One of the more nerve-wracking aspects of traveling internationally for our family is handling our food allergies. My husband is allergic to gluten and will suffer for days afterward if any sneaks into his food. My son, though, is the one I truly worry about. He has life-threatening food allergies (as in anaphylactic shock) to eggs, peanuts, and all tree nuts (pistachios are the worst, but he is also allergic to almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, macadamia, pecan, Brazil, and pine nuts). Needless to say, contemplating Israel travel with food allergies was daunting, because we don’t speak Hebrew and the prevalence of nuts in Middle Eastern cuisine was a concern.
Thankfully, we made it through Israel safely with no adverse reactions, but it was not without a lot of work and stress. Read on for my tips and lessons learned – including an amazing bakery in the heart of Tel Aviv that you just have to try!
Traveling Internationally with Food Allergies
Though I learned a lot about how to travel internationally with food allergies during this trip, I did take some important steps before we left home to prepare. I contacted my son’s allergist and got a medical form to carry with me stating his allergens, his medications, and their quantities. I was concerned about being stopped in airport screening with his epi pens and Benadryl. I used an epi pen carrying case to keep the meds and our Benadryl in easy reach and more climate-controlled than they would have been on their own.
I brought multiple copies of the medical form, though I did not need to show it to anyone. There are many security checkpoints throughout Israel and I did have to explain his epi pens at times, but all the security personnel seemed to accept and understand what it was once I could explain.
Another thing I did to prepare for our trip was to purchase professionally translated allergy cards. I bought the downloadable ones because I could print and laminate them, but you can also buy them as a plastic card that you can keep in your wallet like a credit card. On one side, they have information about your allergen in English, and on the other side, in your chosen local language. I purchased our cards from Equal Eats. I found that we did not need them in Israel due to the prevalence of English spoken, but we leaned on them heavily in Egypt and I was glad to have them with me regardless. We could hand them to restaurant staff if we felt that we weren’t getting our message across due to a language barrier, and we found that everyone was willing to take a moment to read and confirm with the kitchen for us.
I bought the Hebrew cards for Israel, but I had also heard that a lot of wait staff in Israel are Russian, so I bought the Russian version as well. All the Equal Eats cards come as one language and English on the other side, so you will need multiple cards for multiple languages.
Another good option for celiacs is Legal Nomads. Jodi is a celiac and former digital nomad who has produced amazing resources for traveling safely while gluten free, and has guides, translation cards, and restaurant recommendations for about a dozen countries (not Israel, but a great resource when traveling in Europe and Asia in particular).
International Flights with Food Allergies
To be honest, nothing scares me more than long flights with my kids…and not because I worry they will act up! As any parent of a food allergic kids knows, there is no bigger nightmare than the thought of being stuck on an airplane while your child has an allergic reaction. I am much more careful and take fewer risks on planes than I do on the ground, even though I carried multiple epi pens and all the Benadryl in the world with me in my carry on.
I struggled with the airplane meals, and this is something I wish I had been more prepared for. We flew British Airways from London to Tel Aviv, EgyptAir from Tel Aviv to Cairo, and Qatar Airways from Cairo to Seattle via Doha. Some airlines allow you to designate special meals when you are booking your flight, and I do definitely recommend this.
However, I found that typically the only option was peanut allergy or gluten free. For my son, that doesn’t begin to cover his allergens, so I couldn’t be confident that the rest of the meal would be safe for him to eat. Additionally, you have to choose between a child meal (which will have more friendly food items) and the allergen-friendly meal, which may not. On Qatar, I ordered my son the child meal, and he couldn’t eat any of it other than yogurt. I was deeply disappointed with this, as it was a business class ticket and a huge part of what you are paying for with business class is the food!
He ended up eating a LOT of snacks on our flights because there are rarely, if ever, ingredients available on the food on airplanes and no one could confirm for me what might be safe.
In retrospect, I wish I would have prepared or purchased more proper meals for longer flights and flights that fell over meal times. This was a huge learning and a mistake I won’t make again!
Traveling with Food Allergies in Israel
The biggest lesson that I learned after we got to Israel was that I should have prepared better while I was still in the United States. The hotel we stayed at in Tel Aviv, the PLAY Hotel Midtown, was unprepared to accommodate someone with severe allergies, though they said that they could have done better if I had let them know in advance of our needs. It makes sense in retrospect, but as it was our first time in the country, I just wasn’t thinking of the best ways to prepare.
