If you’re the parent of fussy vegan kids, guess what? You’re not alone! And if you’re holding back on traveling and experiencing life because feeding your kids is literally a pain in the ass, I hope I can first offer you an abundance of empathy and second, help encourage you to reconsider..
Last month, in silent, cranky, rebellious protest of the colder months coming, I decided to irresponsibly parent my children by taking them out of school and flying off with them and my mom in search of warmer weather, adventure and good vegan food.
Until now, traveling with my kiddos has consisted of one destination holidays and pre-booked accommodation that always includes the mandatory full kitchen. Because of a few bad experiences, eating out on the fly with my kids has just always been less than appealing (and wasteful) and cooking at home has always been the easier alternative. We seldom take the kids out to eat in local restaurants so finding restaurants in unfamiliar territory with not only ‘vegan options’ but ‘kid approved vegan options’ can feel challenging.
Kids are fussy for at least a million different reasons and although we all have those friends with kids that eat absolutely everything (and I enviously commend them for a job well done), I also recognize that at times there are food and eating issues beyond the parent’s control (really). Some kids just can’t handle strange and unappealing textures and flavors and despite repeated attempts to familiarize them with these new foods …It doesn’t always go well. If it goes down it, let’s just say it’s not staying there.. and that’s not fun for anyone. For the parents of these kids…we need to dig deep into our often already depleted patience stores and remember that with time and perseverance we will see improvements in the variety of foods they are able to tolerate. But until then…what do we do?
We do our best and usually it’s frigging exhausting.
In the past, this has definitely kept our family from planning lengthier holidays and it has predictably greatly influenced our choice of destinations.
My own personal love of traveling began when I was 17 after a friend of mine and I began talking late one night about the world and all it’s wonders, and all of the places we’d love to visit. Before we we knew it, this late night conversation had become an actual plan. We were going to see the world! It wasn’t overly thought out on our part and when we arrived at our fifth destination (Australia) I had less than $50 in my pocket and no idea where I’d be staying. I ended up staying 6 months longer so obviously things worked out but this first trip planted the lifelong travel bug that would lead me to many more destinations over the years, create incredible lifelong friendships, crazy experiences and irreplaceable memories. I learned surprisingly, that the world was nothing like the way it was portrayed in my high school textbooks and that many conflicts, world events and international news stories are often presented through a very distorted and often over simplified, one sided perspective. Although I was not yet vegan, traveling allowed me to witness multiple perspectives and opened my eyes to the life experiences of others, in a way that nothing else had until then, and ultimately lead me to where I am now. Books are great but I also want this ‘see it for yourself’ real life education for my kids. The travel of my youth is still the eventual goal for my kids…backpacks and youth hostels, foreign languages, unusual food, spontaneity, buses and trains. I hope to help plant that seed and hey, we have to start somewhere.
So as mentioned, when I decided to book this ‘beginners’ 15 night holiday in multiple locations in California, I planned on taking baby steps. We would test the waters by booking comfortable accommodation with kitchens because that just seemed easier than trying to wing it with my beloved little fusspot.
First up was San Diego and since we wanted to be right on the beach/boardwalk, surprisingly to me, the accommodation I needed (the mandatory kitchen) just full on didn’t exist. As in there were none, anywhere. I decided to book it anyway thinking that I would have better luck next location.
Anaheim is obviously geared towards children and families so finding a kitchen was as predicted, not a problem.
Our final 5 days would be in Palm Springs and again it was surprisingly difficult to find both the desired location and amenities so I made my choice. F*ck it, we would make this work and choose location.
I booked, paid and then I have to admit somewhat embarrassingly, I kind of panicked. What the hell had I done? In my mind, it was quite seriously a possibility that in these 15 days my youngest and most difficult to feed child could literally starve to death. What was I thinking?
I tried to reassure myself that ‘simple, widely available and liked- by- him grocery store items like peanut butter, bread, hummus, fruit and nuts could and would sustain him’. When that didn’t work, I called my mom who repeatedly reassured me that ‘simple, widely available and liked- by- him grocery store items like peanut butter, bread, hummus, fruit and nuts could and would sustain him’.
Our plan was pretty simple. We would buy the basics. We would eat breakfast in the hotel, pack lunches and cross our fingers that dinners would just sort of work out (with a bit of planning). We would have fun!
After loosely constructing a ‘things we wanted to see and do’ itinerary, I used the ‘Happy Cow‘ app (seriously, you need this in your life) to find a few vegan friendly restaurants in each area. I briefly glanced over their menus to ensure that they fit the criteria (sometimes I don’t even know what that is) and if they did, I made a small side note on our itinerary. This was such a HUGE time saver and saved us many times from walking aimlessly in circles with hungry kids in tow (an almost guaranteed way to ruin an otherwise good day!)Before we left, I filled each of our carry on bags with one large ziplock bag full of snacks. I baked and packed a full zucchini walnut loaf (Call me crazy but yes, I did), peanuts, sandwiches, granola bars, dried fruit, popcorn, hummus, and crackers. That way, if we arrived at our destination and didn’t want to rush out to go grocery shopping (as well as having to find somewhere for dinner), we wouldn’t have to. As silly as this sounded to my husband, this was a lifesaver because as predicted we didn’t find a grocery store upon arrival and that zucchini loaf made a damn tasty breakfast:)Photo: Soulshine Cafe
We arrived at our hotel, ventured out onto the Boardwalk and briefly hopped over a few blocks to check out Soulshine café. We were starving. I was a little anxious about our first California dining experience but holy smokes..Not only did my little one eat, he liked it!!
