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Some ingredients don't need any preparation other than a quick rinse and some cream if your diet allows it

Why touring in a motorhome is the easiest way to travel if you have special dietary needs

May 8, 2019

Travelling on a special diet can be a real challenge. If you are staying in hotels and dining exclusively in restaurants, following a special diet is near impossible and even when self-catering, it becomes tricky if you are moving from one venue to another. Each time you move on you have to pack everything up and throw away chilled food.

Some ingredients don't need any preparation other than a quick rinse and some cream if your diet allows it

Some ingredients don’t need any preparation other than a quick rinse and some cream if your diet allows it

Unless you can prepare you own meals throughout your trip, even if your only special dietary requirement is to eat healthily, it is virtually impossible to retain control over what you eat and drink and what you pay for it. If you are vegan, vegetarian, have food allergies, are on a restricted diet or are diabetic, just getting your hands on food you can eat at the right time of the day can take a monumental effort and become the main focus of your trip.

Motorhomes to the dietary rescue! Having a kitchen with a gas hob and fridge/freezer wherever you go means that you can cater for special diets and eat inexpensively and healthily at times that suit you.

The markets of France offer some of the best produce in the world which make self catering in a campervan easy and fun

The markets of France offer some of the best produce in the world which make self catering in a campervan easy and fun

The added advantage of being able to buy everything at supermarket prices from basic raw ingredients to fine wines means you can afford to use the best of everything, without breaking the bank or eating things you should avoid.

Having said self-catering is the answer, don’t imagine that you have to turn into a galley slave for the duration of your trip. With some planning you can also eat out successfully in French restaurants without compromising your dietary choices and health. We’ve added some special diet vocab at the end of this blog to help you along and here our top tips for sticking to your diet in France.

You don't even have to cook when self catering in France you can buy ingredients ready to eat everywhere from sophisticated terrines to simple fresh shrimp

You don’t even have to cook when self catering in France you can buy ingredients ready to eat everywhere from sophisticated terrines to simple fresh shrimp

9 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Special Diet while Travelling in France

– Lots of restaurants prepare their food from scratch, but some of it will have been prepared ahead of time. At short notice they may not be able to accommodate your diet, but if you give them a little warning by discussing your needs beforehand, you are much more likely to get what you want. If you just arrive without any advance notice, the staff will expect you to choose from the options on their menu and will be unlikely to accommodate any changes. Call in before and ask if they can cook something without a certain ingredient – they usually can and are keen to agree to do so in order to secure your booking.

– If you are vegetarian you will need to explain exactly what you do and do not eat. Many French chefs think that vegetarians eat everything apart from red meat and that it’s fine to use chicken stock to make vegetable soup! Vegetarianism is still unusual in France so it’s not very well understood. Rather than spend your meal fuming over their mistakes, take the time to explain what you want. Get used to omelettes, they are a staple vegetarian offering, but also the best in the world (wild mushroom omelette is the best!).

– If you’re vegan, chances are you will fall even further in love with your motorhome kitchen than any other person. French chefs are not known for producing decent food without cheese, milk or eggs (although for the very first time in our 20 years in France, we are starting to see vegan food specifically mentioned on menus so there is hope!). Lucky for you that soy milk and tofu are now sold in larger supermarkets, as are tinned pulses and an array of vegan ready meals.

– The best mainstream restaurants for vegetarians and vegans in France are Chinese, Italian and Moroccan. There are vegetarian and vegan restaurants, they are just hard to find and often not open in the evening. The best source of info is the guide ‘Restos Veggie’ published by La Plage. This website also lists vegetarian restaurants in France and you can search by town: www.vegoresto.fr

– If you cannot string a sentence together around the items you can and cannot eat, take photos of the relevant foods, with a big tick or cross beside them (this really does work!).

– Unless you spot something you can eat on their menu before going in, avoid ‘formula restaurants’ that are obviously part of a big chain as they are very unlikely to alter their menu choices for you.

– Whilst there is a great deal of very rich food in French cuisine, there is also a vast array of fantastic traditional dishes that are really healthy. If your aim is to avoid fat and cholesterol, head for Provençal- or Mediterranean-style restaurants which tend to use fresh, vibrant coloured vegetables and fish and offer dishes made with olive oil instead of cream and butter.

– In addition to restaurants that can accommodate you, there are other options to avoid making everything you eat yourself yet still have the pleasure of eating high quality food al fresco alongside your motorhome. Many bakers will bake you a gluten free loaf with a little notice and the “Traiteurs” (delicatessens that make their own ready-to-eat meals) will know exactly what the ingredients in each of their dishes are so can often sell you something suitable ready to heat and eat.

– Finally, we recommend you keep a good stock of emergency supplies in your motorhome to avoid your evenings turning into total dining disasters when you can find anywhere to eat out. Head to a large supermarket when you first arrive, and make a bee-line for the “bio” section where you’ll find all the “free-from” foods together. Every year the selection gets better as special diets become more understood.

They say you should choose food in contrasting colours for a varied and healthy diet. That is easily done in France

They say you should choose food in contrasting colours for a varied and healthy diet. That is easily done in France

Here’s some helpful vocabulary to help you express your special diet

– I am diabetic… Je suis diabétique

– I am gluten intolerant… Je suis intolérant au gluten

– I am allergic to… Je suis allergique à…

– I am vegetarian… Je suis végétarien

– I am a vegan… Je suis un végétalien

– I cannot eat… Je ne peux pas manager

– Meat or meat products, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt or honey: de viande ou de produits carnés, le poisson, les œufs, le fromage, le lait, le yogourt ou du miel

– Which dishes are vegetarian, please? Quels plats sont végétariens SVP?

– Could you prepare a vegetarian dish for this evening/tomorrow?… Pourriez-vous préparer un repas végétarien pour ce soir/demain?

A final word…if your idea of a “special diet” is to indulge in the sublime-but-utterly-bad-for-you gourmet food that France does really well, that is easy to accomplish here too!

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