Immediately after we booked our plane tickets for our visit to Minnesota/Wisconsin last month, I began to panic. Well, more like plan/panic. Planic?
The first two times we flew with Roman, the question of what we’d eat while traveling, and specifically on the plane, wasn’t a huge deal. We probably stashed a couple bars in my bag for ourselves and maybe bought some nuts or something at the airport. As far as Roman was concerned, well, I just made sure to wear a nursing top. His first plane ride was at 2 months old, at which point he was basically on the boob all the time anyway, and even on trip number two, at just shy of 11 months, I was still his primary source of nourishment. Whenever he was hungry or moody or tired, I’d just pop him on the boob. Easy peasy.
Twenty months, however, is a different game. While Roman is still happily nursing down for naps, bed, and comfort, food-food now makes up the more significant part of his caloric intake. The kiddo needs to eat and has definite mealtimes, which are essentially impossible to avoid in the several hour process of: travel to airport –> check in at airport –> wait at airport –> wait on plane –> fly on plane –> wait at baggage claim –> wait for car –> travel to destination. And while mealtime is so, so, so much cleaner than it used to be, he is still an uncivilized little animal who takes no issue with occasionally smearing food all the way up to his eyebrows, a complicating factor for in-air dining.
So two months out from our trip, in my early onset flurry of “planic”, I started searching for kid-friendly vegan travel eats. The lists I found included things like hummus, sandwiches, and hummus sandwiches. Others recommended nuts or salads (grain, green, and pasta). Don’t get me wrong, these are all great ideas—they’re just not the most toddler-friendly ideas.
Roman still thinks of a sandwich as a gift to be opened. He will then eat whatever is inside with his fingers and maybe, occasionally, the bread thereafter. Whole nuts are a choking hazard at this stage and salads generally require a utensil, which Roman generally considers optional. My visions of what might happen if we handed him even a measly, FAA-approved 3.5-ounce container of hummus were borderline terrifying.
Whatever we brought for him to eat would have to satisfy the following requirements:
- Able to be eaten with hands
- No messy components (excessive crumbs, dressings, freakin’ hummus)
- Not a choking hazard
- Keeps for several hours at room temperature
- Appealing to the kiddo
I immediately opened up a document that I titled “Snacks on a Plane.” Then, after giving myself a pat on the back for the cheeky reference (Samuel L. Jackson has gone vegan, b-t-dubs!), I spent the next couple of months keeping an eye out for things that Roman enjoyed eating that fit those guidelines. I also made a point of introducing him to new things that I thought might work, taking note of what he enjoyed. I highly recommend this approach.
As our trip approached, I narrowed the list down to a handful of things that I could both make and buy. This is what we wound up bringing with us:
Roasted Tofu – This was the star of our whole trip. I diced and roasted up three packages of extra firm tofu (plain, no oil or seasonings) and it not only got us through the plane ride, but it lasted as a lunch component through the rest of our stay. We used Twin Oaks tofu, which I only just discovered a few months ago and has become my favorite ever. It’s super firm, dense, smooth, and a bit on the dry side, all of which made it perfect for travel.
Grapes – So perfectly bite-sized and portable! I recommend de-stemming them so they fit better (and you can fit more of them) into a food storage container; it seems tedious but I promise it only takes a couple minutes. Also, pulling the grapes from the stems ahead of time makes them more easily snackable. Other fruits can be good, but make sure to calculate the mess-factor first.
Sliced Veggies – Roman loves celery, but things can turn a bit messy whenever he gnaws on a whole stalk. If I’m cooking with celery, though, I’ll sometimes give him little slices as I chop. He always comes back begging for more. For travel, little slices of celery are a mess-free, fresh, and crunchy snack. You can make bite-sized bits of whatever veggies you or your kids enjoy as well—diced cucumber, zucchini, carrot coins, etc.
Roasted Potatoes – I wasn’t actually able to get around to this one, but it was on my list. Much like the tofu, chunks of roasted potato are easy, poppable, and low-mess.
Those first three items were our selections for the plane ride, and they held us well. When we arrived at the hotel, we stashed the leftovers in the mini fridge and pulled them out for lunch over the next couple of days. I also made some crazy delicious and wholesome cookies (a recipe that I will share eventually!) for snacking and we brought a few packaged items that were super helpful as well.
