veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Veggie Vacation

My family and I just spent a week vacationing at a remote, camp-like ranch in the woods. We slept in rustic cabins with minimal plumbing and electricity and spent the days swimming in the pool and nearby river, playing tennis, kickball and shuffleboard and taking pony rides. My husband and I had a great time and so did our two kids. But the one thing that comes with this kind of communal living is communal dining. All of our meals were served family style in the dining hall cabin. When it was time to eat, an enormous bell was rung and all the kids and adults came running from all corners of the ranch.

Don’t get me wrong. The food was great. It was brought in fresh, cooked in the kitchen cabin and served on big platters at large tables. I enjoyed the meatloaf supper, BLT lunch and fajita night. In fact, I ate so well that I probably gained a few pounds, never mind appreciated having someone else cook for me. But my kids are different story. If they don’t like what is on the table, they will eat potato chips and drink lemonade and call that lunch. Or, they will eat rolls and chocolate pudding and call that supper. I’m okay when that kind of “you get what you get kid-dining” occurs once in a while. But when it goes on for an entire week, we have a problem.
To be honest, it’s not the lack of nutrition that bothers me the most. It is the direct effect that poor nutrition has on my kids’ behavior. Cranky kids make cranky parents. If my kids start whining and crying at the drop of a hat, my mood goes south and so does my sense of vacation. I give my kids healthy snacks in order to ward off bad behavior. Sure I want my kids to eat nutritious food so they will grow up to be healthy kids and adults. But my immediate concern is more selfish than that. I want to get through the day with as few tantrums and meltdowns as possible. What’s my solution? Feed them healthy snacks BEFORE they fall apart.

So, here I was, about to embark on a week-long vacation of communal dining. I played out the scenario before it even began. The kids pick at the food during meal time and fill up on cookies, potato chips and ice cream afterwards. Soon their behavior deteriorates which requires me to yell more, administer numerous time-outs and eventually no one is having any fun, including myself. Before we even go down that road, I decide I need an alternate plan. In order to have a good time on this trip I need to bring my own supply of nutritious food that I know my kids will eat to supplement whatever is being served in the dining hall. But how can I do that if I won’t have a kitchen?

Well, I started with what I did have: my own family cabin with electricity, a mini-fridge and running water. I decided to purchase a small rice cooker with a steaming basket for under $15. I figured with this little gadget I could steam vegetables, cook pasta and rice with just a little water and an electrical current.

And so I did. In the evening after the kids went to sleep or during nap time in our cabin, I steamed carrots or broccoli and made rice or pasta and then packed it up to store in our mini-fridge for the next day. I gave the veggies to my kids for late afternoon snacks before dinner time and, depending on the menu, sometimes brought the pasta or rice (and sometimes a can of black beans) to the dining hall to add to their plate during meals.

My solution wasn’t perfect but it got the job done. My kids received their daily dose of vegetables via snacks between meals and always had something nutritious on their plate that they liked in the dining hall. This kind of home-made supplemental nutrition had the desired effect that I was going for. My kids’ junk food snacking was kept to a minimum and their over-all mood swings remained somewhat balanced. Okay, so you can’t solve all of your tantrum problems, but it is worth a try. Happy summer vacation!


1. Skip the fast food dining as much as possible when on a road trip. Try stopping at a rest stop instead. Picnic outside and make your own PB&J sandwiches.

2. After a potty stop, get the kids moving. Try leading 5 minutes of family stretching, jumping jacks and running in place. You will look very silly, but laughing is also a good way to get the blood flowing.

3. If you are not cooking your own meals, find a way to prepare veggie snacks to supplement in between less nutritious meals.

4. Don’t over-sugar your kids just because you are on vacation. Limit desserts to a reasonable number and proportion.

5. Remember that even on a road trip or at the beach, well-timed nutritious snacks can help ward off bad behavior and meltdowns. Whether the kids are watching movies in the car all day or very active outside, they still need nutritious snacks to keep them going.

6. When bedtime gets pushed later than normal, remember that kids still need to clock in their sleep. Enforce an afternoon nap time or rest time to keep them from falling apart with exhaustion. Or, adopt an early bedtime every other night to counteract the late nights.

7. Relax. This is your vacation too! Do what you need to do to make it fun for everyone.