review, Steph!

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I live in Brussels, Belgium with my husband and 2 children, Amber aged 4 and George 5.  We have been here 3 years and have another year to go. George had an egg allergy as a baby which he subsequently grew out of, but then went on to develop a mild allergy to sesame which was being managed by the NHS in the UK. We avoided all seeds and nuts as a precaution….he accidentally ate a breadstick containing peanuts where he went into anaphylactic shock nearly 2 yrs ago here in Belgium. We saw an allergy specialist in both UK and Belgium and prick tests show he is allergic to sesame, most tree nuts, pine nuts and sunflower seeds…

If I was to be honest, I just wanted to come home to England, but here we still are!

We have had a range of experiences living here in Brussels and travelling to other European countries which I thought other parents may find interesting/useful if they are planning a trip away.

French and Flemish (type of Dutch) is spoken here (Flemish in the North and French in the south and Brussels). English is understood and spoken to varying degrees across the country especially in Flanders and Brussels. All products have ingredients in both languages and occasionally English. I do not speak French or Flemish and have managed to get by with English and poor Spanish!

As Belgium is the land of praline chocolates; I do not trust any such product (either as chocolate on its own or chocolate biscuits, hot chocolate, ice-cream etc), labelled as containing nuts or otherwise. As with the UK, I do not buy any products made on the premises such as in bakeries or supermarkets (including sausages etc) due to cross contamination issues. Almond croissants are common here and sesame is everywhere.  I have yet to find a processed bread product that does not refer to sesame or nuts, the only products I do buy are processed tortilla wraps and pita bread. I have invested in my own bread-maker although it is difficult to find quality bread flour that is free from nuts and sesame.  All European countries need to comply with the European food labelling law but I tend to choose products that have a “may contain milk” or other allergen (not including nuts of course!) as I feel more confident that cross contamination issues with all allergens have been considered. As with the UK I don’t purchase any “artisan” products.

Fortunately as we live close to the UK, our car is fit to bursting on return trips from the Ashford Sainsbury’s. We are also fortunate to have a couple of stores in and around Brussels which stock British products such as Stone Manor and Homes Shop Abroad.

I have also learnt not to presume that a “safe” product in the UK is safe abroad. I bought some Quorn pieces the other day and noticed that the factory it’s produced in contains nuts, which is different from UK Quorn pieces. This was particularly annoying! It is also a surprise to see that some general cooking oils may contain nuts. For us, eating out is off the menu and likewise to treating the kids with ice-cream from ice-cream parlours. I tend to buy a box of ice lollies from the supermarket and treat the kids this way and when we return to the UK we feast in Pizza Express as  many times as we can!

My most anxious moments are leaving my son at school. He started his new English/French school a month after his allergic episode and it has been a constant uphill struggle to educate his teachers. I was finally invited to give a presentation this week to 50 teachers at the school and it was well received. There doesn’t appear to be nay national “every child matters” policy as there is in the UK. To be fair, it seems nut allergies amongst Belgian kids are not as common as the UK. I have been told that mustard and celery are common allergens in France and I find it fascinating that such differences exist in neighbouring countries. Epi pens are 50 euros each here, we have 2 at school and 2 at home,  but our health insurance (no national insurance here) covers about 70% of the cost. Piriton equivalent is about 10 euros a bottle.

I go through phases of whether I want to travel to other countries with my son due to my anxiety regarding his allergies, but we have been to Slovenia, Spain, and Portugal so far. We have found it easier to choose self-catering accommodation so we can prepare my son’s food although this means its not much of a holiday for me! Bread is the main issue and I have even taken frozen bread in my suitcase! We always take plenty of safe snacks to last the holiday and have discussed with my son that if he wants to experience travelling to new places he has accept that the food may not be very exciting. One day we couldn’t find any safe food, so resorted to my emergency tin of baked beans which he had to eat cold. We also take an emergency packet of freeze-dried “mountaineering” food just in-case. I then cook him everything he wants on our return home.

We have had issues with Mark Warner in Portugal where despite informing them at every opportunity about my son’s allergy (including talking to the chef), he prepared some rice crispy chocolate treats using unsuitable chocolate. It was only from my knowledge of living on the continent that made me question the chocolate and wanted to see the packaging. On inspection of the Belgian chocolate used, we noted it contained nuts. We have also purchased mini bread sticks in Spain which stated the ingredients on the packet, only to find them filled with sesame. I was also surprised to find that processed/packaged ice-lollies sold everywhere in Andalucia often stated that they may contain nuts.

