I live in the kitchen. I breathe food. I cannot feel normal if I don’t chop something at least once in 24 hours. I bring my kitchen knives with me when I go to Vermont for the weekend. And for the next three months we have no less than 10 flights, 4 6-hr bus rides, and countless hours in a car with a driver as we hop from our Bahir Dar, Ethiopia home base to Kampala, Uganda, the Gambella region of Ethiopia, Naples and the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and a 12-hr layover at the Dubai International airport on our way home in June. It’s safe to say my food behavior will have to change for these months. Here’s what I’ll be juggling: a 4-yr old who has developed strange eating habits, a 1-yr old who is still working on thin purees but somehow needs to ingest anti-malarial pills, and the angst of feeding my family within our values while we are on the go. What’s a girl to do?
First, I eat dark chocolate. Then I consider my options and I start to make my compromises, sometimes with a good grace and sometimes not.
Compromise 1 – the 4 year old. A pickier and pickier eater. James has gone from being a kid who would eat just about anything to a kid with strangely picky behavior. I say strange because he will still eat goat meat, smoked mussels, and olives. But he won’t eat eggs. He’ll eat “rice pudding” with vegetables, cinnamon, and milk but he won’t eat the vegetables plain or the rice plain. I smugly believed a year ago that my adventurous eater would never have to be tricked or bullied into eating vegetables and other things. I thought he’d always eat some of the things that are on the dinner table. I know, mothers and fathers everywhere are snickering at my ignorance. Laugh it up, and then sympathize as I cave in. Here are my compromises:
- I buy frozen corn and peas because he loves them in rice pudding. Corn’s not even a vegetable. Whatever.
- I’ve started pureeing cooked beets and adding them to barely sweetened brownies, a la Jessica Seinfeld. They’re pretty good, actually. I’ll try pureed spinach next.
- I’m going to use some of the frozen shredded carrot I have not for soup as planned but for quick bread dense with carrots, raisins, and nuts. Kids eat carbs. It’s one of those universal food truths, like the Bacon Rule (you know, wrap it in bacon and people will eat anything… maybe I should wrap the shredded carrot in bacon?)
- If I know he won’t eat what I’ve made for dinner, I make him something else that he can have after he tries the new food. I HATE making two dinners and always swore I’d never do it. But there it is.
- I give him whole milk or yogurt and toast thick with peanut butter on mornings when Travis and I want eggs. I HATE making two breakfasts and always swore I’d never do it. But there it is.
- I let him go to bed hungry. If he won’t eat any of the available dinner, then he doesn’t get his usual nighttime snack of dried fruit and milk.
- I give him his nighttime snack of dried fruit (but no milk), because traveling and pooping don’t go well together.
- I hide the snack food because he will look for it. It’s undignified, and really really challenging when there are only 6 suitcases, 2 computer bags, and 1 duffel bag as hiding options.
Compromise 2 – the 1 year old. James fed himself hamburger at 4.5 months old. He was a precocious eater who never showed interest in purees or “baby food.” So I have been completely unprepared for Lytle’s feeding needs; she has Down syndrome, and both her swallowing coordination and the fine motor coordination of feeding herself are developing more slowly for her than for the average kiddo. Breast feeding has been great, for which I am daily grateful. But even thick purees are tough, let alone the mashed adult food I used to do for James. And purees are tricky; it’s pretty impossible to get a nice texture with only a day or two worth of food. Also, Ly needs to have access to different things she can gnaw on without risk of choking. She needs exposure to different textures and tastes. And she needs anti-malarial meds right now. So, here are my compromises:
- Back home in Maine I capitulated and started buying those purees in a squeeze bag. I’m looking forward to Lytle being ready for chunks of food so I can stop buying these, but the textures are so nice and there is a good variety of flavors, and there are organic options. Of course, James likes them too. See above re: hiding snack food.
- Anything that is safe that she shows interest in trying I give her. Including dark chocolate, which I actually approve of. But also pizza crust, white crackers, and french fries. These are things James didn’t touch until he was at least a year and a half old. I cringe, then shrug, every time I do it. Fortunately, she prefers the chocolate to the white flour carbs!
- I got a jar of complimentary baby food on one of the flights (sidenote: Emirates Airline really like to give kids free things, including Kit Kat bars; see above re: hiding snacks). Bananas. Sugar. Cornstarch. All of my favorite ingredients. During our 14-hr layover in Dubai I opened up the jar, mostly so I could stop carrying it around. And that little snot lapped it up. So now I have to go shopping for jars of Gerber baby food or something. This is not meant as a slam against Gerber specifically, or against parents who happily feed/fed their kid jarred food. It’s just not my style at all. But apparently now it is. Especially because I’m slipping her bitter, smashed up bits of anti-malarials and the organic spinach/pear/peas puree isn’t fooling her. So tomorrow, I’m off to a grocery mart for some variation of Gerber sugar-bomb in a jar. Sometimes I really hate compromising.
Front 3 – Travel. Oh travel. On the go, no refrigeration, no stove, no storage. And customs to get through. Apple maggot quarantine area, do not transport homegrown fruit (if that made no sense to you, just pretend it isn’t there). I can’t bring my pantry, let alone my kitchen knives, with me to the airport. So, here are my compromises:
- Lara bars. Dark chocolate bars. Dried fruit. These are my go-to carry around snack items. I love trail mixes and nuts, but for international flying they can be problematic. I stick with one bag of roasted nuts and resign myself to it possibly being taken. Raw nuts and seeds are viable (they can, in theory, be planted and grow) so they are not allowed and some customs people will just take it all. For the most part, none of these snacks are a problem for me. But when they become breakfast, lunch, and dinner then I make this weird growling sound and start hiding the snack food.
- Nice restaurants at airports. Airport food is generally overpriced. This time, Travis and I splurged and came to a surprising conclusion: the $60 dinner with vegetable risotto, a grilled chicken dish, and glass of red wine was much more satisfying than the $10 hot dog we had purchased 3 hours before. If it’s going to be overpriced anyways, you may as well just go for it.
- Safety first. Traveling in developing countries comes with a particular set of food rules. We only do bottled water here, but most kid beverages are made with tap water (lemonade, juice, etc). We’ve taken to ordering one soda for the table and one bottle of sparkling water and then watering the Merinda way down. We don’t actually finish a bottle among the three of us, and it’s a fun bribe when the food is proving challenging. And the real sugar in the soda tastes a hell of a lot better than the high fructose corn syrup in sodas back home.
- Nothing but snacks vs. no snacks. Although I approve of certain kinds of snack food (see above), the dinner table is one of my non-negotiables. Which is worse, filling up on decent snacks or sitting down to a somewhat crappy dinner? Some days, one matters more than the other. I’m just going to shoot for decent meals at the table over the next three months with the occasional snack meal or crappy table meal.
- Sometimes juice is a reasonable form of fruit or vegetable. Especially avocado juice!
- Enjoy ourselves. Last time we were in Ethiopia, we left one and a half year old James with friends to do some end of the trip gift shopping. It was market day, and full bus after full bus went by us without stopping. Eventually we had to cross the street and catch a bus going the opposite direction so we could get on a market-bound bus before it filled up. This was before breakfast. We ended up getting breakfast at a little stand by the bus stop. Freshly roasted, ground, and brewed intense cups of Ethiopian coffee and freshly fried chunks of unsweetened dough. Coffee and doughnuts. And it was possibly the best breakfast of my life. Travel is not always about healthy food choices. But supporting a tiny food stand while drinking coffee made the way its been made for centuries was actually quite in line with my food values. I just had to loosen up and enjoy myself.