Once I had that tip in hand, I contacted the remaining hotels on our journey throughout Israel and Egypt, and even changed plans at one point because I was unable to connect with the culinary staff and put in any special requests at a hotel that was very out of the way.
One tip I received when planning our travel was to be very careful on playgrounds. There is a peanut snack called Bamba that looks like Cheetos that is very common, and Israeli children will often eat it while playing on public playground equipment. For those of us who need to worry about cross contamination and trace amounts of an allergen, this made playgrounds feel like a high risk activity for us. Luckily, my kids are 6 and 9 and found lots of areas to play that weren’t actual playgrounds.
Grocery Stores and Food Allergies in Israel
Grocery stores were a particularly challenging experience in Israel. I lean heavily on Google Translate when traveling internationally, and it was very helpful in translating packages and food labels. There is a feature where you can point your phone’s camera at text and it will overlay the text with the translation in your chosen language. It’s honestly pretty magical! You can also download a language so that your translations work even if you do not have cell service.
I found packaged foods to be extremely frustrating in Israel. Almost every single item said “may contain” one or more of my son’s food allergens. This is much more frequent than I typically see in the US, so I imagine that either food allergy prevalence is less in Israel than in different countries, or there are fewer manufacturing facilities and so there is more overlap between packaged foods.
Regardless, I found very little that we could safely serve my son from grocery stores.
Restaurants and Wait Staff Support of Food Allergies in Israel
Restaurants were a bit of a conundrum for me in Israel. One one hand, there is tons of fresh food that is free of common allergens. On the other hand, my child doesn’t really love diving into a bowl of tomatoes and cucumbers like I do. He wanted “normal” foods for him, which I’m not that proud to say often include carbs. I found that in most restaurants, the kitchen staff was happy to help but unable to provide much reassurance about the safety of their food or food preparation practices.
In most restaurants, we heard “well, the food itself is safe but we can’t guarantee that there won’t be cross contamination.” When we didn’t hear that, we heard “we aren’t sure” when asked if things contained eggs. The staff were definitely acting in good faith, but it was frustrating to never get a clear answer about if something would send him to the emergency room or not.
Eggs actually proved to be a harder allergen for us to avoid in Israel, because they so often hide in breads. It doesn’t seem to be a common allergen in Israel, so we did a lot of bunless burgers and other workarounds to avoid breads that no one was certain about.
The other major issue for us was finding safe ice cream for my allergic child. As parents of children the world over know…ice cream can solve just about anything. Unfortunately, I never did find a single packaged ice cream that was safe for my son, and only one ice cream store in all of Jerusalem that served sorbet. I wish I could remember the name but I was so emotionally exhausted from a day of hunting for ice cream that I forgot to write it down.
I did hear from our guide about a couple of places in Tel Aviv that may have safe ice cream, but I did my best to redirect the desires into desserts I could find more readily. If you want to give them a try, they are Arte in Nahlat Bynitamin and Arteglideria.
We found that the following foods were generally safe for our allergens of nuts, eggs, and peanuts:
- Burgers with no buns
- Kebabs with rice and salad
- Fresh vegetables and fresh fruit
- French bread (basically nothing else from any of the bakeries we visited aside from The Little One – more on this below – was safe)
My husband almost never had issues finding gluten free food at restaurants, but he also has a bigger palate than my son and was happy to stick to the incredible fresh produce and meat that dominates Israeli local dishes.
I can’t speak to a sesame allergy, as we thankfully don’t have one, but sesame is one of the most common foods in Israel, and I think someone with a sesame allergy would need to be even more careful than we were of peanut products when planning a trip to Israel.
In Country Support for Food Allergies in Israel
I found some good information and helpful tips from a Facebook group called Food allergic child in Israel and the Jewish world. It’s a private group of parents that can guide you about local food and how to handle various food intolerances throughout Israel.
In Tel Aviv, I found a wonderful bakery called The Little One. The Little One is a home bakery by a mom with a food allergic child. All of her products are safe for people with peanut allergies and are made without sesame seeds or other tree nuts. She can make some items dairy and/or egg free as well, so we were able to try several items. Because she is not a business with a storefront, you have to go pick up her items, or she can deliver to central Tel Aviv for an additional fee.
We tried her butter cookies, lemon olive oil cookies, focaccia, and egg-free challah. They were all delicious, but the kids liked the butter cookies and challah the best. I loved the lemon olive oil cookies. I highly recommend reaching out with an order when you’re in Tel Aviv!