Despite the extra challenges that living abroad creates, we are trying to live life to the full and are in the process of organising a 3 week camping trip through Germany and Switzerland this summer. I have decided that I am going to learn how to make unleven bread as fresh safe bread is always my biggest headache when travelling. My advice would be to take cereal, bread and plenty of snacks for the holiday, self-catering eases the eating out anxiety and to stay vigilant with all unknown foods and ice lollies.

French translation:

Groundnuts – l’arachide
Peanuts – cacahuetes
Nuts –  noix
Almonds – amandes
Sunflower – tournesol
Walnut – noyer
General nuts  – fruites de coque

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Firstly let me introduce us. We are a family of 4. Our daughter C is allergic to tree nuts and celery. She had her first major reaction aged 4 just weeks after starting school. We are now very used to living with her allergies. She was recently re tested on her 8th birthday and sadly reacted to both still quite badly during skin prick tests. Her next tests will be when she is 13.

We have only been abroad once since we discovered her allergies and that was on a P&O cruise ship and our experience with her was first class. This year we braved Disneyland Paris for a long weekend with my family.

We left armed with lots of food snacks and small cereal boxes in our case, along with her epipens and piriton. I had printed some translation cards just in case we needed them for back up but having been to Disney a few years ago English was spoken by nearly all we encountered.

On the Eurostar we had breakfast included with our seats. My mum had made them aware of her allergy – but they weren’t aware. So she couldn’t eat the food on there – but I had packed a small variety sized box of cereal so they got her a bowl and milk and she was happy as Larry. We later found out that the food they served was from Waitrose so if we were to do it again I would check in advance.

We stayed in a Disney hotel – Hotel Cheyenne. At the check in desk we were given a big allergy booklet showing us where we could get the special allergy meals from and what items were served for breakfast.

Included in our room price was breakfast – again I remembered it from last time and so came prepared. Breakfast is a continental buffet. Breadrolls, croissants etc – so a big no no for us. I asked for the allergy safe food – after being passed to 5 members of staff I was shown who could help me. The lady then passed me breads, cakes and biscuits. All individually wrapped. I asked to see the packaging and 2 of the items contained traces of nuts and peanuts!!! ARGHHH – so we stuck to our variety boxes and cereal bars.

In the park itself there are a number of restaurants that serve a special allergy free meal. The choice was pretty poor – a couple of options and not very child friendly. She had a rice and meatball dish. It was a frozen ready meal that I then had to heat in the restaurant microwave for 6 minutes. It was very expensive – 11 euros – but worth it for the peace of mind.

The best restaurants were in Disney Village. We ate twice in Planet Hollywood– both times we were served by an English waitress and everything was checked directly with the chef and she had a great choice. Meals out for us can be harder due to the celery allergy too – but again they were fab at checking everything. We also ate in the Rainforest Cafe – the manager was Irish and they made her a meal that she loved and we felt really happy with. Both restaurants are more pricey than others – but we were happy it gave us peace of mind. One of those nights the rest of my family ate in McDonalds which had been our back up plan before we arrived- but beware in there you order on a terminal yourself and in the UK there is celery present in a lot of their foods so for us it wasn’t an option to eat there.

There are lots of snack outlets in the park. We took our own popcorn as I remembered popcorn was everywhere but she was delighted to be allowed a giant candy floss stick for the night time light show.

Overall I would say preparation is key! I did find it hard work but some of that was due to the fact we were travelling with my parents and sisters and I felt guilty that we all had to eat in places suitable for C – but my family didn’t mind at all. As with all mums on here we all know the types of foods that are risky and when you had a different language in the mix it does make it harder. But we had fun and for me that was all that mattered (once I knew she was safe).

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We’ve just returned from our first abroad holiday post peanut allergy diagnosis. I thought I would report back on our nut allergy triumphs and fails, in case anyone else is thinking of travelling to Portugal in the near future…

The journey

Check in

We flew with Monarch airlines. My first nervy moment was at check in at Manchester airport. As our suitcases trundled off along the conveyor belt, I asked if it would be possible for us to board early on account of my son’s nut allergy. My request was met with a blank look. Despite my three calls to Monarch customer services (before booking, immediately after booking and a couple of days prior to departure, when I was assured everything was in place), my son’s medical condition hadn’t been noted on “the system”, as promised. Computer was saying dunno.

