We’ve just spent a lovely relaxing week away with the kids at Woburn Forest Center Parcs. My one-year-old daughter has multiple food intolerances: dairy, soya, wheat, gluten, oats and eggs are the main ones. She is still breastfeeding so this also affects what I can eat. This was our longest trip away since being on such a restricted diet, to say I was anxious about food would be an understatement! In fact I was so worried I had a weekly food shop delivered at home the morning we left to take with us. The accommodation at Center Parcs is self-catering but I didn’t want to spend the whole of our week away in the kitchen. We very rarely eat out nowadays because I feel awkward about it, plus I love food and find the lack of choice (while on a restricted diet) depressing. However, I am pleased to say I was very pleasantly surprised at how well food allergies are catered for at Center Parcs. There were not one, but two restaurants with allergy-friendly menus (so much easier than looking through a massive booklet of allergen information), plus a free from section in their on-site supermarket.
The sports cafe offered three special menus: gluten-free, dairy-free and vegetarian/vegan. I was able to look at both allergy menus and pick out items that were on both menus that were suitable. I was thrilled, there wasn’t just something I could eat, I had a choice!! On the adult menu were at least 6 main options: steak, gammon, mixed grill (all served with chips, and grilled mushroom and tomato), plus mackerel, chicken and bacon, or grilled veggie salad. I tried the steak, mixed grill and grilled mackerel salad during our stay and they were all very tasty, the mackerel salad in particular was really good. I was also very impressed to notice that they offered gluten-free bread for sandwiches and toast (although sadly not suitable for us). For dessert there were three flavours of sorbet available, or a fresh fruit platter. The gluten-free menu also had Daim bar cake. The kids menu was a bit more limited, grilled chicken strips with chips and vegetable crudites was the only option I could find that was gluten and dairy free, with jelly or fruit for dessert.
Hucks is an American-style diner with two special menus: gluten free and lactose free. It wasn’t clear if the lactose free menu was completely dairy free but none of the items on the menu had obvious milk ingredients so I decided to risk it. Again I was pleased to find a choice of a few items that appeared on both menus: two kinds of steak, pork loin, or salad with grilled salmon or grilled prawn skewers. Sadly they don’t offer any special menus for children because they do a kids buffet instead, but they do offer half portions from the adult menu. I opted for a salmon salad for me and a half portion of prawns for my little one, plus extra sweet potato wedges and broccoli on the side. It was a kick-ass salad with loads of great ingredients including avocado which made it really filling and satisfying. Dessert was sorbet for me, or jelly or fruit for my daughter. I’d like to challenge any restaurant to come up with an original dairy-free dessert, as I’ve never come across anything other than sorbet, jelly or fruit anywhere.
The head chef at Hucks, James Haywood, recently went gluten-free for three weeks as an experiment, and as a result the gluten-free menu seems really well-thought out and even includes gluten-free beer. It’s definitely a huge step in the right direction but it would be really helpful if they could make it clear which items are completely free of milk ingredients, as lactose intolerance is different to a cow’s milk allergy. I decided it was ok to take a risk just this once as we are only dealing with an intolerance to cow’s milk protein. If my daughter had a true allergy I would not have felt safe.
Woburn has three (yes, three!) Starbucks on site and I think we visited one every day in our stay! They do a vanilla rooibos tea which is my favourite (as well as some other lovely teas), some juice-based frappucinos, dark chocolate (without soya lecithin, yay!) and fruit salad. They also sold a raw raspberry bar which was labelled as gluten free but on closer inspection I noticed it contains oats so I was dubious about this. They also sold a peanut and cashew bar which I was hopeful to try but unfortunately it contains soya. I get so frustrated at the number of foods that contain hidden/added soya for no apparent reason! I did also notice they sold gluten-free wraps, and of course they stock soya milk, but unfortunately neither of these were suitable for us.
This is Center Parcs’ on-site supermarket, which is small but still had a free-from section with all the essentials like gluten free pasta and cereal, plus dairy free milk in the chiller. I spotted some gluten-free burgers too for that obligatory holiday barbecue. They also had some nice extras like Nakd bars. And in the sweet shop I was very excited to find Moo Free chocolate!
Overall I was really happy with Center Parcs’ provision for food allergies. I would definitely go there again safe in the knowledge that we can relax about food. We took loads of food with us but we needn’t have worried as we were well catered for. However I would like to see all the restaurants on the site developing a gluten-free and dairy-free menu. I would’ve liked to eat at Strada, Rajinda Pradesh or Cafe Rouge but they didn’t have anything that was suitable. My husband and daughter love The Pancake House so they went without us as their gluten-free pancakes contain dairy, and their vegan (dairy-free) pancakes contain gluten! I’m sure if I’d asked in advance they would’ve come up with something but we weren’t that organised – we were on holiday after all! The only other thing that was lacking was breakfast options: the Sports Cafe serves breakfast but I couldn’t see any options that were both gluten free and dairy free. In my dream world, it would be amazing if someone could come up with a menu that is free from all the most common foods that cause an allergic reaction. After all, I do it every day at home, so it should be possible. Is anyone up for the challenge?