Eating Out, New York City, Traveling with Food Allergies

Peanut-Free in New York City

Peanut-Free in New York City

NYC skylineWe did it: we had a wonderful spring break in the Big Apple and ate safely the whole time! Granted, we weren’t at all adventurous eaters, but we were safe. I spent a lot of time planning our trip because I had to not only research the attractions and plan our days, but also extensively plan our meals. Where could we eat when we were out and about? Would we have to pack all our lunches? I certainly couldn’t wing it like non-food allergy families since we can’t just pop into the closest restaurant whenever we get hungry.

Anyway, I figured I’d lay out all the details of our trip so you can use bits and pieces to plan your own NYC trip, or you could follow exactly what we did. Either way, I hope this post saves you some time and you don’t have to spend the hours upon hours researching where to stay and where to eat like I did.

Our goal was to show our 9-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter as many of the well-known NYC highlights as possible. We had four days in NYC, not counting our two travel days. Since we were traveling from Richmond, Virginia, the train was our preferred mode of transportation since we could arrive at Penn Station and take the 1 train to our hotel.

Our allergens are peanut (history of anaphylaxis) and we avoid tree nuts.

Hotel Information

We stayed at the Beacon Hotel. I really loved this hotel and feel so lucky to have found it with my simple Google search (“New York City hotel with kitchen”). Everything about it was perfect! Our suite was clean, and we had plenty of drawer and closet space for four people. The living room portion is separate from the bedroom and there were two doors that we could close if someone was still sleeping while everyone else was awake and making noise. The hotel is located on the Upper West side, which is a relatively quiet and family-oriented area of the city.

Hotel Features

Beacon Hotel Kitchen Kitchenette

Of course our hotel room had a kitchenette, which included a nice-sized refrigerator/freezer, stove and oven (most kitchenettes don’t have an oven, but this one did!), one pot with a lid, one pan, place settings for four, a large serving spoon and spatula, toaster (which was clean), and a Keurig coffee maker. We also had a bottle of dish soap.

I was leery of how clean all the dishes and pans were, so I rewashed everything by hand when we arrived and each time we used it, even though there was a sign on the counter that said housekeeping would wash dishes. I did notice that there were dirty dishes on the housekeeping cart, so perhaps they take the dirty stuff down to a commercial dishwasher. But I felt better cleaning everything myself.

Proximity to Grocery Store

One of the main reasons why I chose this hotel, aside from the kitchen, was because Fairway Market is directly across the street. And the market turned out to be a large (by NYC standards, anyway) grocery store. I couldn’t find a lot of the specific products we use, but I was able to find brands that we trusted and liked (Applegate, Eggo, Newman’s Own). The one thing that was really lacking at the store was brand name, factory-packaged bread. New Yorkers like their bakery bread. I needed to make sandwiches for one outing, so, after examining every single bag, I ended up purchasing pre-packaged challah rolls that were labeled well and we ate them fine.

Beacon Hotel Kitchen Contents

Fairway Market
View of Fairway Market outside our hotel room window
Proximity to Subway

The 72nd Street subway stop was just two short blocks away (you can exit onto 73rd Street), which is less than a five-minute walk to the hotel.

Proximity to Chipotle

OK, don’t laugh, but Chipotle doesn’t serve anything with peanuts or tree nuts so it’s one of our go-to safe restaurants, and we did get dinner there one night. My guidebook states that you shouldn’t eat at chain restaurants while in NYC, because, why would you choose to eat at a chain when you have all these other great choices. Obviously the author doesn’t have any food allergies or kids with food allergies! Chipotle is only a five-minute walk from the hotel. When you come out of the subway station and look to the right across Amsterdam Avenue, you can see Chipotle.

Other

We didn’t need it, but there was an umbrella in the hotel closet. The large closet also had a safe for locking up our valuables. I even noticed an emergency flashlight in the smaller closet in case of a power outage. Even though we were on what was considered a low floor (9th), street noise wasn’t an issue at all. We felt safe there, and there was a doorman on duty every time we entered and left the hotel lobby.

What the Hotel was Lacking

Baking dish and plastic utensils

I loved that the kitchen had an oven, but there was not a baking dish or baking sheet in sight! I ended up buying a small roll of aluminum foil at the market and layering it to create a baking sheet. Maybe I cared too much about scratching the hotel’s pans, but the serving/cooking utensils were metal and the pan was non-stick. So I carefully used leftover plastic utensils from the train to flip and cook our food in the pan so I didn’t further damage the pan.

