5 Tips for Traveling with Picky Eaters
Last Christmas we took our kids to Nicaragua. Some of you are thinking we are crazy with visions of drug cartels and kidnappings running through your head, but rest assured, it was a wonderful place to vacation with kids. Although safety was on the forefront of my mind as it would be if we’d have gone to Jamaica, Mexico or Los Angeles, I was mostly worried about my picky kid, Maddox.
Maddox was a self imposed vegetarian at about age 4, not for any particular reason aside from the fact that he just didn’t really like meat. Although he’s ventured into the carnivore world, he still doesn’t eat a lot of meat and is lactose intolerant. I go out of my way to either cook non-dairy meals or dairy substitute meals, but expect him to just deal when I make things he’s not in love with, like Thai shrimp soup or Cuban pulled pork as long as he physically can eat them with his dietary restriction. With that, he’s learned to enjoy many things he wouldn’t even consider eating years ago, although I still can’t get him to come around on fish or steak!
When traveling, I’m not one to sit at an all-inclusive hotel, letting my kids wade their way through the buffet line picking out the chicken nuggets and grilled cheese sandwiches, so our ambitious itinerary of hostels and homestays made me a tad nervous. Overall though, the trip could not have gone better, with both Maddox and Jovie still discussing the fresh juices they drank every morning. Throughout this trip and others, I’ve compiled a list of a few things to do to make the trip run a bit smoother with your picky kiddos.
- Visit local farmer’s markets. Most towns across the world have a local market where people come together to buy food. This may not be on your radar as you scroll through Tripadvisor for the highest ranked restaurants but it should be. Farmer’s markets not only have an amazing array of locally grown produce for your child to become familiarized with and get excited about trying (I mean, have you seen a dragon fruit in a market?!), but they also tend to have great local baked goods and other snacks or stands. Because these local cooks are perfecting their art plein air, the meals tend to be a tad simpler then you might find in a local restaurant, which could be beneficial to a picky eater. One of my favorite meals in San Ignacio, Belize, was a little taco that I got at a stand in the market.
- Buy local candy and snacks. My kids love going into grocery stores or local markets when we travel. It’s fun picking out snacks they are familiar with at home like chips or crackers that have a new twist. I always buy a few extra things as well to bring home and add to their school lunch. Not only is it a fun reminder of vacation but they get to share with friends!
- 3. Take a local cooking class or tour. Most places will have some sort of food tour or cooking class you can participate in while you’re traveling. This is especially beneficial to the picky eater as they can take some ownership in the meal they’re about to enjoy and I find that if my son participates in the cooking or sees exactly how it’s made, he’s far more likely to eat the food. Whether it’s a pasta making class in Italy or a tortilla class in Mexico, even the pickiest eater is bound to want to participate.
- Don’t order the hamburguesa! Please, for God sake, do not let your child just find the familiar American food (insert: grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, etc) on every menu that chefs reluctantly add in for the entitled Americans. First of all, it’s likely not going to taste, or even be, anything like the American version. Ahem- like the time I ate a horse hot dog in Guatemala, which was an accident by the way. Still working on my Spanish. I understand that you don’t want a fight with every meal, but a guarantee you there’s something authentic on that menu that your child would enjoy. Secondly, you are doing your child a complete disservice in taking them potentially across the world to experience the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a new place then allowing them to revert to their American routine. It’s like when people go on vacation and their kids sit in the hotel room watching spongebob all day. I’m like, why the hell did you come this far to be doing what you do at home when you have a toucan sitting outside your window and a whole new world to explore?!?!
- Start at home. If you stick to a meatloaf Monday, taco Tuesday, etc, routine, then not only might your picky kids have trouble with travel, but you too. Make an effort to either cook ethnic foods at home or experience some of your local restaurants that offer different flavor profiles. Although the flavors might not be as authentic as the real thing, your kids will be able to have a familiarity of the way coconut milk tastes in soup or maybe begin to get used to a little spice in their meat or sauces. You can’t expect children to enjoy the experience of tasting a new culture if you’ve restricted their palate to Red Robin and Prego at home. Even better, have them help you cook the meal so you can both experience the process of using new ingredients. Also, continue exploring the foods from the countries you visit in your own kitchen. I love coming home and trying to replicate foods I ate on my trips. What a wonderful way to reminisce! See my Belize-inspired recipe here!