The check in lady at Manchester amended our notes for our outbound flight but warned us to visit the Monarch desk in Faro on the return leg, to make sure the gate staff and crew were aware for the journey home. Somewhat indignant, I went to the Monarch desk at Manchester airport, who assured me that the medical notes were definitely on our booking for both legs of the journey.

On checking in for the return flight, we were failed by “the system” once more. The computer was showing no record of my son’s allergies. What followed would have been quite comedy, if it wasn’t so serious. Basically, me saying “no amendoim, no fruta seca” repeatedly, reinforced with jesturing “no” (picture a hand jive move) and pointing at the computer monitor whilst saying “need notes!”. With the help of a translation card, we overcame my lack of Portguese and the check in lady’s lack of English, and details of D’s allergy were again added to the system.

The flights

I’m pleased to report that once the initial customer service fail was overcome, the Monarch gate staff and cabin crew were fantastic on both legs of the journey. On the way out, we were allowed to board first, so I could get to work with the dettol wipes on the tray tables, arm rests and area around my son’s seat. The crew also made not one, but two, announcements advising that they would not be selling nut containing foods and asking passengers please not to eat nut containing snacks during the journey.

Aside from one passenger who insisted on eating their toblerone (“I’ve just paid a fiver for this”), the people in the rows around us complied with the request. One delightful chap on the outbound journey had a bit of a rant, saying “I’m tempted to open a bag of nuts and see what happens”. Then again, he had another moan later when he couldn’t lower his tray table fully as his stomach was in the way… so the world was seemingly out to inconvenience him that day.

Whilst the PA announcement was greatly appreciated, hearing it actually knocked me for six on the flight out. “Today we have a young man on board who is severely allergic to nuts…”. It might have been the 3AM start taking its toll but the announcement made me feel extremely sad. I’m not usually prone to self pity about D’s allergy, but this brought the fact of his allergy home. I felt sad that a young boy had to board with the special assistance group, sad that the allergy singles him out. Luckily D was unaware of the announcement and was able to simply enjoy the thrill of going on a plane. And I had to give myself a shake and make appropriate excited comments as the flaps on the wings moved and we could see clouds, rather than dwell on all things nut allergy.

The hotel

Restaurant and take away

We stayed at the Four Seasons, Vilamoura. Although we had an apartment, our rate included breakfast. We set off expecting to fully self cater and with the attitude that any meal out would be a bonus. I had emailed the hotel twice prior to departure to ask if the restaurant could cater for nut allergies and had not had a reply, so I didn’t have high hopes that we would be eating there at all.

However, on arrival the manager told us they were aware of D’s allergy and they knew he must avoid peanuts and “dried fruits” (nuts). He mentioned several items on the children’s menu that were safe, such as fish fingers, chicken nuggets and some pasta dishes. He advised us to mention the nut allergy to his staff each time we ordered food (which of course we would), just in case he wasn’t around to supervise D’s meals.

This was fantastic, as we were able to eat in the hotel bar area and order from the take away menu (I went to the bar to order this, rather than risk mis-communication if I phoned down).

Buffet breakfast

The other thing which was excellent about the hotel – and a pleasant surprise – was the breakfast buffet. I had packed Weetabix and had been expecting to use these, with a bowl of milk from the hotel. However, the hotel had individual boxes or Kelloggs cereals, each labelled with the ingredients in English. So D had the option of Chocos or Special K (Chocos won), plus yoghurts and a selection of whole (as opposed to prepared) fruits. There may well have been other “safe” items (for example, the cooked breakfasts), however we had enough to go at from the prepacked items on offer.

Eating in: the supermarket shop

As well as our packed lunches for the plane, in our suitcases I stashed:

  • Weetabix
  • Bagels
  • Tortilla wraps
  • A bag of pasta and a Dolmio stir in sauce
  • Fabulous Bakin’ Boys chunky butter flapjacks

This way I knew that, arriving mid-afternoon, if the worst came to the worst, we just needed to find a tub of the ubiquitous Laughing Cow cheese and a carton of milk and we had the first 24 hours covered.

Once we found our feet, we shopped for groceries at AliSuper (Atrium Vilamoura) and, more often, Jafers (in the Old Village). Jafers stocked a raft of familiar brands, for example, Dolmio, Heinz, John West tuna, Nescafe, Oreos, Philadeplphia, Robinsons squash. Many brands had the ingredients listed in multiple languages, including English. Dolmio and John West (for example) had completely English labels.

