06/17/2014 02:54 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Family Road Trip: Eating Responsibly on the Road

The blue jays and chipmunks tried to steal our peaches on our last morning in Lake Tahoe as I was serving banana French toast to my boys. Kai was wrecked after a night of being sick, and Nikko didn't look much better.


I wasn't sure how we'd survive a two week camping trip from San Francisco to Yellowstone.

Yet this was a travel day, so I knew the kiddos would have plenty of time to rest and watch movies. Funny how I have turned into that mom, allowing my kids to watch more TV than I want while traveling, using screen time as a reward.

On this day, as we wove down the Sierra Mountains towards Reno, we held the TV card as an offering to be earned after Kai (my oldest) did some roadschooling. My part of the assignment was for him to play the license plate game. A spotting exercise my mom always did with us. Eddie, tapping into his creative teacher brain, added that for each new state Kai located, he'd write (with best guess spelling) all the professional teams in that state. Jazzed, Kai eagerly gazed out the window, practicing his reading, geography and math (he'd also count the number of states and the amount of teams in each state).

Nikko listened to a story on CD and played with his Spiderman and miniature people toys. And in this way, we crossed the bleak Nevada desert, throwing in a movie ever hour or so to appease the kids.

At times, the desert can inspire. Flatness, a palette of colors with sturdy trees and the occasional jut of mountain all flanked by a windy heat that at moments made breathing a challenge. This desert seemed to suck the joy out of the car. The kids flirted with crankiness. I had little patience. And when our cell phones stopped getting reception, the less tolerance Eddie had. He was starting to come down with the kids' stomach bug and the miles of brown mountains, signs for brothels, a neon Welcome to Winnemucca sign in front of the cemetery and billboards announcing for drivers to report shooters by the highway, held little allure.

He almost lost it when we arrived in Elko, a city known for its cowboy poetry festival and Basque population, and I insisted on cooking dinner from the back of our van instead of suffering through crappy fast food.

I made him stop in a parking lot close enough to a fast food joint with a toilet, while I whipped up boxed mac and cheese for the boys and a quinoa, ground turkey and veggies creation for us. My husband rolled his eyes and called me white trash. But I didn't care. My Berkeley Bowl sourced dinner wasn't great, but it did the job and at least we knew where the food came from.

You see, in spite of how poor we are at the moment, eating responsible food is not something I will sacrifice for my family.

Living in the Bay Area not only tuned me into a foodie (a silly term for someone who gives a crap about what they eat), but also made me into a sort of geek about only eating organic. And I am not talking Walmart organic; I'm talking local produce not sprayed with anything, and meat raised on farms that feed their animals what they are supposed to eat, not GMO corn. In San Francisco it was always easy to eat responsibly. School cafeterias boast their Alice Waters-esque dogmas. Fast food joints are organic.

When I travel however, all bets are off. Usually. Of course I try to find organic produce to stock the fridge for breakfast, or eateries that use produce straight off a farm that the restauranteurs are proud to list on their menu. But generally, that isn't the case. In small towns like Elko, Nevada. I would be lucky to find a grocery store that stocked seasonal produce.

So in one way, traveling with a kitchen in the back of the vehicle is amazing for people who care about what they eat. We sat in the parking lot and finished our dinner, cleaned up and then hit the road northeast, snaking through the darkened desert until we finally pulled into the pitch black KOA in Twin Falls. Eddie parked the vehicle and we kissed goodnight under a blanket of stars invisible from the food-centered cities we reside in.