Mary’s Gone Crackers Pretzel Sticks – These are decidedly not pretzels, but they are delicious and made from healthful ingredients. As far as I can tell, they’ve taken the standard Mary’s cracker batter and just piped it out into sticks. Roman can eat pretty much anything now, but when I was still nervous about him having difficulty with sharp shards of thin crackers or chips, I felt fine giving him these. He did great with them and loves the curry flavor!
Coconut Macaroons – These are a bit of a treat, but are easy for even little kiddos to eat and calorically dense, which is helpful when you’re traveling and might have to go for a while between meals. We picked up some Emmy’s (they make minis too!) but other brands like Snakaroons are good as well.
Instant Oatmeal Packets – Quick cooking oatmeal packets (gluten-free certified if you need it) have already been a staple for us for overnight travel, and luckily they’re toddler-friendly too! We brought a couple boxes of the Nature’s Path brand with us this time, but there are plenty of other great brands out there. It seems that most hotel rooms come with a microwave nowadays, making cooking up some quick oats a breeze. If you find yourself without one, though, you could grab a cup of hot water from the continental breakfast bar (steal some bowls and utensils while you’re there!) or run some water through the in-room coffee maker to get it nice and hot. These slick little packets don’t hurt to have in the holster even if you’re staying with family or friends as many people tend to draw a blank when coming up with things to feed vegans (pssst—oatmeal!!!).
Those were the most helpful packaged items that we brought, but we also packed:
- Earth Balance Puffs
- Kale chips
- Rice cakes
- Rice crackers
- An assortment of bars
And remember, you can always hit up the grocery store. There may be certain travel circumstances where this isn’t the case, but I imagine they’re rare. One of our favorite things to do, even and especially on vacation, is grocery shop! Our first stop after we arrived in the Twin Cities was Whole Foods, where we picked up some almond butter and a nice big bunch of ripe bananas. We were able to stir a heaping spoonful of almond butter into our oats in the mornings and slice some bananas down on top without having to worry about traveling with those items.
We were also very pleased to discover that the grocery store across the street from our hotel in St. Croix Falls, WI, a MarketPlace Foods, carried a really decent selection of vegan and gluten-free products. Chris was able to get a couple of Amy’s Organic frozen entrees that he nuked at the hotel for lunches and I grabbed a bottle of Organicville BBQ sauce that I used for dipping our roasted tofu cubes. So definitely come prepared, but check the supermarkets when you arrive as well. They may only have tortilla chips and salsa, peanut butter and bread, fruit, or cut veggies and hummus (which is truthfully all we expected to find), but at least that’s something.
Also, as I briefly mentioned above, you can bake healthful bars, squares, or cookies for snacking. The downside to this is that it takes time and effort when you’re probably already losing your mind trying to get everything taken care of for the trip (particularly if you have kids), but we found that it was nice to have something homemade while away. I really, really wanted to make these Oatmeal Squares in addition to the cookies, but didn’t have time. And just a reminder: with anything homemade or fresh, always be conscious of shelf-life.
Lastly, if your hotel offers room service, take a quick peek at the menu and see if there’s something that could possibly be made vegan. The hotel we stayed at the night before we left listed a potato veggie skillet and a fresh fruit cup among their breakfast items. We wound up having to ask them to leave the butter, eggs, and cheese off of our skillets, but it all worked out. It wasn’t the fanciest breakfast we’d ever had, but it was fun to get room service and eat sitting in bed.
If the past three years, and this trip in particular, have taught me anything, it’s that it’s definitely better to over-plan (planic??) as a traveling vegan. If you have young kiddos, start taking note of the travel-friendly things that they’re already eating well before your date of departure. Research restaurants in the area. If there are any that are vegan or vegan-friendly, then awesome! If not, make sure to pack snacks, snacks, and more snacks so that you don’t wind up subsisting on French fries and iceberg lettuce salads–especially if you’ll be chllin’ in the boonies like we were. 😉
Disclaimer: I know there’s a lot of brand name dropping happening above, but this is not a sponsored post. These are just the products available to us that we purchase, enjoy, and decided to bring on this trip.