Figuring that if we ordered a little of everything, the law of averages would absolutely ensure that there would be at least one thing he liked, was a good call. Ok seriously, it was an excuse because my mom and I LOVE to eat. We ordered mac n’ cheese, sushi, a quinoa salad and knock your socks off delicious tacos. The tofu, avocado, carrot, cucumber sushi rolls were a hit. So was the quinoa salad (What? They’ve both always hated quinoa..). Day 1 was done and my difficult to feed kid was not only still alive but even well nourished (beans, greens, veggie, complex carbs…check!)Photo: Thai food downtown San Diego after a long but fun filled day touring the harbor and all it’s sunbathing mammals, exploring the USS Midway and wandering around Seaport Village. We ordered some sticky rice on the side for them and they were able to pick out enough from the communal dishes to fill their bellies. My son is getting annoyed with the volume of food Grandma 😉 kept ordering..Photo: We are a tired, hungry lot after spending the day hiking around Torrey Pines, climbing giant rock formations, exploring the beach and wandering around the spectacular scenery in La Jolla. Sushi Nekosan served us the most beautiful, creative, artistic, flavourful sushi we’ve ever had but it hadn’t arrived yet when we took this photo! Boo! My boys missed out and ordered avocado rolls but hey, we were all full and happy:)Photo: Thank you Ben and Jerry’s for always having vegan options.
San Diego was easy. We banked on and found without difficulty sushi, Thai food, Pizza, burgers and ice cream. Photo: Enjoying one of many pre-packed peanut butter sandwiches:) Photo: So much fun. Photo: Making memories.Photo: Despite this spectacular, fun-filled photo, Anaheim was not our favourite. I texted this photo to my husband while we were away and he responded with, ‘I thought this trip was for the kids?’..Umm..It was..They look like they were having fun, don’t they;) Although I had suspected we weren’t really a ‘Disney family’, I thought we’d check it out because hey, you never know. We planned one day per park and despite my kids schoolmates’ insistence that that was not enough time, it really was. We had free tickets for a third day and actually chose not to go.
In Anaheim we finally had our kitchen (by the way, what is with hotels offering a full kitchen and then having 2 burners and no oven? Grrrr) and there was a very vegan friendly Target (groceries) within walking distance of our hotel. Complimentary buffet style breakfasts were free every morning and we were able to fill up on bagels, hash browns and fresh fruit. As planned, we cooked most of our meals at the hotel. Leaving Anaheim was not nearly as difficult as leaving San Diego had been and our arrival in Palm Springs was welcomed by all of us. No more crazy congested traffic, fewer people, it was much more laid back and the scenery was stunning. We were happy to pack lunches and spend the days exploring. Correction: We were happy to have Grandma pack lunches and spend the days exploring (Thanks Grandma!) Photo: A mish mash meal consisting of a bunch of side dishes at Crossroads cafe. It worked. He was happy:)Photo: Grandma suffering through a tiny meal at Crossroads cafe.
Sometimes you have to be creative. My fussy child likes tofu so sometimes we had to pick the tofu out of our dishes to fill his little belly. He absolutely loves waffles and we were ‘forced’ to order vegan chicken and waffles just to get the waffles. At Crossroads cafe we ordered an avocado, a cup of fruit and fries from the ‘side’s menu and with the bun from my burger (as seen above)…It worked.
We only had one restaurant experience that didn’t work and it was at a good ole Mexican restaurant in San Diego that even had vegan cheese?! WTH, child! The corn tortillas and black beans were not going down. What did we do? He ate the avocado and I had healthy snacks in my backpack to offer him later. It was fine and it was literally once out of 15 days. I’d say not bad for how things could have gone. Photo: This was our Disneyland. Joshua Tree and Skull rock. Stunning and so much fun climbing these gigantic rock formations.Photo: The last day. Simultaneously enjoying the sunshine and drowning my sorrows;)Photo: At the airport, on our way home. Happy, refreshed, ready to see Dad and brave the cold weather.Photo: Hiking Joshua Tree. Fabulous.
I empathize with all the fussy kids because I too was that fussy child growing up and I didn’t expand my food horizons until I started traveling. My first time in Thailand with a friend was when I was about 19 years old and despite spending 5 weeks on a beautiful beach where the food was abundant and flavourful, I ordered fried rice.. every day.. 3 times a day.. for breakfast.. lunch.. and dinner because..well..I didn’t like anything else. Well, look at me now!
So yes, we had a ‘comfortable’ holiday in nice hotels as opposed to hostels in an extremely vegan friendly state. We ate well. We purposely avoided having a car until it was necessary in Palm Springs. We met interesting immigrant Uber drivers whose political leanings repeatedly shocked me. We sweat and hiked and walked and explored and experienced the grittier areas at night because that was all part of the experience. My youngest surprised me and kept up. He ate. We survived and we got to do it all with grandma. They say the best things in life aren’t things. I’d have to agree.
Seek adventure, escape the ordinary..WITH your kids. Be brave and just do it!
Next up? We’re thinking Costa Rica but…isn’t that the land of corn tortillas and black beans??? Sounds kind of like this trip’s one meal gone wrong..
Oh well, we’ll figure it out. I’m ready! Bring it on!