As you may have gathered if you follow me on Instagram (@annebogel) my family and I just got back from round one of summer vacation.
I’ll tell you more about how that all came about on Wednesday, but for now I want to share how we successfully problem solved a major vacation hassle.
I’ve been a gluten-free eater for a few years now. My daughters also have a smattering of food allergies. I’ve learned to navigate my own sensitivities pretty well, but have found that eating out in America with my daughter’s soy allergy (plus gluten, plus dairy, plus seed oils, etc.) is darn near impossible.
Feeding this child well while we’re on the road has been a struggle, to say the least. Too many restaurants don’t have a single thing on the menu she can eat.
I bought my friend Jessica Fisher’s freezer cooking ebook when it came out last fall. I don’t do a lot of freezer cooking, but her book had a section about taking freezer meals on the road. I had never thought to do that. She advocated prepping food in advance to save money, while pointing out that this was a genius way to accommodate those with food sensitivities.
In hindsight, this seems like a stunningly obvious solution to our problem. But I’d never considered it, and knew we had to try it the next time we went on vacation.
Last week was the test. My family was splitting a week between two cities, and we were staying in two different places with decent kitchens.
I didn’t do much in the way of planning. I quizzed the kids on what they wanted to eat on vacation, and bought ingredients for the recipes they suggested that were easy to prepare–and easy to clean up. I prepped a few meals (or parts of meals) before we left: salsa verde beef, barbecued chicken, marinated chicken breasts. Two kinds of soups: lentil and black bean. I bought a few main dishes that were a breeze to cook–flat iron steaks, frozen shrimp, a side of salmon–and easy sides. We packed it all in a giant cooler and hit the road.
No one experienced any allergy symptoms the whole week. That’s incredible for us. We didn’t spend much time on food prep–much less time than we would have spent eating out. We enjoyed hanging out at the condo eating dinner together, instead of cross-examining the chefs on how they cooked their meat, or what kind of oil was in the salad. And we definitely saved a ton of money (parties of six are expensive to feed, no matter where you’re dining).
We’ll definitely do this again, though we’ll do a few things differently next time: like no sweet potato fries–so much cleanup!–and we’ll take more meals that Will is comfortable cooking, because I did feel like I was doing a lot of meal prep some days. But all in all it worked great.
I can’t believe I didn’t think of this solution years ago.
On our last night, we stumbled upon a pizza place that did a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, canola oil-free pizza. We paid $24 for a smallish pizza, and it was delicious, and our kids declared eating in that night–with pizza and veggies and a view of Lake Michigan–a vacation highlight.
This confirmed a few things for me.
Food matters, and it’s worth the trouble to get it right. We don’t eat pizza much, and that was a really special dinner for my kids.
Doing the legwork on allergy-free dining is exhausting, and after spending half an hour (on the pizza place’s website, and then on the phone) researching ingredients, I was so grateful I didn’t have to do that for every meal we ate on vacation.
$24 on a smallish pizza is a little crazy, and I’m so thankful we ate well for so much less than that the rest of the week.
Forgive me if this is incredibly obvious to you. For me, it was a breakthrough–and it made a world of difference to my family last week.
Have you ever been delighted to find a stunningly obvious solution to a persistent problem? Share it in comments so I don’t feel so silly.