5 Ways to Deal with Picky Eaters While Traveling

5 Ways to Deal with Picky Eaters While Traveling

Before I had my daughter, I envisioned her and I sitting at a restaurant, happily sharing exotic cuisine without a fuss. “Hah,” I would chortle in my daydream. “I never have to worry about a picky eater while traveling.” Then somehow Ryan Reynolds would walk by our table.

Fantasies aside, I am at heart a realist. In some ways, picky eating can be seen as part of a child’s normal development. It can be seen as a struggle for control or a modeling of what they see their parents do. So in a lot of ways, you can “fight” picky eating behaviors the same way you would at home. As with most things in life, we cannot escape them by traveling. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” I’d like to find a non-chicken nugget lover, but we can’t get everything in this world.

In all honesty, I ate primarily “American kid food” until I was in college. My mom always offered healthy options, but for whatever reason, I had decided that was what I liked. After I went to college and tried new foods, I learned to love all sorts of new and exciting things. It just took time.

Obviously, if you or your child have any medical problems, please speak with your doctor.

Picky Eater Tip #1: Kids will eat when they’re hungry

One thing to remember about kids is that they are born with a natural instinct to stop eating if they aren’t hungry. I could talk for hours about the origins of hunger, leptin, ghrelin, the impact of water, blah blah blah. Basically, we are born with the ability to avoid eating if we are not hungry. This includes not eating during times of extreme stress, certain illnesses, and more. In terms of our little ones, toddlers naturally go through growth spurts and plateaus. You have undoubtedly noticed this: some days your kid will eat everything in the house, and the next day can barely be bothered to sip some milk. Although disturbing to us, partially because our culture has taught us to ignore our innate hormonal regulation system, this is a totally normal kid.

If they’re hungry, they will eat sushi, jumuk-bap, crickets. If they’re not, they won’t even touch macaroni and cheese.

picky eater

Picky Eater Tip #2: Your Job is to Offer a Healthy Variety of Foods

Again, kids will eat when they’re hungry, but you are the adult. You are in charge. We all bend to giving our kids little things we know they like, I do it, too. But if all you do is cater to your little one’s culinary whimsy, you are doing your child a disservice and making an awful lot of work for yourself. So order something for your little one off the adult menu (I find soups and noodle dishes a good place to start), and you’ll be surprised what they end up eating.

That being said, kids will eat more if they get involved in the preparation. While traveling, why not take them on a farm tour or go apple picking? If your kids are older, try a cooking class with them. Plus maybe they’ll learn how to cook for you in your old age.

Picky Eater Tip #3: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Isn’t it funny how you love pizza, and so does your little Madison? Kids always mirror their parents. If you are an “adventurous” eater, your kid will try new things, too. If you stick to a strictly orange-food diet with the occasional foray into Chipotle, guess what your toddler will eat? I’m not saying that habits begun in childhood are easy to break. Still, though, try maybe one new thing if you are in a new place. You will surprise your kid and yourself, too.

Picky Eater Tip #4: Set a Schedule

Children thrive on routine. I don’t think that’s a shock to any parent. If at home they expect mealtimes at 7 AM, noon, snack at 4, and dinner at 7, they will be hungry at those times in a new place. Regardless of the time zone.

Picky Eater Tip #5: It’s All About Survival

At home, we do stick to a good routine. I don’t make my daughter a different dinner than what my husband and I eat. If she tries something and genuinely doesn’t like it, she can have yogurt or fruit. If she isn’t hungry and doesn’t eat her dinner, I cover her plate in the fridge and feed it to her later when she is hungry.

On the road, though, I think it’s all about flexibility.

  • Snacks every hour to help keep her calm on the plane? Yup.
  • Croissants for breakfast, donuts for lunch, and ketchup? Definitely done that.
  • A bag full of snacks she likes but doesn’t usually get, like crackers, chips, candy, gummy snacks? Packing essential.

My point is, when you’re on the road, and your kid really just wants chicken nuggets, head to a Western-style hotel and load up on them. You’re on vacation. It should be relaxing. It shouldn’t be a 7-day struggle with your kid about whether or not they have PB&J again instead of trying calamari.

picky eater
Yup-she got a donut and I got a wine tasting

Other Readings

If you have a picky eater at home, and are looking for some doctor-approved tips, check out the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital recommendations. PBS also has wonderful ideas on their website.

If you are an adult who loves to travel but not to eat, you are not alone. I loved this article from Travel and Leisure.

