Having a child who is a picky eater is stressful enough when you’re trying to feed them at home. But being away from home, especially in a foreign country, adds a whole other level of stress to meal times. I’ve found myself in grocery stores overseas scouring the shelves for something that resembles a graham cracker, and have looked up translations for “chicken nuggets” using Google translate (spoiler alert: most languages don’t have a direct translation because they have no idea what a chicken nugget is!) It’s not a pretty picture. But over the last couple of years, since my now 3-year old decided to form strong opinions on the food he deems to be acceptable, I’ve figured out a few things that will make travel with a picky eater a little easier.
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Tips for travel with a picky eater
Take food with you
Seriously. It might pain you to fill your suitcase with boxes of Cheerios and pouches of applesauce, but at least if you take a few things from home, you know you will have something you know your child will eat. I felt like I was giving in as I packed my suitcase with crackers and cereal bars on our last trip overseas, but it did ease my mind somewhat to know that, upon arrival, I would at least have a snack that my child could eat.
The best foods to pack in your suitcase are ones that don’t have to be kept at a certain temperature, and can survive being bashed about a bit without breaking into a million pieces. These days there are also companies such as Amazon Prime Pantry and Garden Grocer that will deliver groceries to your hotel; just place the order online and the box of food can be picked up from the front desk when you check in. Just bear in mind that if you’re traveling outside the country that there are regulations on the foods that can be brought in to the country, so be sure to check the rules before you go (Hawaii has a lot of rules about foods that can be brought into the state, too.)
Try some of the new foods before you go
If you know you’re going to a place where the food will be very different, but it’s something not too difficult to replicate at home, your child might be more willing to give new food a try in a familiar environment. If you’re traveling to Italy for example, spend a few weeks before the trip trying some new pasta dishes so that your child has some time to get used to new flavors before they go. Children typically need to be offered a new food up to 10 times before they learn to like it, and it’s better to do that at home where it’s relatively cheap than in a restaurant on vacation! Check out this cookbook designed specifically for kids with recipes from around the world! Take a look at this post for more information on international travel with kids.
Be open to trying new foods yourself
If you travel somewhere where the food is nothing like you would normally eat at home, this is a great chance to broaden your own culinary horizons – and in the process you can encourage your child to do the same. If your child sees you trying a dish for the first time, they may be more likely to have a bite or two themselves (although that’s all they might actually have!) Trying to convince a child to eat their green beans for the fifth time in a week can actually be tougher than putting a brand new dish at the table and having the whole family try the new food together.
Make it fun
If you’re going to France, look for a kid-friendly cooking class you can take together where you make a new dish. In Italy, go somewhere where you can make and cook your own pizzas. Try eating with chopsticks, or dishes you eat with your hands. New experiences can be scary for a child, but if you’re enthusiastic (even if you’re not all that enthusiastic about the new food yourself!) it can make a world of difference to them.
If you see something familiar on the menu, go with it
I know you’re in a new place, and you want your child to try the cuisine. But if your child has spent days turning their nose up at the food and you finally see something they like on the menu, just order it! They might be sat overlooking an ocean full of fresh fish in Hawaii eating mac and cheese, but it will be comforting to them to have something familiar. If you can combine the dish they’re used to with something new, even better; this way they get to eat something they like and might be more willing to try the new food at the same time.
Don’t get too stressed
Remember, you’re supposed to be having fun on vacation. It is not fun to sit across from your child and plead with them to just eat one bite of something, probably letting your own food go cold in the mean time. On a recent trip to England I got locked in a battle of wills with my son over what to eat, and I spent those few days stressed and irritated. In the end I decided to let it go, and he spent the rest of the week eating fruit, yogurt, and toast. I figured he’d get back to his regular diet (which, while not diverse, is at least healthy) when he got home, and that’s exactly what happened. I wish I’d just let him eat what he wanted in the beginning and saved us all the stress of trying to reason with a toddler. Because we all know how well that works out!