Thursday, April 8, 2010

Travel Trumps Food

During a recent family trip to soggy Massachusetts I realized how hard it is to eat well when you travel with kids. Unless you trust fruit of questionable provenance, there is only one healthy food that is widely available for U.S. travelers: yogurt parfaits. You can find them at airports, Starbucks, Au Bon Pains. But I just can't eat them for seven days in a row.

My kids, on the other hand, won't eat them at all. Who can blame them, when yogurt parfaits are displayed next to glistening frosted scones, cheese danishes, blueberry muffins and red velvet cupcakes? Vacation, for them, was not just a change of scene but also a break from our standard healthy-snack repertoire at home of fruit, yogurt, cereal, cheese, and crackers.
I had brought the excellent Frommer's guide to Boston on the trip with restaurants bookmarked, and we did make it to one restaurant on my list, the tasty waterfront seafood shack The Barking Crab. But by most mealtimes, the kids were starting to tire of all the walking that our tour of colonial New England entailed, and I was happy to stop at the nearest reasonable-looking place that might have a kids' menu and a clean bathroom.

At one point, after I had tossed my guidebooks and printouts aside, I said "that restaurant must be good - it has a huge sign." Admittedly, we had been on the Mass Pike for an hour in the rain, and my younger daughter had just gotten carsick in my hat, which I had tossed to her in the nick of time. I wasn't feeling too picky, as long as we got off the turnpike.

In fact, the restaurant with the huge sign was pretty good. I put aside my foodie inclinations and spent the week eating clam chowder, fried fish, turkey burgers, and pizza as we retraced Paul Revere's ride from Boston to Concord, viewed the flooded Old North Bridge where the revolutionary war began, and (my favorite moment) watched the gray and stormy Atlantic from the windows of Salem's House of Seven Gables just after a fierce storm had blown through.

We weren't there to eat gourmet food, nor to play the role of the food police. And living healthy (like raising kids) isn't just about getting everyone to eat their vegetables. When we saw our city kids freak out with joy because they got to chase a herd of sheep across a muddy New England village green, it didn't really matter to me that, as a vacation treat, they had eaten Fruit Loops and donuts for breakfast.