Paper towels

Personal preference, I guess. I can’t cook and properly clean up without disposable paper towels! But that was an easy fix: I picked up a roll on my near-daily trip to the market.

Getting Around via Subway

We took the subway everywhere, both for the convenience and because it’s economical. As soon as we got into Penn Station, we purchased a 7-day unlimited subway pass for each person, which costs $31 per person plus $1 per person for issuing a new pass. Note of caution: with unlimited passes, if you swipe to go through the turnstile, that subway card cannot be used again for 18 minutes, presumably to prevent people from using one unlimited pass to get multiple people onto the subway simultaneously. So make sure you’re entering the correct station before you swipe! And get your kids through the turnstile before you swipe your own card. One time, my husband swiped his card and then discovered my son was having trouble with his card, so he stopped to help him. He got our son through, but then my husband was stuck because he’d already swiped but hadn’t actually gone through the turnstile and the card couldn’t be used again right away.

Also be aware that people often eat on the subway and we saw a lot of people eating nuts and peanuts. At one point, my daughter looked wary and I realized it was because the little girl beside her was eating a trail mix that contained peanuts. (My daughter is not airborne sensitive and I reassured her and she was fine.) We washed hands when we could, but sometimes it wasn’t convenient to find a public restroom before eating. We carried lots of wipes and used them diligently after riding the subway, but especially before eating.

Four Boroughs in Four Days

Below is our itinerary. I’m amazed by how much we did in just four days, and I will caution you: we walked A LOT. According to our iPhone Health app, we walked over 28 miles during our four sightseeing days. Our kids were exhausted, but they held up quite well. We were back at the hotel in the afternoon in plenty of time for dinner, except for the one day noted.

Sunday, Travel Day

We took Amtrak into Penn Station. Then we walked into the subway and took the 1 train to the 72nd Street stop. Luckily we arrived on a weekend day, so we weren’t carrying our bags through a too-crowded station while people rushed home from their jobs. I went to the market right away and got food for dinner and snacks.

Breakfast: at home

Lunch: Digiorno pizza from the café car (they were boxed individually and so checking ingredients was easy), snacks that we brought

Dinner: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen with groceries purchased across the street at Fairway Market

Monday, Day 1: Statue of Liberty, Joe’s Pizza, Eleni’s Nut-Free Bakery

Statue of LibertyI’m glad we didn’t plan more than seeing this one attraction. Our ticket was for both Liberty Island (Statue of Liberty) and Ellis Island (Immigration Museum), but we didn’t even get off the ferry at Ellis Island because we were too tired from exploring Liberty Island.

Statue of Liberty

We got to the ferry check-in station just before 10:00 in the morning and the line was LONG. It took us about an hour to navigate the line and get through the airport-like security check.

The security people acted like they’d never seen EpiPens before, let alone been asked to hand-inspect them. We had to insist—twice, because there’s a security checkpoint before boarding the ferry and another one if you go into the Statue.

At one point the security guy was getting ready to shove our EpiPens through the X-ray machine anyway and we had to stop him. My standard statement was, “The manufacturer says not to put them through the X-ray machine. Please hand-inspect them.” I’ve never had an issue with airport security/TSA hand inspecting them, so this was annoying!  I was firm and it worked.

We had pedestal tickets for the statue, meaning we could go into the base part of the statue. We took the stairs, which seemed to go on forever (maybe waiting for the elevator would have been a better choice). Without tickets, you can’t get into the statue or the museum, so if you don’t want to purchase tickets to go inside, I would recommend viewing the statue from the ferry and not disembarking at the Liberty Island stop; go straight to Ellis Island (this is what my guidebook recommends and I now understand why – seeing the statue from the ferry is the best view and exploring the island is less fun if you don’t actually go into the statue or museum, although it was pretty cool to look straight up at the statue).

Joe’s Pizza

Yes, Joe’s Pizza gets a mention as an attraction! And because we were safe eating there, we visited Joe’s even if we weren’t exactly close by. I chose this pizza place over others because when I went to their website, they made it clear that they serve only standard pizza; nothing fancy, nothing but pizza. Of course we still asked if they have anything with peanuts, such as peanut oil, and were told no. My son adores pizza and loved Joe’s, which is why you’ll see we ate there three times during our four-day trip!

