Rule #13: Eat This (and That)

Rule # 13 featured copyOne thing many parents worry about when traveling overseas with their kids is the food. Will they eat it? Will they hate it? Will we end up eating at McDonald’s in Paris?

The answer to these questions is yes. Your kids will eat some of the food you encounter. And they will hate some of it. And the odds of a trip to the golden arches are high.

And it’s okay.

Because food and food culture are such an important part of the travel experience, it’s easy to get hung up on the idea that your kids have to try every new thing on offer, and that any meal that’s familiar is wasted. But that’s not how kids are wired. Every parent who has dozed through 47 repetitions of How To Train Your Dragon knows that children thrive on broken-record style continuity, so their unwillingness to eat 5 new things in 5 days shouldn’t be surprising.

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A traditional Guatemalan breakfast.
(Plantains, black beans, rice, beef and farmer cheese)

But this doesn’t mean you are doomed to order only chicken fingers across the globe. It just means that a little compromise and a little preparation are required to help a child embrace new food adventures as exciting instead of threatening.

This process can start at home, well before you board the plane. By making new foods part of a fun ritual, and framing them in terms of new cultures and new knowledge, you can usually coax kids into at least a few bites. (Might we humbly suggest the Highchair Travelers series as an easy way to start?) Introduce foods from beloved books, or that favorite characters might eat (Ratatouille, anyone?) or framed in positive situations (for birthday parties in Sweden, kids eat . . .)

Months before we bought our tickets to Greece, Lemmy helped prepare Pastitsio from one of his kid cookbooks and discovered that it was his new favorite thing. Because he knew he “already loved Greek food,” he was willing to try almost anything that landed on his plate during our whole trip, from pork to potatoes to eggplant.

Lemmy’s precious pastitsio

So prepare a few kid-friendly foods from your destination (or better still, let them help), and mix them in with familiar favorites. By the time you arrive in country, those foods may serve as a gateway to a whole world of new tastes.

But what about the things they refuse to touch? Can you really let your kid eat one thing the whole time you are abroad? Yes. Remember, this trip is a teaser trailer, not the main event. If you battle too hard over food, your kids will only get frustrated and dig in their heels. Most food cultures have a least a few things that appeal to foreign kids. Rice, noodles, pancakes (in a million forms) and bread are nearly ubiquitous and have the added benefit of being generally cheap. But if your son wants to eat pizza for lunch every single day, like Cletus did during our week in southern China, who cares. There are too many other important things to worry about.

Cletus whips up some sushi

Cletus whips up some sushi for lunch

Our family generally ends up at McDonalds at some point on every trip (despite a strict anti-McDonalds policy at home) for ice cream cones or other American comfort foods. But even the fast-food world is more varied than you would suppose, and some fascinating and hilarious food adventures await you in the most unexpected places. From red-bean slushies at a Beijing KFC to a tandoori chicken sandwich at a London Subway, even the biggest food giants have some new secrets to share. And you just might find a new favorite. (Why, WHY is there no tandoori chicken at Subway in the states? WHY?)

So when it comes to dealing with food on your trip, don’t sweat it. They’ll eat what they’ll eat, and if they miss all the great food in Paris, well, you can hold it over them when they grow up and “discover” French food for the first time.

 

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