The last two years have brought about great changes in my family’s diet. We have been introduced to Bountiful Baskets which has helped us make living fruits and veggies the base of each meal. We have had three out of six of us diagnosed with celiac disease requiring a gluten-free lifestyle. Additionally we have one member of our family recently diagnosed with severe allergies to many (OK most) foods further limiting diet options. I have had moments of frustration but, for the most part, the new menus have been a fun challenge. I enjoy getting creative in the kitchen (BB certainly helps there) and we have all seen health benefits from a diet increasingly free of processed foods.
Just when I was really beginning to feel I had a handle on all the new “kitchen restrictions” it was time to start planning a family vacation. While this usually fills me with excitement and high expectations- this year I was filled mostly with dread. How was I going to keep my family (particularly my allergy-laden 7-year-old) healthy while living in a hotel and visiting theme parks? How could I prepare fresh meals each day and still feel like I got a vacation? We were used to eating out for two meals a day on vacations- once at the hotel breakfast and once for dinner. Keeping everyone feeling good meant we could not rely on fast foods, restaurants, or hotel freebies. It also meant that our traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, and fruit cups would not work for lunches in the parks.
As I began to plan I realized two things. First, my goal had to be no restaurants or fast food for the whole trip. Second, the keys to meeting my goal would be: a well-equipped hotel room; lots of preparation before we left home; and Bountiful Baskets. Here’s what I did to make a four-day adventure for a family of six completely HOME-MADE!
Well Equipped Hotel– This was important to my goal. I knew I had to have a full-size refrigerator to keep all of our prepped meals fresh (no regular hotel mini-fridge was going to work). I wanted an oven, needed a stove, and would be happy with a micro-wave. Hubby seriously considered just renting an RV but that put the vacation total way out of budget- so that was out (this time). We did find an all-suite hotel that included full-size fridges, a two burner stove, a microwave, a dishwasher and a sink (no oven but they had me at “full-size fridge”…when you find true love sometimes you have to give up part of the fantasy). While this was not the cheapest room we could find, we figured the money we would save by not eating out would balance out the price of the room- plus we have to do what we have to do to keep everyone healthy. To further equip our room I packed our large “Forman Grill” and our air-popper for popcorn (dishes, utensils, bowls, etc. were all included in the room)
The Preparation- I did not want to spend my vacation shopping, cooking, and cleaning (let’s face it that is my daily life) so I wanted to have as much prepared ahead of time as possible. I started with menu plans making them as detailed as possible. Once I had four days of meal plans (3 meals and 2 snacks for each day) I determined what could be prepared ahead of time and went to work.
Four days before we left:
• Made LOTS of sweet potato chips for the drives
Three days before we left:
• Diced some home-canned peaches and mangoes (BB of course) into cubes and put them in the dehydrator. I LOVE dehydrating my canned fruits because they come out kind of squishy and puffy like boxed fruit-snacks. They are great on their own or in homemade granola.
Two days before we left:
• Mixed up the flours required for gluten-free and paleo pancakes and separated into baggies portioned for the day. This way all I needed to do was dump the baggy out and add the wet ingredients.
• Purchased the food items and the containers that I would need for the remainder of the meals.
• Made Pumpkin Granola in the Crockpot. I used GF oats, pumpkin seeds in place of nuts, and my dehydrated fruit bits.
• Made a big batch of coconut brownies and sealed them up tight (hiding them from everyone especially hubby)
The day before the trip (BB Saturday):
• Made my own fruit cups using my home-canned peaches and plums from the basket the week before. I used “Glad” 4 oz containers and lids. I put slices of peach and plum in each container, then filled it with a bit of the sugar syrup in the peaches and sealed them up. They were a HUGE hit each day.
• Cut celery and Carrot sticks and put them into individual Ziplocs for snacking.
• Riced cauliflower and stored it in Ziploc bags
• Prepared 6 salad-in-jars for lunches each day of the trip (yep- 24 salad in jars). As the parks and zoo do not allow glass I purchased Ziploc containers for these and they worked great!
• Organized all items into the cooler labeled with the day they would be eaten and what additional foods would need to be purchased or prepped. (We need to purchase meats fresh each day for my daughter)
During the trip:
• Cooked breakfast in the room using the pancakes mixes, eggs from home, and fruit from the basket
• Made gluten-free sandwiches for the littlest one’s lunches.
• Packed backpacks with granola (now fondly known as Monkey Chow), salads, sandwiches, fruit cups, etc. for lunches and snacks while out.
• Cooked dinner in the room using the Forman Grill for meats and the little stove for sweet potatoes or cauli-rice. The extra two salads each day were opened and tossed together in a big bowl for a side dish at dinner.
• Popped popcorn and served brownies for movie nights.
Results- I am considering this “little” project a big success. I didn’t feel totally stuck in the kitchen. Everyone ate well, had a great time, and most importantly stayed healthy. There are a few things I will remember for next time. I need to plan more snacks for long car rides (man- my kids can go through home-made chips fast) and, it would be nice to try to find a way to make a cold treat that we can all enjoy on hot days. The only time any of us really felt deprived was when we were walking through the zoo in the middle of the hot afternoon watching everyone else enjoy Minute Maid frozen lemonades.
One thing I loved about this trip is that we were focused on the activity not the fried, sugary, junk foods that surrounded us. A couple of times the kiddos even mentioned how good they felt and how they were glad they weren’t slowed down by greasy treats. It was fun to sit down, pull out our lunch and start shaking away. We got a lot of “what kind of crazy family is that” looks but we got just as many people sincerely interested in our choices. It was a lot of work but, in the end, I honestly think I would travel this way even if I didn’t have to. Now that we’ve survived our first eating-out-free trip I am totally ready to sign up for our next adventure. Have basket…will travel!