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Trying new foods is part of the excitement of travel — psyching yourself up to eat that shrimp head, trying that oxtail stew, taking on a crispy tarantula. But kids can be more resistant — sometimes much more resistant, and parents don’t want to spend their precious vacation time tracking down alternative meals of plain pasta and peanut butter sandwiches.
So how can you get your kids to become adventurous eaters — at home or abroad? We tapped a couple of globe-trotting moms and a nutritionist to find out their top tips.
1. Expose Them to Flavors at a Young Age
Before you even set out on a trip, start to enhance your child’s palate at home, says Juliet Izon, traveling mom of a 3-year-old and creator of Juliet’s Married blog. “We exposed Avvie to varied flavors and cuisines starting at a young age,” said Izon, whose daughter has eaten kare kare in the Philippines, xiao long bao in Shanghai, pasteis de nata in Lisbon and salt fish in St. Lucia. “We have a loose rule that my daughter eats what we eat, not just when we’re traveling but all the time. She can choose to eat as little or as much as she wants, but I’m not making her a separate meal.”
She added, “Obviously, I make sure that something in our meal will be something she likes, but it’s been an effective way to introduce new foods without making a big fuss.”
2. Present Favorite Foods in a New Way
Whether at home or on the road, New Jersey-based nutritionist Amy Gorin advises taking a food your child already loves and presenting a more adventurous version. So, if your kid is a fan of oatmeal, add a local fruit for them to try. This will help to bridge the gap between the familiar and unfamiliar when traveling.
This can also work for upping the health factor: “For instance, if your child loves chocolate pudding, make a fruit-based pudding instead, naturally sweetened with bananas and unsweetened cocoa powder,” she said. “And add on different toppings for foods your child loves.”
3. Get Your Timing Right
The last thing you want to do is try something new when you’re in a bad mood. The same goes for kids. “Choose your timing wisely,” said Melissa Conn, mom of two and creator of The Family Voyage website. “Make sure your kid is in a good mood (not hangry). Kids are already out of their geographic comfort zone, so choose a time when they’re happy and excited to give everyone the best chance of success.”
4. Make Repetition Key
Children aren’t always going to love a new food the first time they try it. “Don’t give up,” said Gorin. “Kids sometimes need to be exposed to a food many times before they’ll accept it.” Izon agreed, disclosing that she tries new preparations of foods to increase the chance her daughter will learn to love it. “Plus,” she said, “having them see how much you enjoy eating it yourself is important. Keep that repetition up as well.”
5. Build in New Flavors
In addition to repetition, you can help shape your child’s palate by building in new flavors and textures to foods they already enjoy. “If your child loves smoothies, for instance,” said Gorin, “try adding pureed white beans. These and chickpeas can act as somewhat of a blank canvas by picking up the flavor of the foods they’re paired with.” Children will start to become more comfortable with these new foods.
6. Start With Sweet
Most parents tend to avoid sugary foods as a regular treat, but it can be vital to opening kids up to new experiences when traveling. “Plenty of countries have unique desserts as part of their cuisine,” said Conn. “So lean into that and start with something they’re more inclined to try — mochi [rather than] sushi, alfajores over empanadas and pain au chocolat over frog legs. Local desserts may be less ‘adventurous’ than other delicacies. But, they’re a gateway to a more diverse palate.”
7. Find Similar Foods
Although cuisines vary from country to country or even state to state, there are usually crossovers. Finding those analogs is helpful when you’re traveling with youngsters. “For example, nearly every culture has a dumpling dish of some sort,” said Izon. So, for example, when trying soup dumplings for the first time in China, relate it back to other positive dumpling experiences from the past.
8. Book a Food-Related Activity
Kids tend to enjoy something more if they feel involved in the process. So why not do the same thing with food when traveling? Conn took a family cooking class when in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which involved the kids shopping at the market and collecting the ingredients before moving to the classroom where the cooking began. “Our kids were involved in making eight different dishes and had so much fun that they were willing to do them all,” she said. “We’ve done similar cooking classes in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Essaouira, Morocco, and the kids were happy to try the fruits of their labor.”
9. Bring Familiar Snacks
Not every food has to be adventurous when traveling. Find a happy medium with snacks. “When traveling, bring familiar snacks,” said Izon. “There will be days when your kid is cranky and just wants a fruit pouch. When that happens, no amount of cajoling is going to get her to try uni [sea urchin] for the first time.” Bring puffs, crackers, whatever, for hunger meltdowns and hopefully, when they’re in a better mood and the edge is taken off, they’ll be more willing to experiment with new foods.
10. Let Them Be Picky
It seems counterintuitive, but letting kids be picky can make them more adventurous. “Every kid has their preferences when it comes to food,” said Conn. “For our son, one of those is that he doesn’t usually like his meat served in thick sauces. So, instead of forcing him to eat chicken tikka masala as it’s served, we pull the chunks of chicken and serve them on a plate with rice for him. He may not get the texture, but at least he can learn to appreciate the flavor profile.” By making the experience more to their liking, you’re more likely to get a kid willing to try something new.
Introducing new foods and preparations at home is an awesome way to bridge the gap to culinary adventures while traveling. Hopefully, with a few tricks up your sleeve, you can help your kids appreciate trying new foods just as much as visiting new places. And of course, sometimes you want a new version of an old favorite, which is why so many travelers visit McDonald’s overseas.
Have your children experimented with cuisines away from home? What did they like best?
Featured photo by poplasen / Getty.
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