You’ve got it all under control. The bags are packed, you’ve consulted numerous travel guides and prepared an exciting itinerary full of family-friendly activities guaranteed to thrill the adults and delight the kids. Off you go!
It’s all going superbly until mealtime arrives. Suddenly, you’ve got a moody child obstinately refusing to eat up no matter how you coax or threaten them. The exasperation on everyone’s faces is apparent; the buoyant mood now ruined, replaced by a feeling of irritation and helplessness. “Why is my child refusing to eat??”
For parents with children who are notoriously picky eaters, a perfect stress-free family vacation might seem elusive. Mealtimes are always a dreaded affair and an exhausting battle, especially when you inevitably attract the unwanted attention of restaurant patrons and service staff.
Until their palates mature and your kids grow out of it (which thankfully, most do), take these tips into consideration on your next travels Travelling with picky eaters isn’t a hopeless situation.
1. Practice before leaving and have some fun with it.
New foods might be strange or unfamiliar to your child, making them reluctant to put it in their mouths at first. Before you fly off, do some research on the cuisine of the destination and incorporate some dishes or flavors into your cooking at home. This helps them get accustomed to the flavor profile of the cuisine through repeated exposure.
Adding an element of fun will encourage your child to take at least a bite of the food. For example, play with colors and make the dish a visual treat or turn the meal into a game of “I Spy” where you and your child take turns to eat something on the plate that the other has “spied”.
2. Let them choose.
It’s an exciting world for your kids, especially if it’s their first time in a certain city. Give your kids the opportunity to decide on the meal venue as there will be a higher chance that something on the menu will be to their liking. This also gives them a chance to be involved in the decision process.
You can start out by going through two to three options with them and summarizing the type of food available at each place.
3. Be firm when you have to.
If they refuse to eat the food they picked out, don’t fly into a rage or start fussing. Calmly let them know that if they don’t eat now, the next time they get to eat is at the next proper meal time (i.e. Breakfast/lunch/dinner). Leave them to decide whether or not they want to go hungry for the rest of the day. It might seem a little harsh at first but in the long run, it is good to let them know that they can’t always get their way.
4. Have a backup plan.
Of course, if they stubbornly refuse to eat, you can’t let your kids go hungry throughout the night can you? Always have a Plan B for when you’re back at the hotel with a ravenous child. Pack some food items that you know your child will definitely eat. (But don’t let them know that this ‘emergency’ stash exists in advance.)
Easy options such as a peanut butter and jelly spread with bread, cereal bars or dried fruit snacks will tide them over till the next meal.
5. There’s always McDonald’s.
When all else fails while travelling with picky eaters, and your nerves have been strained to breaking point, remember that you’re on holiday and it’s okay to let go and indulge once in a while. Burgers, pizza or crispy fried chicken – basically anywhere selling food that screams “UNHEALTHY!” seems to be paradise for kids.
You want this to be an enjoyable vacation for everyone after all, and having a sulky starving child is certainly not an ideal part of the equation. When your kids are happy, you will be too.
Travel can be a good way to introduce your children to a whole new world of flavors and expand their list of “acceptable foods to put in my mouth”. Not all might be to their liking, but maybe some will stick. It just takes a little bit of creativity, a whole lot of patience and the passage of time to transform your picky eater into someone who licks their plate clean at every meal.