Traveling With Your Picky Eater Child: How to Manage
Traveling with your picky eater child can be quite challenging! If your child is anything like mine, you might find yourself questioning on a regular basis how they survive and how they are not simply skin and bone. For some reason it seems that kids have the ability to go days at a time with only taking a bite here and there with a diet consisting mainly of chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and French fries.
Getting them to eat at home can be tricky enough, but take them outside, across the country, or even across the globe, and the trickiness multiplies! If you are traveling in a foreign country, finding the food items that your child is used to eating and loves may be more difficult than at home.
Not to mention, if you have traveled thousands of miles you are probably looking to experience something new and get a piece of the culture you are visiting. Food is perhaps one of the best ways to do that. So how can you still enjoy experiencing new foods while traveling with someone who prefers to stick to macaroni and cheese?
Here are 15 tips for traveling with a picky eater while hopefully being able to enjoy some variety yourself!
1. Stick To What You Know They Will Eat
If you know your child is a picky eat, then you probably know what he/she will eat. When you are traveling try to keep to those items. Find restaurants or snack shacks that offer dishes and treats that they will eat. While encouraging a kid to try new foods is something that I always encourage, it can get quite pricey while traveling. This will, of course, depend on the destination you are visiting and what your budget is.
If you are on a tight budget or a dish that you know your child is not likely to eat costs $30 or more, it is probably best to skip it. Instead, just order that slice of pizza, chicken nugget meal, or macaroni and cheese that you know your child will eat. It will save you a little stress and money in the wrong.
(This is not always the best option-sometimes it is better to offer new options. Consider your situation and make a decision. There will be more on encouraging new foods and getting your child to eat them coming up!)
2.Bring Extra Snacks
This is one of the number one things I have learned when traveling with children, whether they are picky eaters or not. Bringing extra snacks will ensure that you always have something when the little mouths get hungry and will save you some time and money.
If your child is a picky eater, there is always a chance that they are going to skip a meal. You may visit a restaurant that doesn’t have anything they will eat (although we try to avoid that by doing some research!), they may not like the variation of the food available at the restaurant, or they may just not eat (for what reason God only knows!). In this case it is always helpful to have some quick snacks that they love when you start hearing the “I’m hungry,” sometimes only minutes after leaving the restaurant!
3. Research Your Destination
As with any other aspect of trip planning, do some research on the local cuisine of the destination you are visiting. Research the most popular dishes of the area that you would like to try and see which ones you could have your picky eater try. If it is something you think they would be willing to try, add it to the list. If its not something you think they would try, see what else the restaurant offers and if something else would line up with their likes it may be the perfect option for you. Find restaurants that will allow you to try new dishes and experience the local culture while at the same time feeding your picky eater.
4. Eat at Restaurants That Have Kids Menus
When researching restaurants for your destination, try to find ones that offer a kids menu. While you can find some dishes that a picky eater might like at a restaurant without a kids menu, going with the kids menu is the safer option. A lot of times you can find a kids menu at a restaurant that offers the popular, local cuisine, making this a great option for both giving you the option of trying something new and filling up your picky eater’s stomach.
5. Try A Points System For Trying New Foods
Most of the time, it is not that the child doesn’t like a dish, it is that they are simply unwilling to try something new! This is the case a lot of the time with my own daughter. Its always nice to see the reaction when she realizes, oh, maybe I do like this. But it is getting her to take that first bite that’s the hard part.
A points system is one way to try to combat this issue. Offering your child a certain number of points in exchange for trying a new food is good encouragement to get them to at least try it. The points can be tallied up and exchanged for a small toy or candy bar, it doesn’t really matter. As long as there is some kind of incentive they are more likely to give that new dish a shot!
6. The No Dessert Rule
The no dessert rule is a classic, but it continues to work! We like to look over the dessert menu when ordering, but then agree that no dessert will be ordered unless a certain amount of the meal is eaten. This gives the child the opportunity to choose their dessert and gives them something to look forward to and some motivation to eat their meal. It works for us 90% of the time.
When it comes to trying new foods there is more leniency. Sometimes a child doesn’t like a food item or dish that they try, but putting in the effort and at least taking a couple bits goes a long way. It is for this reason that I also always try to order some kind of side dish as a back up, just in case the new dish is a no go.
7. Order a Mix of Familiar and Unfamiliar Foods
Like I mentioned above, I always try to order some kind of side when ordering a new dish. The side is something that I know my daughter will eat and that could be a back up if she doesn’t like the new option. Completely avoiding all new food items on every trip will greatly limit the child’s exposure to new things and will only encourage their picky eating habits.
Ordering some food items that they are unfamiliar with in combination with new items will present them with the opportunity to experience new things while still having that familiar option as a back up. Encourage the child to try the new dish first and if that falls threw there will be a familiar dish waiting for them.
