Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Gluten Free Vacation With Kids: Not a Complete Oxymoron

We live far from away from both sides of our family - and for many years, our vacations were filled with going home to catch up with relatives.

Over a decade into our marriage, after we moved to Cincinnati, my husband was really burned out from his new job (he deals with flooding and it was the summer that the rain wouldn't stop) - and it was the first time we consciously said "we need to take a break." We loaded up the family and went to a State Park - one of our favorite things to do - and it was simple and nice. And we agreed that the next year we wanted to attempt it again - but for more than two days.

Traveling with Celiac disease is not easy, though it is getting easier by the year. It has not slowed us down, we have just made adaptations - mainly packing a huge cooler in the back of our car filled with safe food, as well as researching our routes and destinations for places to eat or places to buy food (grocery stores, Wal Mart, Target, etc.). We've even been amazed at the selection of foods at some gas stations now (we were on our way home from a wedding in Pittsburgh last spring and stopped at a Sheetz that was better stocked than some grocery stores!).

There are times we have had to stay at hotels - and that is the part of travel I often find most frustrating. No kitchen, no dishes - so you have to find a safe place to eat lunch and dinner (though I pack enough food usually to make lunch). And breakfast - we often stay at places with free breakfasts - at least we can get milk and a bowl and spoon for the cereal we bring down to breakfast ourselves. Thankfully usually there are hard boiled eggs and fruit as well.

In planning for our first "real" vacation, we wanted to find a place we could really relax and also be near water. But we wanted a kitchen so we could make most of our own meals (the reality of Celiac disease - there is no vacation from food planning and making, ugh!). So we used - and have used since - Vacation Rental By Owner - vrbo.com - to find a house we could rent for a week. It is an amazing site, with rentals most anywhere you would want to go. We have used it four or five times now and plan on using it again.

What we were looking for - and found! Grand Haven, Michigan
In trying to find a beach that is not 14 hours away from Cincinnati, we turned our eyes north to Lake Michigan. We chose to go to Grand Haven, Michigan, as it's beaches were rated some of the best in the country and it was also noted as family friendly. We also have friends that are from that area - and one has a friend with Celiac that befriended me on Facebook and shared all the safe and wonderful places to eat out! We've now been up there several times and hope for many returns. The beaches are so clean - the water at some beaches is crystal clear - and so much is walkable. Farmers market, museums, putt putt, shops, restaurants, blueberry picking, and their very own musical fountain that plays a few songs and dances with light every night at sunset.

Each year we have rented a different house - trying out different neighborhoods and different streets - but all have been worthwhile. I have learned to plan each and every meal out before the trip. I pack from home the spices we need (usually measuring them out and putting them in a ziploc bag, instead of taking jars and measuring spoons) and pack some of the ingredients that are shelf stable. I pack a few boxes of cereal, as well as pretzels and other dry goods, a few bags of pasta and spaghetti sauce. Then when we get to town, after we unload our car, we go take a trip to Meijer (my favorite, right?!) and I already have my shopping list ready and we get the rest of our groceries for the week. With most rentals, you will also need to buy staples like butter and condiments (or bring them from home in smaller containers), as well as paper towels and/or napkins.

One of the things that has kept us coming back has been the food. We have been able to eat well up there - not just cooking for ourselves, but each year finding new gluten free restaurant offerings. We were finding ice cream stands with gluten free cones up there years ago --- while that is still a rarity here in Cincinnati. There is a pizza shop up there that does gluten free correctly, right on the way to and from the place we like to pick pounds and pounds of blueberries.

New this year, we went to an all gluten free restaurant up in Muskegon, Live Gluten Free. We have never seen anything like it. The restaurant was 100% gluten free and had such a nice atmosphere. They had a bakery case with amazing looking cakes and cookies and other confections right when you walked in. Then there were seats and tables and a fireplace on the restaurant side. Our food was delicious, and it was nice to see as we were eating that more people were coming in to eat as well as simply to pick up orders. You just want to see a place like this succeed!
Love the mural at Live Gluten Free restaurant in Muskegon, Michigan

Cookies, brownies... one of two cases!

A gluten free cake like this - so rare!
A partial view of the seating area

French soup with croutons
Pasta salad and a wrap
Mac n Cheese With Bacon

I am so glad we took the chance on renting a house and taking our first "real family vacation" a few years ago. We had no idea it would become a repeat destination every summer possible. It is a time we all look forward to, knowing we can rest and have fun, explore and try new things. It is a definite break from the routine for all of us, yet I can still keep my son safe at each meal - and for that, I am so thankful.

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