Don't let a fussy eater ruin your vacation!

Tips for Low-Stress Travel with Fussy Eaters

This week The Nanny Line is talking with The Food Nomade (nomade is the French spelling of nomad) Rana Chemali about low-stress travel with fussy eaters.  Rana is a nutritionist, eating psychology coach, and expat herself, having lived in 5 different countries for the last 15 years (Lebanon, the UAE, Korea, Turkey, and now Spain) with her 7 and 11 year old children.  She has her own strategy for introducing new foods to her children when they are abroad:

“I make sure that at the beginning in a new country I offer the kids familiar foods. Simple real foods such as fresh fruits, staple carbs such as bread, rice or pasta, cut vegetables or grilled meats. When I see that they are settling into their new environment, I start to integrate new dishes and present them with new and more adventurous choices.”


TNL:  So, how can parents can avoid turning every meal into a battle when not in familiar settings?

Rana suggests the following tips for low-stress travel with fussy eaters:

1. Set expectations.

Review your family’s expectations for how meals will be the same or different while you are traveling (or have moved to a new country).  For example:

Will family rules about sitting at the table for the entire meal change?

What about desserts or snacks in between meals?  Decide on the number of ice cream or other “treats” per day or trip ahead of time, so that children are not begging at every corner for gelato or candy.

How will your family adapt to different mealtimes?

Reassure your child that they will not be expected to try every new food they encounter on the trip.

2.  Offer Choices.

Let your child know that they will have have options to chose from at each each meal so they feel  less anxious or pressured to try unfamiliar foods.

Depending on the age of your child, let them decide where you go to eat. With all of the online menus and booking options, your child will feel empowered to make mealtime calls for the entire family.  This also allows some planning ahead so children feel less surprised by what they find on the menu.

3. Security.

Plan to have at least one “safe food” at every meal (usually rice, pasta or bread for most kids).  Safe foods will help to reduce everyone’s anxiety. They act like a bridge between a familiar food (such as bread) and a new food or flavor (such as pan con tomate in Spain).

Many kids love to interact with their food and are more likely to eat unfamiliar foods when they are able to dip them in favorite sauces or dips such as ketchup, hummus, peanut butter or ranch dressing.  Parents may need to plan ahead and pack some special sauces in their suitcase.

4. Mini-meals vs. snacks.

Parents with children with picky eating habits can plan scheduled snacks in between the main meals, especially if the parents are anxious about whether or not their children are getting enough to eat.

Snacks should be consistent, scheduled and designed to be nutritious “mini-meals” rather than high-sugar or highly-processed treats or snacks.

To make travel even lower stress, some parents choose to bring packaged snacks in their suitcase that children are familiar with from their own country as additional an “safety” or back-up solution. 

5. Incentivize, but not with dessert.

Rana explains how offering a reward for trying something new can help kids with extremely picky eating habits:  “I don’t recommend using desserts as incentives but rather another activity that will not make the child feel that what he/she is supposed to eat at the meal is less desirable than the reward food ( in that case dessert).”  A better incentive might be to offer a special activity that takes place away from the table, like an after-dinner swim in the pool or a trip to the playground.


TNL:  How can parents can help prepare fussy eaters for travel?

  • Introduce the idea of adventurous eating.

Talk with your children about how trying new foods can be a way of  “discovering new cultures and ways of living and eating.” She suggests using words like “exploring” and “adventure” as you offer new foods to promote a more enjoyable atmosphere.  One parent asks her children to take “adventure bites” when they are on a trip.

  • Redefine a “successful food experience.”

Maybe your goal should be that your child allows a new food to be put on their plate, even if they do not eat it, or that they taste a new food, even if they then spit it out on their plate, but do not make a scene or exclaim “Eww, disgusting!” Repeated exposure to new or different foods helps kids become more comfortable with new foods or tastes. Research suggests it can take up to 20 encounters with a food before someone develops a preference. For children, learning to try new foods is often a journey that unfolds over many years.

  • Plan ahead to avoid meltdowns.

Talk with your children about the most popular foods in your destination country or region.  Enlist their help in planning what new foods they might be willing to try.  Maybe even try cooking some of those foods in your own home with your kids so that the different foods won’t seem foreign.

  • Schedule a family cooking class or food tour as part of your trip.

Allowing children to freely explore new textures and smells will increase their sense of familiarity with new foods.  These types of food-related outings also make food more of a cultural, learning experience and not limited to nourishment.  If kids feel like they are on a food adventure, they may be more likely to try new foods.

Looking for some family-friendly restaurants in Spain help make mealtimes abroad lower stress?  Check out our restaurant suggestions for Barcelona and for Madrid.  And if you are tired of eating at restaurants with the kids and want a grown-up dinner alone, don’t forget you can book one of our pre-screened, English-speaking nannies online.

Are you an expat or world-traveler who has some more tips for low-stress travel with fussy eaters?  The Nanny Line would love to hear your strategies on our Facebook page!

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