Before we travelled, I had familiarised myself with the various terms for nuts (for example, “amendoim” for peanuts and “fruta seca” for nuts). One element I wish I had paid more attention to was the other common allergens, as this would have made reading contains boxes and may contain labels quicker. For example:

  • Ovo – egg
  • Peixe – fish
  • Leite – milk
  • Sementes de sesamo – sesame
  • Soya – soya
  • Trigo – wheat

For a detailed list, see the translation materials on the Allergy Action website.

Slightly confusingly, some products had Spanish labelling. Oreo, for instance, were labelled:


Which I gather means “Contains wheat, gluten, soya. May contain traces of milk” (which tallies with their English packs). With no knowledge of either Portuguese or Spanish, the warnings were simple enough to make out.

Many food labels also had a phrase such as “manténgase en sitio fresco y seco” immediately after the ingredients and allergy information. I did have a brief dither as to whether this could be referring to nuts and factories, but it simply means the product needs to be stored in a cool, dry place!

The key words to look out for (as well as amendoim, fruta seca and the specific names for tree nuts) are:

  • Contém (or “contiene” in Spanish) – contains…
  • Pode conter (or “puede contener” in Spanish) – may contain…

For example. a packet of Nacional spaghetti was labelled “Pode conter vestigios de ovo” (may contain traces of egg) and a Calippo lolly “Pode conter vestigios de leite” (may contain traces of milk).

One final point on Portuguese labelling – remember your glasses! My eyesight is shocking but I’m fine reading UK labels (with glasses on and in a good light!). However, some Portuguese ingredients lists were positively microscopic. Probar ham, for instance, had tiny white writing over a pale green back photo. I don’t know if they have different font size rules in Portugal, but be prepared to squint!

Eating out

Il Lamparo, Vilamoura marina

On our first afternoon, we ventured down to the Vilamoura marina. The walk took longer than expected as we got lost on the Pinhal golf course … in the rain. Walking round the marina, there weren’t many restaurants which looked hopeful. Chinese, Thai, Indian, ice cream parlours, pubs with men shouting at football on the TV. Very little leapt out as either nut allergy or child friendly. So when our son announced “I feel hungry” followed by “We go in dat cafe, mummy?” at each eatery we passed, the pressure was mounting to find him some safe food, and fast.

Having read a favourable review from another nut allergy family on TripAdvisor, I was relieved to spot Il Lamparo. Never mind that there wasn’t another customer in sight and they were still hoovering and laying tables, we approached the lady at the doorway. I explained that my son had a nut allergy (mentioning no “amendoim” or “fruta seca” whilst waving my freshly laminated translation card). Her initial response was to apologise and say her manager wasn’t there. Cue: “I feel hungry mummy. We go in dis cafe?”.

Whilst in the UK, this exchange would have made us try elsewhere, I put it down to the language barrier (and particularly my woeful lack of Portuguese). So I tried my lines again and handed over the translation card. She disappeared to talk to chef and returned to tell us all was fine. Still feeling slightly uneasy, we took a seat (as they finished hoovering) and placed our order.

Our waitress returned to ask to re-read the translation card several times and took it into the kitchen a second time to show the chef. The card doesn’t mince words and includes the line  “My child can die if he eats this food”. I figured that any restaurant that said “yes, come in” after reading the card was pretty confident of its ingredients and cross contamination controls.

After we ordered D burger and fries, the waitress came back from the kitchen to say the burgers had been made earlier that day (i.e. when the kitchen wouldn’t have been on heightened alert for the presence of nuts), so would we like to choose something else? She recommended the chicken and fries as a safe option (which incidentally came with Heinz ketchup in sachets). I think we relaxed a bit from that point on, as they were clearly aware about the need to avoid cross contamination.

Other possible eating options at the Marina

Later in the week, we had lunch at Figo’s Cafe on the Marina. We showed our waiter the translation card and he said they could make a meal for D. Although the children ended up eating the sandwiches we had with us, this would be one we would try again if we went back to Vilamoura.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is a both a Pizza Hut and a Costa Coffee on the Marina. We didn’t eat at either. However, for anyone else travelling to Vilamoura, being chains, it may be possible to research their menus prior to departure.

