How to handle food intolerances when you work FIFO

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Hi! I'm Sarah Long. I arrived in Australia from the UK in early 2010 and met my Mr Miner soon after. We're based in Sydney and he does drive-in, drive-out (or DIDO) to Orange in country NSW. I came out here as part of a six-month backpacking trip around the world, and never went home!

Last month Mr Miner’s company moved employees out of camp and into accommodation in town.

Moving into town was nothing new, as he previously stayed in a guest house before moving to camp, but with each move for Mr Miner comes an adjustment that not everyone would consider. This is because Mr Miner has severe food intolerances, particularly to gluten and dairy. (And I don’t mean the Hollywood version of 'food intolerances' where everyone is on a gluten-free diet.)

According to dietiticians at the Australian Institute of Sport, "There is no advantage in avoiding gluten if you do not have coeliac disease or a related medical condition." Mr Miner’s reactions are so severe that he basically rolls around on the floor in agony, which would be pretty funny to watch if the look on his face wasn’t so distressing. I found out about this early on in our relationship, because whenever we went out to eat it was always Thai, sushi or steak and chips. In fact they’re still always the 'safe' options if we’re out and about.

As a carb-lover I was secretly horrified, but I quickly jumped at the chance to play the perfect girlfriend (as I said it was still the early days) and began coming up with gluten/lactose-free alternatives for all the foods he couldn’t eat. Some were a great success (we probably eat stroganoff once every break now!); some were not so great – just ask him about the fish pie disaster!

When he was staying in the guest house and the other guys were going out and getting take-aways and ready meals, Mr Miner was trying to cook with only an electric frying pan and a microwave (because most convenience foods contain either gluten or dairy or, more often than not, both). Camp was a little easier as caterers have to provide for people with special dietary requirements. However, he was loathe to tell them about this, because you often end up with very bland food containing no allergens whatsoever (the same as when you tick the 'vegetarian' option on your flight booking and you end up with just tofu and lettuce for dinner).

Generally, camp caterers provide a variety of meals and there’s always the meat and two veg option to fall back on if nothing else is suitable. In fact I think he consumed a fair amount of steak and chips during his camp stay, not that he was complaining!

So now he’s back in town, and the good news is he’s staying in a house with a fully-functioning kitchen. The bad news is that he has to cook for himself again, and at 8pm (having been up for 15 hours) all he wants is convenience.

Quick tips

When he was at the guest house we came up with a plan that made life a little easier and I think it could work for other people, food intolerances or not:

  • Batch cooking. Bolognaise, chilli, curries, stews and soups are all simple to make in large quantities and freeze in portions. We will cook a big batch during a break and then when Mr Miner goes back to work he can just grab a selection before he leaves.
  • Be prepared. Get a reusable bag from the supermarket and keep it stocked with quick and healthy things to eat like tins of tuna, beans, dried fruit and nuts and wraps (rice cakes and corn Cruskits are great if you’re gluten free).
  • Research and plan meals that can be made in minutes. Omelettes, stir frys and pasta with pesto (you can easily replace this with rice/corn pasta if you're not intolerant) can all be made in around 15 minutes.
  • Cook lots and save it for either lunches or the next evening’s meal so that you only have to cook every other night.
  • Try something new. When you’re cooking or eating like this it’s easy to become routine and Mr Miner found himself bored and uninspired with his food. It’s simple to get inspiration - just Google an ingredient and about a million recipes should appear. Over three years there has been some trial and error, but I have definitely learnt a lot and I’m still experimenting, much to Mr Miner’s horror. For those with lactose intolerances, substitutes like Tofutti (tofu cream cheese/sour cream) and soy/rice/almond milk are great. For gluten intolerances there are a lot of products available, but for cooking, I use gluten-free flour or rice/chickpea/potato flour and almond meal and vegetables are great for moist cakes.

Note: More information can be found on food intolerances from your health practitioner or state food authority website. Here's one from the NSW Government.

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