August 5, 2017

got meals?

As we prepare for yet ANOTHER trip next week when we take Laddie to college on the east coast, I pause to consider the huge undertaking that is involved with feeding our crew on the road.  I do love a challenge.  But, oh how exhausted I get just thinking about all that's involved.  It is a long ass drive.  But, we drive a big ass car.  (Chevy Express 12 seater white van, former airport shuttle - jealous?).  I am thrilled that I will have a cooler or two and a crock pot at my disposal.  This makes feeding the masses easier.  Ah, it's the little things in the life of a budget traveling mother of 6.

We flew to New Orleans July 7th.  Flights limit the equipment and the stash that I can drag along with us.  Despite the hurdles, my creative determination had my family enjoying home cooked meals heated up at regular three minute intervals.  (tip:  hope that they aren't all hungry at exactly the same time.  Crock pots help with this - because everything is hot at once, damn those ridiculously convenient flights that interfere with my perfect meal plans).  We dined on paper plates in the comfort of our hotel room where I begged the offspring not to spill on the beds we planned to sleep in that night.  Does that not sound ideal?  

While the kids' firmly believe that I secretly want to deprive them of the joy of eating out, I have other motivations for packing meals to take with us on our travels.   

1.  MONEY:  Dragging food along when we head out of town saves money.  It costs a small fortune to dine out with a family of our size, so eating in restaurants is a luxury.  Hello, traveling is costly to begin with - thus our habit of checking into a hotel as a family of four.  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  We routinely ditch a few kids in the lobby and whisper our room number to them later during a covert mission.  We have trained the children to act like we aren't together.  Cutting down on dining expenses is just plain smart.  Sorry, kids.   

2.  CELIAC DISEASE:  Life with Celiac disease prevents me from taking a carefree approach to eating.  Believe it or not, puking in a hotel bathroom after eating something prepared by someone else doesn't appeal to me.  In this gluten-free bandwagon epidemic we live in, most restaurants are quite capable of whipping up something safe for me to eat, but it's still dicey.  I've been contaminated a few times in restaurants when I wasn't far from home.  I can't afford to be down and out for a day when traveling, so why risk it?

3.  TIME:  Heating dinner up in our hotel microwave, pulling lunchmeat and fruit out of the mini-fridge for lunch, or pouring milk on cereal in the room for breakfast before heading out the door saves time when traveling.  When there's lots to see and do, who wants to wait in lines, or take time away from touring to search for a restaurant?  Of course in certain cities, eating authentic food might enhance your touring experience.  I get that enjoying some of what the area has to offer makes sense.

Points 4 thru 10 are all the same:  MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, etc.  It's just that simple.  

My methods began basic enough, but they have developed over the years.  Back when the kids were tykes, we packed sandwiches to take to the zoo, the pool, or the park.  Serving up cheerios for a hotel breakfast when we stayed overnight somewhere worked great.  Portable/pack-able coolers, freezer packs, and hotel mini-fridges have aided my mission.  When possible, I register to stay in a hotel that offers a complimentary breakfast.  The kids are skilled at grabbing a yogurt, a muffin, or a bagel from the breakfast area for later.  Back in the room, we check out the loot we've gathered and enjoy a small celebration before we head out for the day. 

Last year's trip to Orlando for the same competition that we just attended in New Orleans marked the first time that I packed entire meals in soft-sided coolers in my checked bags.  A bit of crossed fingers is involved in this new venture.  I have to hope that we don't experience a delayed flight or lost luggage.  A situation like that might mean that my no-longer-cold food is now my no-longer-edible food.  

Prior to our departure for New Orleans, I made a few of the family favorite chicken dinners.  Honey mustard chicken and cheesy chicken.  I cut the chicken up, so it would be easy to heat up in a microwave.  Then I stored it in double ziplock baggies.  I baked red potatoes and stuck them in a separate ziplock.  Tin cans with peel back lids of carrots and green beans served as our vegetable.  Since Lad and Ed were staying home with our grad student sitter, I cooked mounds of food.  In consideration of the three hungry appetites that I was leaving behind, I stocked the fridge with containers filled with the same food I was hauling to New Orleans.
Does this not look like fun?

The other cold food I packed included scrambled eggs, precooked bacon, grapes, apple juice, milk chugs, a few yogurts.  These meals were rounded out with our cans of mandarin oranges, apples, granola bars, ritz crackers, danish (this hotel didn't offer a free breakfast) rice krispie treats, and trail mix.

I was stuffing fistfuls of trail mix in my face every chance I got in New Orleans.  As much as I wanted to drag my fresh salad ingredients along on the journey for my lunch, it just wasn't practical.  Trail mix was my go-to.  Tank almost lost a finger when dipping into my personal stash of trail mix.  Important lesson learned:  Don't mess with Mommy's main food source.

Maybe someday I will pen a book about how to provide your family with meals on the open road.  Of course, at least one chapter will be devoted to the pitfalls I've encountered.  Can you guess what any of them might be?  Take a stab at it by leaving a comment, and I'll enlighten you in my next post. 

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