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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The Full Suburban: With six hungry kids, adventurous eating while traveling is a challenge

The Ditto kids, finally happy and fed during a recent trip to Hawaii.  (Courtesy of Julia Ditto)
Julia Ditto For The Spokesman-Review

Ask any parent who has done any amount of traveling, and they can tell you the difference between a “vacation” and a “trip.” A vacation is when you head somewhere exotic, fun and relaxing, and return home feeling rejuvenated. A trip is when you do the exact same thing, except you bring your kids along with you and therefore experience not-so-much relaxation and return home feeling like you’ve just stumbled across the finish line of a marathon.

Logan and I took a “trip” to Hawaii with our kids this summer, a final family “hurrah” before our oldest two headed out into the big, wide world. We chose to visit the island of Oahu, since we had “vacationed” (notice the careful word choice) there a couple of years ago and felt like we knew the lay of the land enough to maneuver six kids around fairly confidently. And, in that respect, we were absolutely right.

We knew they would love snorkeling around Shark’s Cove (named for the shape of the cove and not for its prevalence of sharks, thank goodness). We knew they would have a blast jumping off the rocks and playing at the beach at Waimea Bay. And we knew they would be sobered by their visit to the USS Arizona Memorial.

The one thing we didn’t quite account for was the fact that children cannot keep it together when they’re hungry. When Logan and I went to Oahu in 2021, we ate at all sorts of places – shrimp trucks and burger stands and beach cafes. It was very Hawaiian and it was very delicious. We could say, “Hey, we’re not quite done hanging out at this beach even though it’s getting close to dinner time, so we’ll just have a quick granola bar to get us through until we’re done, and then we’ll head up the coast until we find a food truck that looks good.”

Our kids had no such mental resources. The second they got hungry, they needed something to eat, and a warm granola bar fished from the bottom of my purse could not and would not cut it, dang it, so we’d better find something quick or someone was going to lose it.

It was tricky to determine exactly when the breaking point would be, since some kids would claim they were on the verge of starvation while others would say they were still full from breakfast. I eventually began polling everyone throughout the day to see where their hunger level was on a scale of zero to 100, and then using the average to decide when to eat. Once the average reached about 60-70, we knew we needed to find some food, stat.

It’s a terrifying feeling as a parent to be stuck in Honolulu traffic and realize that everyone in the car is about to get hangry, with no quick food options in sight. It goes downhill quickly. Someone snaps at a little brother to stop tapping on the window so loudly. A sister causes an uproar when she points the air vent directly at herself and away from everyone else. The song on the radio is dumb, someone’s feet smell, everyone in the back seat is breathing too loud.

Pretty soon, we’re in a literal re-enactment of “The Hunger Games,” and Logan and I are frantically scanning the landscape for anything to stuff into these kids’ pie holes. And that’s when it gets really embarrassing, because desperation will make you do crazy things. Which is why, to my great shame, our time in tropical paradise found us more than once at places like McDonald’s, Jack in the Box and Taco Bell.

I will ask you to withhold judgment until you have walked a mile in my flip flops, with six kids dragging behind you who have eaten through the chips, oranges, granola bars and sandwiches you brought along for the day. When these kids are hungry and descending into their “Lord of the Flies” alter egos, you pull over and stop at McDonald’s, no matter how much it pains you. And it pained me a lot, although a large fry and a chocolate shake helped.

Even moms get hangry sometimes.

Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and a random menagerie of farm animals in Spokane Valley. She can be reached at