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 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.
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.
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?