Eleni’s Nut-Free Bakery

Eleni's Nut Free BakeryThis was our first time in a nut-free bakery and we had an absolute blast (and spent way too much money) at Eleni’s! We got cookies and cupcakes, and it was so refreshing to be able to pick out whatever we wanted.

Breakfast: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Lunch: Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine St. location), then Eleni’s 

Dinner: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Tuesday, Day 2: Central Park, Rockefeller Center (including American Girl and Lego stores), and Empire State Building

The weather was beautiful and perfect for a morning in Central Park! We climbed the rocks, played at Heckscher Playground (there are restrooms!), and rode the carousel.

Then we headed to Joe’s Pizza for lunch and Rockefeller Center for shopping and sightseeing. Lastly, we went to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Breakfast: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Lunch: Joe’s Pizza (150 East 14th Street location, near Union Square)

Dinner: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Wednesday, Day 3: Bronx Zoo

bronx zooThis was the only time that we got slightly lost and it’s because the signs pointing to the Bronx Zoo point two different ways (there are two entrances). But it was a great day once we got there. The one downside is that, although you are more than welcome to bring food and drinks into the park for a picnic, there are no lockers to rent so you have to carry everything if you don’t have a car to keep your food in. So to keep our backpack as light as possible, we brought the kids’ lunches and my husband and I got food from the cafe. We weren’t sure whether there was anything in the café that was safe for them, and I’m glad we packed because I think it would have been difficult to find a manager and get a straight answer about ingredients. As far as I could tell, there was nothing behind the counter/in the kitchen that blatantly contained nuts or peanuts, though they did sell a pre-packaged PB&J in the grab-and-go cases. I also noticed that at one of the exhibits, the animals had been fed peanuts, but I don’t recall seeing any shells anywhere outside of the exhibits.

Breakfast: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Lunch: Packed lunch

Dinner: Chipotle

Thursday, Day 4: Museum of the Moving Image, Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Joe’s Pizza, Times Square

Brooklyn BridgeWe planned this day to have a morning activity, a break at the hotel at or right after lunch, another activity in the afternoon, dinner out, and finally a stroll through Times Square at night to see the lights. It was a busy day, and our highest mileage day walking, but the break in the afternoon was helpful.

No food or drinks are allowed in the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens since it’s full of costumes, cameras, and computers, but you can still pack lunch. Anything over a small purse size has to be checked anyway, so just pack your lunch and check it at the coat/bag check. Then pick up your bag when it’s time to eat. I briefly checked the café menu online and saw they served something with peanut butter, so I didn’t even bother further looking into the museum’s food. We were done with all the exhibits by lunchtime, so although I’d packed a lunch, we ended up just going back to the hotel and eating there.

After a break, we headed to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Then we took the subway back to Manhattan and stopped by the 9/11 Memorial fountains. Then we went to, you guessed it, Joe’s Pizza for dinner. After dinner, we walked through Times Square and then, happily, returned to the quiet of the Upper West Side.

Breakfast: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Lunch: Packed lunch but ended up eating a late lunch at the hotel

Dinner: Joe’s Pizza (7 Carmine St. location)

Friday, Travel Day Home

We entered the subway around 9 AM, and though it was a bit crowded with commuters, we didn’t have too much difficulty getting to Penn Station with all our bags. Of course, then the train was an hour late, but I guess it’s better that we were waiting around rather than rushing because we were late and going to miss our train.

Breakfast: prepared in our hotel room’s kitchen

Lunch: Packed lunch with all the leftover food from our hotel room’s refrigerator

Dinner: home!

There’s more I could share, but this post is already long. If you opt in by clicking the button below, you’ll receive my free NYC resource guide (6-page PDF) directly to your email box. Included in the free guide are:

  • Clickable links and the addresses of the restaurants and stores I mentioned,
  • Links to all the mentioned attractions so you can purchase the lowest-priced tickets in advance (I HIGHLY recommend you purchase in advance so you don’t have to stand in line for tickets; you’ll do plenty of standing and waiting even without having to wait for tickets),
  • Name of the #1 NYC travel book/guidebook with more detail about the attractions mentioned, as well as those that weren’t, and
  • The two must-use apps so you always know where you’re going. I would have been lost, literally, without them!

Get the FREE Peanut-Free in NYC Resource Guide

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