Before you travel…get your palette ready!
I love to cook, try new foods and explore. Trying out new foods during our travels is an enjoyable experience for many of us, but that’s not always the case with our kids. One of my main concerns when we first traveled overseas was feeding my somewhat picky eater something they’ll enjoy while introducing local cuisine. So what I do is cook the foods at home. With the age of the internet you can research foods of that region, or if you live in a major city that has a larger ethnic population, going to the restaurants will help to introduce your kids to the new flavors, sights and smells.
Our next trip is to Israel, so I broke out my Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi & Tamimi and cooked several dishes, but the ones Alex loved what the Sabih & the roasted Sweet Potatoes & Fresh Figs.
Whether traveling to a foreign country or a U.S. region, here are some tips to help kids eat foreign food for a cultural experience and expose their palate to authentic food that have worked for us. They may even discover their next favorite dish.
BEFORE THE TRIP
- Get familiar with destinations they’ll be visiting and the different foods they’ll see and taste. Start with viewing Internet food images. Something may catch their eye or pique their interest.
- Visit local communities like Little Italy or Chinatown or restaurants with similar menus as your destination. Have the kids try out the food so they’ll know what to expect.
- Try to cook the food at home and ask for the kids’ help in shopping and preparing so they’ll have a vested interest in the dish. Farmer’s Market is a great place & My Little Foodies, a great blog gives a great write up!
- Read books on countries you’re visiting or ones like What the World Eats and Come and Eat With Us.
Read travelers’ reviews and recommendations on guidebooks, TripAdvisor or Yelp for kid-friendly restaurants.
- Introduce food one meal at a time. Order a local dish and let them taste it. My kids often tried food out of curiosity.
- We’ve compromised by letting our kids pick desserts on the menu, snacks at stores or bakeries afterwards if they tried something new. This usually worked too.
- Get something familiar with local twists. Try favorite staples, like rice, pasta, noodles or grilled meats, with local sauces. My kids loved the noodle varieties in Japan.
- Sometimes, visiting recognizable restaurants is okay too. We’ve visited a few foreign McDonalds. But, kids can also try local specialties like Hawaii’s Spam and rice or the Philippines’ McSpaghetti there.
- We love shopping at local grocery stores and food markets as a peek into native cultures. We enjoy seeing what local families are drinking or eating. Food market stalls offering samples are also wonderful for introducing foreign foods to kids but please use your best judgment.
- Visit family-friendly restaurants. Kids may be more receptive to trying dishes when they can see what other kids are eating.
Take pictures of them eating local foods. The pictures can serve as keepsakes, reminders that they survived eating foreign foods and motivators to keep sampling.