Grading our Hotels in Israel for Allergy Support
We stayed at the PLAY Hotel Midtown for most of our time in Tel Aviv. I’d give them a C grade on support for dietary restrictions. They have a small hotel restaurant which serves breakfast (not included) but I found that the only thing safe for my son was smoked salmon and salad, which he refused to eat. Every single other item either had eggs or nuts. We ended up buying a box of cereal and milk from a grocery store and that’s what he ate almost every day.
They said they would have been able to better accommodate us with more notice, but even after talking with the restaurant management, nothing changed during our 5-day stay.
We were supposed to go to Kedma Hotel in the Negev Desert after Tel Aviv, but based on my experience with such limited support in the middle of Tel Aviv, I got scared and changed our plans. The Kedma is about 30 minutes from Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Desert, so I knew that we would be having most of our meals at the hotel. The day that we arrived and discovered how challenging it would be to find safe food for my son, I started calling the Kedma to connect with them and request support for our major allergens.
Unfortunately, I was never able to directly connect with the hotel – I was always routed to a central answering service for all the chain’s hotels. Despite repeated promises of return calls and emails, I never did hear back from anyone and I had no confidence that my messages were being received. Without knowing what kind of medical care would be available in the desert and knowing that we would be going over a weekend when Shabbat would already limit our food choices, I changed our travel plans and we spent our final days at the Ritz Carlton Herzliya. The last thing I wanted to do was to need medical help in the middle of the desert.
One of the biggest (and frankly saddest) takeaways that I had from our time in Israel is that money solved a lot of problems. The Ritz was not perfect with allergen support, but they did go out of their way to remove high-risk allergens and make it safe for us to eat at their restaurants.
In the lobby, there was a snack station set up with pastries, charcuterie, and other goodies. We wandered over to explore it while we were getting checked in, and I didn’t see any good options for my son – there were nuts adorning the cheese plate and the pastries almost certainly had eggs. I asked a staff member, and they sent out a chef to talk with us. We were correct and there was nothing safe for him on the table, so they surprised us by making him a dessert that was entirely safe. It is so soul-crushing as a parent to have to constantly tell your child no, so it was a delight to put a dessert in front of him and say yes for once.
We had similar challenges with the Ritz buffet. As anyone with severe food allergies knows, buffets can be terrifying. The Ritz buffet was large enough that we could find food for my son, but he still felt left out and frustrated watching his brother enjoy a pastry that he couldn’t have. The culinary staff were great and provided some good news! They brought out an amazing chocolate dessert made especially for my son, and then gave us an entire container of the chocolate spread and a package of breadsticks to take with us. I was afraid of the spread because it looked just like Nutella, which contains hazelnuts, but we triple-checked it and it was totally safe. That became a go-to snack for us for the rest of our trip, and I’m so grateful to the Ritz for helping with our special needs.
I wasn’t specifically planning to make this a luxury trip because we don’t usually travel that way when the kids are with us, but I learned an important lesson that the higher-end hotels are more equipped to handle our food allergies and make our stay enjoyable. It will definitely be part of my calculation when I decide where to stay on future trips.
10 Key Takeaways Traveling in Israel with Food Allergies
Though I thought I was prepared before we left for Israel, I should have done a lot more to ease our way. If I were to do it again, here’s what I would be sure to do before leaving home:
- Get a medical form from our allergist stating the allergens, medications, and dosage
- Pack our epi pen and Benadryl in a convenient carrying case
- Buy professionally translated allergy cards
- Pack full meals, snacks, and treats for the plane
- Call or email the hotel at least a week in advance and speak with the culinary team
- Book higher-end hotels whenever possible
- Download the relevant Google Translate languages onto my phone
- Join local Facebook groups for feedback and recommendations
- Set my son’s expectations about what favorite foods might be unavailable in a foreign country
- Explore travel insurance – we didn’t have any and there were several times that I wondered what would happen if we actually had a need
- Research medical facilities and emergency services in our destination prior to arriving – I still don’t know what I would have done if he’d needed to use his epi pen, which in retrospect seems foolish. Always know the number for emergency services in your destination!
Want to see what else we did besides eat in Israel? Check out our other Middle East content.
- The Can’t-Miss Experiences in Israel with Kids You Won’t Find Elsewhere
- Traveling in Israel with Food Allergies
- Complete Guide to Cairo with Kids – Family Travel in Egypt
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