Check out the festivals' website and read their FAQs
Research is always the first thing I do, usually before I even buy tickets to a festival or event.
Not only does reading the FAQ's on the event's site help you get valuable information about the event, that is often where policies on whether or not you can bring outside food or drink, and what restrictions there are, will be listed.
Many events will list food vendors on their website before the event. If this information is available, check it out and see if any vendors may have something that would be gluten-free.
Directly contact any vendors you think may have gluten-free options, and ask them questions about their allergy protocols before the festival or event.
I checked the Balloon Fiesta's website before we went. And then I took this picture in from of a red chile ristra balloon.
Eat a snack before you go.
I always grab a quick snack before I leave for a festival, even if I think there is going to be some safe gluten free food options there. If my stomach isn't growling, I won't be tempted to eating something that I don't know for sure is gluten-free. It takes the pressure off, and then I'm less likely to be hangry at the event.
Whether it is a quick snack you put together at home, or you grab something you know is gluten free on your way to the event, or even if you just eat a bar in the car on your way, having a snack ahead of time will help you to think clearly, and have fun.
Get there early!
If you want to try and find safe gluten free food at a festival, get there before peak hours. Not only to avoid lines, but because if the food booths are busy, they are less likely to comply with your requests to reduce cross contact.
You also may be rushed, and not able to ask the questions you need to ask.
When I went to the Balloon Fiesta for the GlowDeo, we got to the Balloon Fiesta Park about 4:30, and most people weren't getting dinner yet so we were able to walk up to several vendors and ask questions to find out what gluten free options they had, if any.
Focus on what you CAN enjoy
Focus on what you CAN enjoy! That doesn't even have to be food! Focus on all the fun experiences at the festival you are attending. You can certainly focus on the food and drink that you can safely have!
If you can't eat any food at the event, maybe there is a drink that you can enjoy. Grab a hot coffee, or a glass of wine or a cocktail. Or a scoop of ice cream.
Focus on any food items that are more likely to be naturally gluten-free, like:
•Street Tacos. If the meat is cooked in a gluten free sauce, and it is served on a corn tortillas, a street taco can be a great option. Be sure to ask about cross contact.
•Corn on the Cob. Roasted or grilled corn on the cob is often at festivals, and can be a safe food option.
•Turkey Leg. Be sure to ask lots of questions about how it is handled and seasoned, but at the end of the day it is a turkey leg and is more likely to be gluten free than many other foods at a festival.
•Ribbon Fries. Sometimes, you luck out and find a dedicated gluten free fryer at a festival. Be sure that nothing breaded, and no funnel cakes go into the fryer before ordering! I rarely order anything fried from a food stand that has fried items that are not gluten-free on their menu, just because someone could put a funnel cake in the fry fryer on accident when they are in a rush. But if you are lucky to find a spot that only serves ribbon fries and nothing else, you've hit the jack pot! Other than the ribbon fry exception, I stay away from all fried food at festivals because the risk of cross contact is so high.
•Tamales. Sometimes flour is added to the masa, for tamales so always ask and don't assume.
•Bunless Burgers. Cross contact can be a real issue, ask if the burgers are cooked on the safe flat-top or surface as the buns are toasted, and if they can pull ingredients from fresh containers.
•Nachos. Eeven a lot or sport-stand nachos are gluten-free, if you check. But not all are, so still check.
•Wine is always gluten-free.
•Simple cocktails, like Rum and Coke or a Margarita. In my experience, most mixed drinks are gluten-free because distilled alcohol (even bourbon and whiskey) are gluten free.
•Ice cream. Cross contact can be an issue, but after a few quick questions, I feel safe eating ice cream when my family is out and about.
Bring your own snacks.
Even after looking up vendors ahead of time, arriving early, and asking all the questions, I always bring some snacks in my bag....just in case. The last thing you want is to feel forced to eat food that you don't know is really gluten free just because you are hangry. And if you are hangry, you won't be able to enjoy the festival!
Most places will allow you to bring in a few snacks if you explain that you have food allergies and can't eat anything inside the festival. You can usually at least sneak a granola bar in your pocket, even if bags aren't allowed at the event.
At the Balloon Fiesta, while there are plenty of vendors selling food, you are also allowed to bring in our own food and snacks, (Bags are subject to search when you enter, but they aren't trying to confiscate your food.)
I brought some of Pamela's Whenever Bars and Enjoy Life's Breakfast ovals when I went to the Mass Ascension at the Balloon Fiesta for breakfast on the go.
If you know for sure that you CAN bring your own food, you may even want to pick up your favorite meal to-go from your local gluten free spot. (Or a place you know you can safely dine.)
Find someplace nearby where you can get safe food afterwards!
I always like to know what my options are nearby festivals and events. That way if I don't find any safe food at the festival, I know I can look forward to eating somewhere nearby afterward.
Maybe we'll just grab a Frosty at Wendy's on our way home, or grab a scoop of ice cream on our way home.
If you are attending the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, I have a blog post full of local gluten free options all over town.
Hopefully these 7 tips for attending a festival or event with a food allergy/celiac disease help you to prepare and have a great time the next time you have something planned!
Comment below and tell me what your favorite tips are for attending events and festivals!