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 eaters something they’ll enjoy while introducing local cuisine.
Over the years, my kids have discovered they liked Belizean chicken stew, Spanish jamon, Japanese yakitori and tried whale meat in Iceland. They still have their fussy moments but are more open to trying new foods. 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.
- 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.
Eating foreign foods with kids is a learning experience. It takes preparation, patience, encouragement and inspiration for kids to try something new. We hope your next mealtime will be a rewarding culinary adventure and experience as ours have been. Bon appetit!
What are your tips to help kids eat foreign food?