Dealing with food sensitivities and allergies at Dollywood

gluten free cookieAs a community leader at Udi’s Gluten Free, a mom to a daughter with allergies, and someone who deals with food sensitivities, I was excited to learn about Dollywood’s Start Fresh program. During my recent Brandcation trip to Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, our group had the chance to meet with food team member, Cecil Page, during lunch at Granny Ogle’s Ham N’ Beans, who told us all about the program they developed with the help of FANN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network). The program has been in place over two years and as far as I know it’s unique to Dollywood.

How Start Fresh works

When you arrive to any of Dollywood’s restaurants or eateries, talk with the manager to let him or her know what allergies and food sensitivities you and your family is dealing with. There’s no need to call ahead, though you can contact the Foods Department at 865-428-9428 if you so choose.

The manager and his or her team will make sure that your table is cleaned, sanitized and as free as possible from any allergens. They’ll also make sure you’re seated away from the kitchen so you don’t get a whiff of anything you may be allergic to, like fish.

The manager will then present you with a yellow binder (yellow is the color assigned to anything Start Fresh related) that contains the list of ingredients of all the menu items. This way you can decide what you feel comfortable ordering for yourself or your child.

Once your order is placed, it’s assigned to a cook who will prepare your meal from start to finish and will not cook up anyone else’s order until after you are done. The first thing he or she will do is clean and sanitize their work area and put on a fresh area. Then he or she will break open a Fresh Start pack containing everything they need to prepare and serve your meal (utensils, cutting board, knife, spoons, etc.) The cook will then prepare the meal to your specifications and deliver it personally to your table. It’s like having your own personal chef!

The cooks go through the special one week Start Fresh program after going through a regular culinary course at the Dollywood. Only those who pass the Start Fresh program can cook for allergy affected guests. So while other theme parks and restaurants serve up allergen free food, this is probably one of the few that understand about allergen contamination.

Dollywood restaurants also offer vegetarian, diabetic and gluten free menu options. I was pleasantly surprised to find packaged gluten free cookies at the Spotlight Bakery. And if you’re traveling with kids with allergies or you have food sensitivities yourself, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy dining at Dollywood can be!

For more information about the park, admission and hours, go to dollywood.com. You can also connect with Dollywood on Facebook and @Dollywood.

Eating gluten free when traveling

The Udi’s Gluten Free Community offers lots of great info and tips about traveling while gluten free:

How do you deal with food allergies and sensitivities when traveling?

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Disclosure: The Brandcation bloggers received special discounts and passes to many of the attractions we visited. All experiences and opinions expressed here are my own.

As a Udi's Gluten Free Community Leader I'm compensated for my time and efforts on their behalf.

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