5 Tips for Traveling with Picky Eaters
It’s easy to spot the parent of a picky eater. You’ll find our bags brimming with odd but nutritionally dense snack items to be doled out at key moments. Our grocery carts hold foods of limited flavor and texture. Loyal to those tolerant of our quirky orders, we dine at the same restaurants again and again.
Eating on the road can provoke anxiety in parents of picky eaters. Food is such an integral part of the travel experience, one that connects us to the local culture and its history. Is it possible for our picky eaters to embrace culinary diversity? That could be a stretch, but over the years, I have managed to find ways to make the experience a little less painful:
- Keep your expectations in check. Food battles can be particularly frustrating when traveling in countries renowned for great food. When we ordered tapas in Madrid, my kids loved the mini-hamburguesa. Instead of bemoaning that they were essentially eating America’s favorite food in Spain, I tried to focus on the fact that they enjoyed them despite the fact that they were sometimes bunless or cooked in an unusual sauce. If kids are willing to try a different version of a favorite food, celebrate this progress.
- Burn some energy. For adults, hunger tends to be predictably tied to the clock. Or our stress level. Or proximity of refrigerator and/or pantry. But kids are funny. They get hungry when they run around and, you know, climb things. After a day of travel, you may be mentally exhausted and famished, but your kids, having barely moved, may have no appetite whatsoever. Finding a nearby park to burn some energy may lead to a better dining experience.
- Hit the grocery store. Stay at a hotel with a kitchenette or rent a condo, and make a grocery run as soon as you check in. Even if you’re on a different continent, you’ll probably find some local variation on your child’s favorites. That way, if eating in restaurants with your child is making you feel like you’re pouring money down the drain or engaged in constant battle, you can feed your child before you go out. Then, let her order dessert at the restaurant while you eat your dinner. Ignore disdainful stares.
- Try to empathize with your child. Even adult travelers find some meals off-putting. This is what my husband got when he ordered the “catch of the day” at one restaurant:He eyed his plate with suspicion, tried a couple of bites, and pushed the rest around so it looked like he’d eaten more than he had. Put yourself in your child’s shoes and realize this is how he often feels about new foods. Sometimes the suspect food becomes a favorite later on. Other times, not.
- Know that they may surprise you. Kids may be more adventuresome outside of their normal environment. If they show interest in something new, encourage that. Offer tastes of food off your own plate. If all else fails, harness the power of fruit smoothies (the kind made with actual fruit) and locally made ice cream. These are reasonably healthy ways to replace some of those lost calories if you’re child isn’t getting enough at mealtime. They may discover a flavor or fruit they’d never considered before. See this as a step in the right direction. It’s okay to indulge them (and yourself) a little on vacation.
Have you found any creative ways to feed your picky eater on the road? Share your story!