Four Seasons, Rua de Andorra, Vilamoura

After day 1, we tended to mainly eat in the hotel for the rest of the holiday. The hotel staff inspired confidence in the way they catered for D’s allergy. Each time we ordered food, I began the nut chat and was assured “yes, room 71”. D’s dietary requirements were known to all the staff. If they were unsure about an ingredient, they double checked with us. One time, we were asked whether he could have “óleo de girassol” (sunflower oil) and on another occasion whether the hot dog buns with a “may contain gluten and wheat” label were okay.

We had one hairy moment when a waiter brought a bowl of peanuts to our table with our drinks. That actually proved quite useful, as we were able to say to D “if that happens, you just say ‘no thank you’ and they take them away again”.

Aside from that one tiny incident, the service was all extremely reassuring.

In summary…

Travelling to Portugal and knowing zero Portuguese (I’m ashamed to admit not even hello, goodbye, please or thank you) threw us massively outside of our nut allergy comfort zone. We’ve reached the point in the UK, on home turf, of feeling confident (or as confident as you can be) in terms of supermarket shopping and in going to restaurants. The announcement on the flight, even though greatly appreciated, was a reminder that we are living with a serious condition. Deciphering Portuguese food labelling required extra concentration. Eating out, even with excellent service, felt like a leap of faith.

Monarch came good. The Four Seasons looked after us very well. We would have eaten again at Il Lamparo.

Am I glad we did it? Yes. Would we now holiday abroad again? Absolutely. Would we return to Vilamoura? Indeed. Just maybe not in rainy March…

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Here’s a little story about travel insurance and me.

Back in February, I booked our first abroad holiday post peanut allergy diagnosis. Giddy with having found an airline (Monarch) that said they would not sell and would ask passengers not to eat nuts, I merrily went ahead with booking our flights online. Would I like to book my airport parking too? Oh, go on then. Travel insurance as well? Why not!

Well, turns out there was a very good reason “why not”: Monarch’s travel insurance doesn’t cover “Pre-existing Medical Conditions”. Their website explains that a “Pre-existing Medical Condition” includes:

Monarch pre existing medical condition 14.3.14

Although it’s been at the back of my mind (and on my travel to do list) to “check travel insurance would cover anaphylaxis”, I hadn’t got round to it. Then I saw a tweet from a fellow allergy mum that spurred me into action. She’d been quoted £140 for anaphylaxis cover for her little one…

I called the insurers with two questions:

  1. Would our policy cover my son if he suffered anaphylaxis, and
  2. If not, how much would it cost to amend the policy so that it did.

The answer to question 1 was straightforward: “no”. You’d think the answer to question 2 would be simple too. However, alas, as I had a “flight policy”, anaphylaxis cover could not simply be added. I would need to cancel my existing policy and take out a new policy. Okay, so let’s do that then… Not so fast, first I needed to be transferred to the sales team to arrange the new policy. There followed an excruciating conversation about what level of cover I required (no matter how many times I said it, it seems my answer of “the same as the one I’m cancelling, but with anaphylaxis covered” wasn’t the appropriate response). Once I’d agreed to “bronze” cover or “second level cover”, or whatever it was, it was back to the medical conditions team, to go through the health screening questions, before someone could tell me the increased price.

Long story short, after being transferred round the houses, they could insure my son and his allergies, eczema and asthma… for an additional £80. If I hadn’t heard about someone having a £140 quote, I might have fallen off my chair. Apparently, if I wanted to cancel the policy, I’d need to be transferred to yet another department who would arrange a pro rata refund, minus a £20 admin fee.

Allergy UK suggests the following in respect of travel insurance:

Allergy UK helpful insurers

So I told Monarch I’d think about it and gave Worldwide Travelplan a call. I spoke to a single person in respect of both the price and the health questions, there was no technical jargon and the uplift for allergy, eczema and asthma cover was around £15.

Then back to Monarch to arrange the cancellation of the first policy. They couldn’t confirm the amount of my refund. This information would follow. Can you guess what’s coming? Yes, a call two days later to say I wouldn’t be getting a refund as, although my holiday hadn’t yet started, I’d already had the benefit of “cancellation cover” for a month.

Moral of the story?

  • Check whether a travel insurance policy covers anaphylaxis before you buy.
  • Act quickly (within the 14 days cooling off period) if you realise allergies aren’t covered and you need to cancel.
  • Definitely consider getting a quote from Worldwide Travelplan!

If anyone has any recommendations for allergy friendly travel insurance companies, please do post a comment below – I’d love to hear from you (for next year!).