How To Cater To Your Dietary Needs on Placement


While on our mental health placements, volunteers reside in homestay accommodation and are provided with breakfast and dinner during the work week. In both Bali and Sri Lanka, breakfasts usually consist of bread, butter and fruit, and dinners are a curry-based feast, consisting of different plates of yum-ness. While we think our homestay families are total chefs, and always cook the most incredible food, we understand some people might have specific dietary requirements, which make travelling more challenging. Here is some extra info we hope you’ll find helpful, and some tips on how to travel on a regimen.

Let’s dig in!

Sri Lankan Traditional Dishes

Sri Lankan food mainly consists of rice and curry - simple and oh so yummy. The different types and levels of heat available vary a lot and from banana curries, to classic dhal's, all the way back to pumpkin curries, volunteers are spoilt with a feast by their homestay families every evening.

Volunteers can join us with varying dietary requirements such as coeliac, nut and fish allergies, lactose intolerances, or even vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. A helpful tip to get around this is to keep in mind that each dinner at the homestay comes as a mixture of dishes - curries, rice plates, veggies and poppadoms (IKR, OMG). If one of the curries contains an ingredient you can’t eat, you can always opt for some stand-alone rice and veg; or vice-versa!

This separate way of serving each part of the meal comes as a helping hand for those volunteers who have specific dietary requirements. However, homestay families are not able to cater to individual dietary requirements so if they’re not able to provide what you need, you can always pop down to the supermarkets, which are readily available in and around the community. though we recommend letting them know about any food-related concerns you may have upon arrival. Culturally, Sri Lankan curries tend to be vegetarian based, at most very rarely containing fish. If a meat dish is served, it will come accompanied by (you guessed it) a rice and veg side. So you can live that #meatfree life on placement too!

curry at the homestay

Bali Traditional Dishes

Dinners in Bali are slightly different to those in Sri Lanka and India. Rice or noodle based, they usually come with veg and spices, but are more likely to include eggs, fish, and meat, making it a bigger challenge for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet.  

That being said, Bali is a more touristic island, which makes it easier for volunteers to find western food nearby the homestay areas, and also buy supplements in supermarkets if needed. YAY!

For those following a vegan diet, it is slightly more difficult to know whether meals at the homestay will be 100% animal-product-free, and we always advise speaking to the families. Sides and condiments that don’t contain animal products will likely always be available.

If you have specific requirements that cannot be met by mixing and matching the different dishes available at the table, or maybe you just fancy eating something different, supermarkets are easily accessible in and around the community.

Allergies & Intolerances: Top Tips

With the help of SLVIP, Krissie, we’ve compiled some useful information for anyone looking to travel on a regimen.

Krissie is a fab member of the team here at London HQ and she has joined us in both Sri Lanka and Bali. Krissie also has a nut allergy which meant being super careful with foods was super important on placement, and we think she’s the best person to give advice when talking about dietary requirements abroad!

Always carry your medication
It’s important that you carry your medication with you, whether that involves antihistamines, epipens or other types. Please also remember that it is recommended you travel with a doctor’s note explaining that your medication is needed with you on the flight, as some airlines have restrictions regarding the types and amounts of medication you can take on board with you.

Inform the airline
When booking your flight, contact the airline about the meals being served and what ingredients are in them. This will help you plan whether you need to consider flying with a different airline or just bring your own food for the journey.

Prepare translation cards
Probably the most important tip is to carry around a printed out translation card describing your allergy which you can show when ordering food. This helps to ensure others are made aware of your allergy despite any language barriers. This can be done through online companies, and some offer the service free of charge.

You could always make these cards when  in country and ask the international staff team to check them. It is also worth learning key words related to your allergy so you can spot it in ingredients if you are buying food from a shop.

Be extra cautious if you want to eat at street food vendors
Cross-contamination can be a risk at street food stalls as the food may be cooked in nut oils, stored together or cooked in the same appliances. Often they may not even realise there could be traces of nuts in anything when they tell you there isn't.

Do your research
Do some research into the countries’ local dishes and what they include before going travelling. I found this super useful as I found a dish that I knew I could eat and would enjoy and ended up eating it almost everyday!

Let fellow volunteers and your homestay family know
Your homestay family will already be aware of your dietary requirements but it's great to explain it in person to chat through which foods you must avoid and the severity of the allergy (e.g. would you like a separate set of cutlery?)

We understand it can be challenging to travel when you have dietary requirements, and our main advice when joining us on placement is to speak to the homestay family and the team, who can help you equip yourself with the correct lingo and questions to ask. Also, don’t forget to let us know if you have any concerns! There are plenty of options for you to find what you need in supermarkets and shops and you can still have the best culinary experience ever eating what makes you feel good. #winning

Aurora Trentin