If you were in your local Starbucks a couple weeks ago, and there was a vaguely woman-shaped parka (it was -30 Celsius OUTSIDE), sweating and squinting at food products, sometimes cursing, and snapping photos…it was me. Well, it might have been me. Maybe it’s a thing kids do these days…I’m pretty out of touch.
You see, I’m on a mission for readily available snacks on the go. Fun snacks. As I’ve mentioned before, our current options for snacking expeditions are limited, so I’m trying to be proactive.
At this point, we’ve got our daughter convinced that an alternative grocery store down the street is a “destination” for treats. Fortunately, right now, she is way more into chips than sweets, but we walk by a couple restaurants, a bakery, a café, a gourmet chocolate shop, and a gelato place on the way. I’m not sure how long the novelty of going to a grocery store that smells like incense and fermented food products will hold up. Her poor older brother, who is not allergic to anything, looks longingly at all the places we pass and tries to be subtle (as only a 5-year-old can) about when we can take just him out for a real treat. He’s a sport about it and doesn’t want his sister to feel bad, but he knows he’s missing out.
We also, at some point, would love to travel with our kids. We’ve never even braved an overnight in a hotel. As it stands, to do so would involve planning and schlepping all our daughter’s meals for each day, along with all the snacks. Other than a grocery store (which IS a possible solution), or a few places that prep fries in a dedicated fryer (see Food Appreciation: New York Fries), we don’t have any reliable places to grab food, especially in unfamiliar territory. It’s doable, but it doesn’t feel like it would be fun.
So, I’m looking for a big chain, that’s widespread, with consistent product offerings and practices. I started with the biggies, but McDonald’s is waffling and taking steps backwards in allergy practices. Everything in there is covered in dairy or egg anyway, so it’s not an option for us, but in terms of supporting those who are only allergic to peanuts, Mick Dick’s has really kicked them in the shins lately.
Others, like Swiss Chalet/Harvey’s have some general policies and lots of information available. They even have some specific products that could technically be consumed by someone with my daughter’s allergy set, but individual franchises aren’t necessarily obligated to follow anything, and we’ve literally been laughed at when asking (after driving 20 minutes out of our way based on website info) about cross-contamination, so in practice, it means nothing.
I did however, have a glimmer of hope at Starbucks the other night. I was, admittedly, solo and scarfing down a very non allergy friendly pretzel dunked in caramel and chocolate, but I took the opportunity to survey their prepackaged selection of goods. I was not overwhelmed with what I found, but I wasn’t necessarily disappointed either.
As noted above, I was lurking around the shelves at a Starbucks in a bookstore, squinting at packaging with poorly contrasted label lettering, in dim coffee shop light. As a general point, prepackaged food is a good place to start. The ingredients are listed and there’s less risk of cross-contamination through handling. If the place that sells cake pops for my son and caffeine for me, ALSO sells snacks the little one can pick out and enjoy, I’ll count that as a win.
Here, are my findings:
Smoothies and Juice – They’ve got a good selection. Because I’m a pretentious yuppie parent, my kids still think juice is a treat. The smoothies are helpful. (But I forgot to take a picture. It was really hot in there.)
Beef Jerky – Not sure how easy a sell this is to a preschooler, but despite her largely vegan needs, she’s a carnivore at heart. Could do. Maybe I’ll tell her it’s bacon.
Apple Chips – I thought these would be good. They aren’t. I don’t know how they screwed them up, but…Ugh. Neither kid would keep them in their mouths, let alone chew and swallow them.
Kale Chips – I don’t care how many times Pinterest tells me Kale chips can be “soooo good.” These ones tasted like socks. Most other brands also taste pretty bad. And I really WANT to like them.
Marmite-flavoured Popcorn – I’m willing to try these, but haven’t yet. I enjoyed the toast version of this in my backpacking days though, they should be pretty savory, and salt IS my daughter’s favourite, so there’s potential here.
Sweet Potato Chips – This works. Plain chips of most kinds usually do. Not exciting, but they exist, which is good to know.
Flavoured Potato Chips – What?!?! YES! Flavours without whey powder?!?!! Hallelujah! Still…it’s chips…but it’s not PLAIN chips. Whoot!
And of course, being Starbucks and all, the obvious offering here is coffee. Rich, bitter, delicious, invigorating, but generally frowned upon in the hands of a preschooler. I need the boost, she already rocks and rolls all night and parties every day.
In conclusion, while I’m not excited about the options, and a meal is definitely out of the question, in a pinch, Starbucks might just work. I’d much rather support the amazing local, home spun cafes in my area (and any area really), but a family’s gotta do what a family’s gotta do. I’ll take the kids for a walk this weekend and see how the experience goes. If nothing else, next time we’re stuck en route and the snacks run out, or maybe someday if we’re travelling, well, pretty much anywhere in the developed world, Starbucks will be there with…something.