(I am not recommending ordering two complete meals-but rather trying to order a meal that has multiple side options or ordering the main meal and one or two smaller sides. It is, of course, completely up to you how you choose to order!)
8. Add Extra Condiments
Condiments can do wonders when it comes to getting picky eaters to try new foods. Put a little ketchup on something or add a little Ranch and my daughter is more likely to eat it. I’m sure you know what condiments your child loves. Use them to make the dish look more appealing to your child and see how much more willing they are to try something new (Okay, this won’t work for everything! Some combinations just do not work!) But always be looking for different opportunities to encourage your child to try something new.
9. Eat At a Buffet Restaurant
The reason for this one goes without saying. Eating at a buffet restaurant is going to open up many more options for the picky eater. And it often times will have plenty of options for you to try and experience as well. The majority of the buffets that we have eaten at have had a kids section with the classic kids menu items, while having plenty of other options for the adults. You can often times also find some local cuisine to try in the buffet. There is almost always something for every member of the travel party to enjoy.
10. Make It a Game-“Steal a Bite”
Traveling with your picky eater child, like anything else, is more fun when you make it a game! With kids, you can make basically anything a game and they will be more likely to try something new and enjoy it! The steal a bite game always seems to work. Pretend you are going to steal a bite of your child’s plate and watch how fast they start gobbling down the food. Another idea is to make it a race and see who can finish their plate first (within reason-always be safe, no choking). I have found if I turn anything into a race, there is less whining and more participating! Be creative and come up with different ideas and different games that may work for your child.
11. Eat a Big Breakfast Before Heading Out For the Day
While this isn’t going to make your child more likely to eat new foods, it will give them full stomachs and decrease the chance of you having to deal with a “hangry” child. Do some research before you book accommodations and see if the place you will be staying at offers breakfast and what kind they offer. I think it is safe to say that most kids will eat some of the basic breakfast items, such as pancakes or waffles, so this may be the easiest meal to find something your picky eater will enjoy.
You can also bring along some of your child’s favorite non-cook breakfast foods, such as pop tarts, cereal, and muffins (I know, not the most nutritious, but it will fill up their tummies!). If you are staying somewhere with a kitchen you can bring basically a full breakfast meal to fill up on. If eating a full meal at the hotel is not an option, do some research and find some nearby options for breakfast. A breakfast buffet may be the perfect option for both you and your picky eater.
12. Get Them As Involved As You Can
Getting a child involved with anything makes them much more likely to participate and enjoy it! Get them involved with the decision making on what restaurant you will eat at. Go over some of the options with them and go through menu options. Let them choose what sounds good to them and they are more likely to eat and try something new.
I have found a few restaurants that get the child involved with making their meal, such as the make your own pizza and ice cream sundae option at Uno’s. Any restaurant that offers the child the chance to be involved like this with their meal will make the child that much more excited when their meal comes!
13. Be Creative
Being creative is an absolute must when traveling with your picky eater child. Disguise fruits and vegetables in a way that even the pickiest of eaters wont notice, but will still love and enjoy! Smoothies are a great option for this and the possibilities and combinations are endless. You can make or purchase a fruit smoothie or there are now plenty of smoothies that are vegetable based. Trying to get my daughter to eat a strawberry is like pulling teeth, but I put a strawberry smoothie in front of her and its gone in no time.
Another thing that I like to do is mix foods. My daughter will not touch corn, but if I mix it in with macaroni and cheese and add a little bit of ketchup, it goes down like nothing (It sounds gross, I know! But it does the trick). The idea is to find new ways that your child will eat new (or old) dishes.
Another option is to try a new variation of a food that they commonly eat. While you may not be able to find the exact dish you would back home, there are often times different variations of a dish with the main ingredients that your child loves. One example is the fried macaroni and cheese balls that we found in Puerto Rico. We couldn’t find macaroni and cheese (which is the #1 food she requests), but we were able to find this variation (fried dough balls stuffed with macaroni and cheese) and she ate them!
14. Bring Your Own Food When You Can
Bring your own food that you know your child will eat is always an easy solution. Sure, more effort and more packing may be involved, but it will cause less stress in the long run. You can pack little snack bags that are easily grabbable and ready to go, so they are ready on the go. You can bring no-cook food items that your child loves that will be an alternative to going out to eat.
If you have a microwave or fridge, or even a kitchen, where you are staying you can bring canned foods or fresh ingredients for cooking and make a meal. Then you can make the choice between eating with your child or ordering room service or from a nearby restaurant. This, again, will make sure that your picky eater is fed while giving you the chance to try something new.
15. Book Accommodations with a Kitchen
This brings me to the next and final recommendation. Book accommodations that haven a kitchen. This may may be a little more pricey, but it can save you both stress and money. Having a kitchen will make it possible for you to make your own meals that your child will love. It can also save you some money in the long run with avoiding restaurant costs or room service fees.
Another bonus-when you want that late night snack when most of the restaurants are closed, you will just have to take a few steps and you will have options!
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