Final Thoughts

Everything in parenting seems to ebb and flow. I try to reassure myself that it’s all normal. Every kid is different, but I’m grateful for my girl.

What do you think? How do you deal with picky eaters in your family?


39 thoughts on “5 Ways to Deal with Picky Eaters While Traveling

  1. Thanks for showing ways to make eating with a picky little one easier! That’s something every mom has had to face I’m sure. It seems it can easily go in waves for us depending on how consistent I’ve been at home. Knowing when to cut some slack or when to worry about it helpful too, good point.

  2. Thank you for these helpful tips! When we are traveling with kids I tend to focus more on easy to eat snacks and food. Those applesauce pouches are lifesavers!

  3. I do a lot of food planning before we go on trips. If it is a road trip, I make sure we have a cooler packed with snacks and lunch fixings. Then we usually find a fun park to stop at to eat. We also stay in a lot of rental homes instead of hotels. I feel it is easier when you have active kiddos (more space!) and we can prep some of our own meals. However, we definitely get our treats while on vacation and relax a little bit more about what the kids can and can’t eat.

  4. Oh the struggles of picky eaters! My oldest has and still is extremely picky. I pick my battles on most days and even if she wants to eat the same fruit and veggie combination because she doesn’t want to venture out of her food comfort zone… at least she’s eating something wholesome. We’ve come along way! Your tips are great, and yes, kids will eventually eat when they’re hungry enough.

  5. Well said! I love the practical thinking and specific details in these tips. I also really like how you know when to cut everybody some slack and just enjoy the ride. 🙂

  6. I love this, I am right there with you at home, they eat what we eat and if they don’t well you can have it later when you get hungry. But when we are away there are snacks all the time and it is just about keeping them happy. Although coming back home and getting into the daily routine again can be a little tricky for my little one.

  7. I love this! My son is 20months old and is normally pretty good about his eating habits. I’m pretty sure he could live off of apples and veggie straws, though. We haven’t been on big trips yet but I’ve wondered what we would do in those situations. I’ll have to keep this in mind 🙂

  8. When our babies were toddlers, we practiced #2 a lot – lots of healthy food choices. Took healthy finger foods with us so that whenever they are hungry, they ate (#1 above). You are right on with your points and I also find the going with the flow reduces stress.. a lot!!

  9. I have a picky eater, and I noticed the biggest change came when he was 3 and we started babysitting a child his own age. There was something about seeing his peer eating a variety of foods that helped him be more adventurous.

  10. Kids really eat when they are hungry even if all the yummies are before them. No wonder we have an eating schedule at home so that my young brothers know the time to eat. And yes, I agree about guiding kids to eat healthy. Kids can also be very picky with their eats especially during road trips; either way, not all meals are quite an option during travel.

  11. My picky eater is nearly 14 and it becomes a lot more difficult to encourage them to eat new or different things, whether travelling or at home. We went on holiday to Greece a few years ago and he basically had chips for every meal! I kind of hoped he would get better as he got older but he’s actually got worse!

  12. We’re pretty lucky that the majority of the time our boys eat well and certainly enjoy their fruit and veg. When we’re on holiday though we definitely relax and they have more treats!

  13. Yes! We always order for the kids from the adult menu. Why take them to a Japanese restaurant to eat french fries? Plus, it saves money!

  14. Thank you for the fantastic tips! My kids can be the best eaters some days and so picky the next! We have found that having them help us in the kitchen has been the best way to get them to try new things.

  15. Our older two we can now find things they will eat the youngest is a total nightmare. Her give him bits of ours and the older ones and mostly he will eat chips and chips and chips xx

  16. Doughnuts for wine tasting seems like a fair trade to me! I was the crazy picky eater growing up, so I ate a lot of cereal (once we could feed ourselves, my parents deal was we had to try two bites, and then we could make something else I’d we didn’t want the meal).

    1. My siblings and I were not terribly adventurous growing up, but my mom very quickly decided not to make more than one meal. So we ate a lot of cereal and yogurt, too. Now, actually, we all like a wide variety of foods. It really makes me think the picky eater thing is a developmental stage. It seems to be about testing limits and exerting control.

  17. Great tips on eating out with your toddler. There are days I would just rather not eat than have to have a sit down meal out with our two year old. But, as you point out, there are definitely ways to make it easier:).

    1. Haha very true. We have definitely ordered food at restaurants then paid our bill before the food even arrived. Some days it’s better to cut and run, and just have PB&J at home.

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