We all have been there: you travel abroad with your family anticipating to discover all the amazing flavors and aromas of the local cuisine only to witness your own kids clamoring for the same pizza and chicken fingers. And what if you are in a place exotic enough not to  feature the common kids’ fare on the menu?

Scary as it sounds, it is in your power to transform this experience from a nightmare of stressful mealtimes into a learning experience your kids will remember for the rest of their lives. Approach this challenge as a chance to enrich your trip by adding a gourmet aspect to it. The general rule is to send your children a message that the local food and eating traditions are as important as the other parts of the trip like museums and safari trips and prepare them for the culinary adventure.

  1. Do your homework: Learn together about the culture and traditions of the place you are planning to visit. A great dinner table conversation starter: ask your children about a typical day of a child from that country. Talk about the traditional food this child enjoys, the house he lives in, the school he goes to.  Check this article about school lunches from all over the world.
  2. Explore the flavors. If possible, have a family meal in an ethnic restaurant specializing in the cuisine of your destination or explore together a grocery store selling foods from that country.  If you have time and skills, get your children’s help in preparing one or two ethnic dishes in your own kitchen.
  3. Build bridges. Children are more likely to accept new foods that are similar to the foods they already like. Find those foods on the menu and “build up” on the familiar experiences. For example, if they like pasta, noodle dishes and dumplings can be a great choice.
  4. Make it fun. Sometimes kids need an additional motivation to try new foods.  Giving them an opportunity to” vote” on the foods they try can provide enough incentive to take this first bite. Create a simple chart where they can write down or draw the foods they taste and record their opinion about them. Stickers with a smiley, neutral or sad face do the trick for younger children. Make sure to bring the chart to the restaurants and cafes where you plan to eat and your kids will be looking forward to new food experiences.
  5. Market vs Museum. Make a trip to a local food market as memorable as a trip to a museum or water park. Talk about the foods the children see, touch and smell. Take plenty of pictures and make it feel like a very special occasion.
  6. Positive Peer pressure works. Enlist the help of local youngsters if possible. Studies show that peers influence children when it comes to food choices. Eating in a company of happily munching friends can convert even the pickiest eater into a gourmet.
  7. Be a structure-holic. Kids eat best when they arrive to the table hungry. If snacking is limited and nothing except for water is offered for a drink between meals children are more likely to taste new foods and tend to eat better overall. Decide what times the breakfast, lunch, dinner and scheduled snacks will be served and stick to the plan. Three main meals and 1-2 snacks in between work great for most families. With the structure in place, both parents and children feel less anxious and stressed at mealtimes. This way, if the lunch is left untouched, everyone knows that another meal is coming in a few hours. Read Division of Responsibility Works and The New Rules of Child Feeding.
What was the most exotic place you ever travelled with your kids?
Did they like the ethnic cuisine?
Can you share any tips for getting them interested in culinary experiments while on a vacation?

References:

Wardle J, et al.  Increasing children’s acceptance of vegetables; a randomized trial of parent-led exposure.  Appetite.  2002; 40: 155-162

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. Ellyn Satter. Bull Publishing, 2000

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