My kids and I just got back from a beautiful two week holiday in Colombia. This was my fourth time visiting and their first. Like any travel, especially with kids, the challenges are part of the adventure – they test us, teach us and when worked through, help us grow as a family. Having already traveled for long periods with my kids, albeit not in a foreign country, knowing their limits, I planned accordingly. My four city-one resort-two hostels-two friend’s houses-plan worked out just right with one or two minor hiccups. It was just enough to see the diversity of Colombia and included lots of downtime in between energy filled activities so kids had time to recoup. Overall, we had an amazing time.
When I visited Colombia previously without kids, I found it quite easy to maintain my plant based diet. I ate mostly fruits, stayed away from breads, sweets and ate a lot of beans and plantains. I hadn’t thought about how I was going to help my kids navigate the dairy and meat centered food culture of Colombia. The two rules I have in regard to food is that I won’t serve any animal products in our home and they are free to decide what they eat outside of our home. When eating out or at family parties, my son will sometimes choose to eat meat and my daughter might nibble on some cheese. But if sweets are presented, both are all in no matter how much egg, butter or milk is used. This has more to do with the sugar than the dairy but that’s a whole other blog posts. When they indulge, I remind them how it might affect their tummy later. I do my best not to make them feel guilty. This is intentional so that they grow to become empowered to make informed decisions about their food choices based on knowledge and how certain foods make them feel.
I was not at all prepared for what I faced and eventually succumbed to in Colombia. First, Colombian hospitality is like no other. My kids and I were treated so well everywhere we went. They were doted on, given gifts, hugged, sung to and just generally loved. As a single Mom traveling alone with kids, it was such a heartfelt gift to our family to be treated with so much care. A large part of this included people wanting to show their affection and share their culture through food. I think this is a beautiful thing. A country’s food culture is one of the most intimate ways to experience and get to know the people, the land and its history. At the same time, Colombian cuisine is very much centered on meat, dairy, corn and a never ending variety of fruits. Because it was the first time my kids were visiting Colombia, I wanted them to have the full experience and show our Colombian friends how much we appreciated their hospitality. Yet, I was hesitant in letting them indulge too much. I tried to keep the tropical fruits coming in to balance out all the sweets, breads, and drinks made with dairy. They even have cheese ice cream! No kidding. Cheese is really loved in Colombia and eaten in sweet and savory dishes. We ended up eating a lot of rice, beans and plantains but the kids grew tired of that by the second week and started eying and asking about the meat laden dishes and cheese filled arepas. I made the mistake of eating fish and I think that sort of opened the flood gates. By the second week of the trip we all ended up eating some meat and lots of dairy.
The fish didn’t affect me much but I felt sick and became constipated almost immediately after eating cheese. It was a reminder that dairy is not in any way good for me. My kids also felt a little sick by the end of the trip and decided on their own to stop eating dairy and meat. On the plane ride home we talked a lot about the non-veganess of our trip. Luna decided she “wasn’t a cheese person” and Santos decided he would only eat meat every 3 or 4 months because he really did enjoy the flavor of steak but hated how dairy made him feel. I loved being able to have open honest discussions with them . Although we didn’t talk about the environmental impact, we talked a lot about how certain foods made us feel and for me that is the best place to start. I want my kids to connect to their bodies and learn how to care for themselves first and I believe the rest will follow. It was a learning experience for all of us and next time I will have a better plan for navigating the culinary scene of our next destination.
Lastly, I highly recommend visiting Colombia if you have kids. It is an incredibly welcoming and very safe country for families. Check out my Instagram feed for more photos from our trip.