A major perk to travel (at least for me) is the opportunity to indulge in new flavors and styles of cuisine. Whenever I’m planning a trip, my list of must-do’s is mostly made up of places to eat. As comedian Jim Gaffigan once said, “Vacations are really just about eating somewhere we’ve never eaten before.” In all honesty, food really does add to the sensory experience of a new destination by allowing us to taste a culture other than our own. We are what we eat, right?
However, kids aren’t always the most adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, which can really cramp a trip’s style, leaving parents asking, “What the heck am I going to feed my kids?” Michelle Summerville, from 3OnTheGo, has an excellent post offering kid-friendly options in 7 countries. I also have a suggestion and it requires no travel at all.
Develop your kids global palate before you travel.
HotDaddy LOVES food. He loves to cook and he loves to eat all kinds of crazy creations. His biggest fear was having picky-eaters for children. So, in order to avoid this dilemma we started introducing our kids to bold flavors right from the start.
We like to encourage them to try everything at least once. That is not say we don’t face our battles. Often our kids (mostly CuddleBear) will turn their little noses up at the more exotic fare, but we keep pushing. We offer rewards if they at least try it and when they do we make a big show of clapping and cheering. It’s a bit dorky, but it works most the time. Not everything is a hit, but surprisingly a good amount of what they try, they usually like.
Ease into new flavors by introducing various sauces.
Most kids like rice or pasta, which make for great bases.
I remember the first time we took my daughter to a Vietnamese restaurant. She had a meltdown, because she thought we were going out for Chinese food (which she loves). I took her outside until she calmed down and then reminded her that she was once unwilling to try Chinese food too. We laughed about how silly it sounded now, because it’s one of her favorites. Then I told her that Vietnamese might be her favorite too, but how will she know until she tries it. I made a deal that if she at least tried some she could choose our family’s next meal. Needless to say, she agreed, she tried Vietnamese cuisine and ended up loving it!
Developing your kids’ palate can easily be done at home and is wonderful prep for travel.
When they are about to try something new, I usually make it sound as exciting as possible by telling them about the culture from which it comes. If we are eating at home, I’ll put on a movie that takes place in the region of whatever we are preparing. For example one night we were having Greek cuisine and I had olive tapenade and feta cheese appetizers. The kids were hesitant, but I explained where it was from and put on Mama Mia. They had a ball singing to the movie and inhaling the appetizers. It makes it fun, like taking a culinary mental vacation.
Also, when you travel you typically eat at restaurants or from various vendors, so giving them the experience of ordering and dining out teaches them restaurant etiquette (no screaming, no running around, don’t be gross with your food, etc.), it helps them to recognize the names of different foods that appear on various menus and it may even teach them new skills. For instance, my kids have even learned to work the chopsticks pretty well.
Taking to big market places, where kids can see, smell and taste a variety of ethnic food is a great experience. It lets them feel in control of what they are consuming and most likely to eat it. We like to take our kids to the Anaheim Packing House, which you can read more about, HERE. It offers a great sense of community and diversity. They love going around to the various vendors and picking out their food. In one sitting we can travel the world with our taste buds.
Yes, most kids love chicken nuggets and mac n’ cheese (mine do too), but I encourage parents to start introducing new flavors into their diets. You might be surprised at what they like and the healthy choices they will make.
By developing kids’ global palate you aren’t just expanding their food options, you are expanding their minds to embrace new experiences and new cultures. My daughter doesn’t just love to eat sushi, she loves feeling a part of something bigger and more adventurous. Firecracker told me the other day that she loves Mexicans and Chinese people, because they make the best food. My son loves Lebanese Armenian fare and regularly requests Djadjikh and Tabbouleh. Yes, he pronounces them right.
What I love the most is that they aren’t just learning about food. Rather, they are learning about the world and its people. How amazing is that? So what far off land are you and your family off tonight? It is what’s for dinner. Bon appetite.
Are you and your kids picky eaters?
How has travel changed how you eat?