Every summer I travel with my kids to visit our extended family for a few weeks. When I begin to organize the details of the trip, our meals often give us the structure for the day and serve as a good starting point for the rest of our planning. Breakfast is easy, but when will we stop to eat lunch? Where are we going to have dinner? Will we eat out? Will the kids enjoy the menu? Are they really going to eat pasta again???
The first thing I try to do is let go a little bit - at home I make sure they have healthy snacks, balanced meals and not too much sugar. But when we stay with a grandmother that offers chocolate bars at 8am to the absolute delight of her grandchildren, it's not easy. So being a little more lenient will not hurt, just for a few weeks...right?
I also try to look at traveling as an opportunity to expose my kids to new dishes and flavors. When we are home, and are busy with our work and school, we often choose the easy meal we know that our kids will like. But when we are traveling, I try to expose them to what else is out there. While most restaurants have a kids menu, I usually offer them a few dishes from the regular menu that might appeal to them.
You do have to read the situation of course and you have to choose the right time to offer something new. I don't force them to try something and if they are tired for example, after a long day, sometimes a familiar comfort food is best.
But when it works - it is so satisfying to watch them discover and enjoy a new food! Apparently, the salmon that my youngest would never touch at home is delicious at a restaurant thousands of miles away, but I try not to take it too personally. At least my 6 year old LOVES pink fish now :)
Another success we had on this trip is with spicy food, more precisely spicy pickles. My 8 year old loves pickles so much she decided it doesn't mater if they're a bit spicy. Of course we had some failures: we had the kids try falafel for the10th time, but they still didn't like it and my most adventurous eater still doesn't like eggplant (that's ok, she eats almost everything else).
I think my biggest surprise was when my daughter didn't like the pasta in Italy a couple of years ago. I'll never stop trying though! I always say, "they didn't like it....today." Research shows that repeated exposure to new foods are a great way to expand the foods that a child will eat. I always offer new foods, even if I think they won't eat it.
Food markets are another great opportunity to expose kids to new smells and flavors (and of course to a new culture). They are also a great way to get insider tips on places to visit and restaurants to try. Whether fancy or super low key, markets are so exciting to kids with their beautiful colors and vibrant smells and sounds. Vendors are usually happy to let customers taste. When somebody offers a new food, without the commitment to a whole meal, kids who are hesitant might be more open. One of my kids was so happy to taste the lychee she was offered (although she did not like it) and all my kids happily tried dozens of olives of different colors and textures and chose a bag full of them to take home.
This year we also had an opportunity to visit an organic farm and got to see olive and fig trees as well as taste delicious fennel flowers and pick fresh grapes, peaches and three different kinds of plums. One of the tenets of this site is "if they pick it, they will eat it." That's not a fast and hard rule of course, but we have seen that scenario played out time and time again. And it certainly was the case on this trip.
So of course I miss home, and definitely miss cooking and my own kitchen (not to mention my own bed!), but we've had some great food adventures this summer!