It seems the biggest concern most family travelers have is what to do if you have a fussy eater!
Don’t fear parents, I have one. In fact, I think I have the fussiest eater in the world.
I also think I have the most challenging child in the world – eating, sleeping, persistence, determination, sensitivity, you name it, our Savannah is it!
But, guess what, despite all these challenges and extra stresses we still travel with kids all the time and love it and survive it.
My question to you is,
What do you do with your fussy eater at home? Why does your strategy have to be different when you travel?
Well, of course it will be a little different, especially traveling to a foreign country as you have less control of what you cook, but you have plenty of options available to you to help that fussy and plain eater.
9 Tips for Managing Picky Eaters
I was quite shocked to see in our poll results that managing picky eaters on the road is one of the biggest challenges you have with family travel.
It is also generally the number one question I get asked whenever I’m interviewed on the topic of family travel.
I’m not sure why I’m surprised as I totally understand why this is a problem.
I’m currently sitting next to Savannah on the plane recovering from a giggling fit.
I decided to peel my delicious, juicy orange on the plane, because domestic flights in America don’t feed you and they don’t realize that gluten free passengers take their flights and actually would like more options than a bag of peanuts.
Savannah’s sensitive nose picked up.
“Get that away from me.”
She can’t handle anything that smells near her unless its popcorn or nuggets. Well, I couldn’t remove the offending orange and I was hungry so I kept peeling and the juice start spurting all over her.
She started chucking a fit and pushed me away into the gentleman beside me who I’m sure was squirted by the juice.
I couldn’t stop laughing and the juice wouldn’t stop spurting.
I ended up burying it in an empty Starbucks bagel bag giving up as Savannah just couldn’t handle it!
Savannah also can’t handle mixing good food.
She does not like sauces of any kind – thanks for the constant hide-your-vegetables-in-the-pasta-sauce advice from SOOO many fussy eater experts out there.
When they won’t eat the sauce you want to hide it in, then what?
And heaven forbid you let the chicken touch the carrot.
Sometimes I forget to ask for food to be separated at a restaurant and as soon as the plate is delivered, I whisper “oh bugger” under my breath and scramble to separate the items so she doesn’t see.
Too late, she spotted the scrambled egg touching the sausage and bacon and now she refuses to eat it as the egg is gross and stinks.
You may have to write all your special requests down so you don’t forget.
I’ve tried all the tips by the experts. None of them work. The old, “Well that is the only dinner you’re going to get so you best eat it” results in her not eating dinner for three nights in a row.
She’s as stubborn as a mule. If she doesn’t like it she won’t eat it and will go hungry. It’s not a power struggle for her, she’s just extremely fussy.
Kalyra on the other hand will eat anything.
I’ll never forget her 9 month old covered in Taco sauce and eating a spicy Thai noodle dish with her when she was about 4. I could barely contain the sweat from dripping into my soup, but she happily continued slurping away!
Based on a reader’s poll on the top family challenges, we’ve created a video and blog post series in partnership with our sponsor, Allianz Travel, sharing our best tips to help you overcome those challenges.
Those top challenges were:
- Travel is too expensive
- How to create a travel experience the whole family will love
- How to balance school with travel
- How to manage a picky eater on the road
If you prefer video format, press play below to hear our tips for saving money on family travel.
1. Know the meals they like and stick to it
I know you want them to eat deep fried scorpions and fish ball soup. Travel is all about the local flavors and cultural experiences.
Yes, they can get that through the food, but they can in other ways as well.
So stop stressing yourself, and them, out about it.
They can get to those meals when they’re older, like I now order brussel sprouts anything whereas a child I’d throw them up.
If they only eat sausages and chicken nuggets, carrot sticks and perhaps a nibble of broccoli then order it for every meal. You’re on a vacation, don’t let this stress and overwhelm you.
Savannah will eat baby carrots and the odd broccoli so she gets them with every meal. We carry snack bags of baby carrots with us.
Let them be adventurous with the sweets because you know it doesn’t matter how foreign sounding the name. how strange looking or smelling, if it’s a dessert they’ll try it.
2. Get a good breakfast
I find breakfast the easiest meal to deal with when traveling with a fussy eater.
You can usually find toast or cereal, bagels and pancakes are typical winners, and buffet breakfasts usually excite Savannah as she feels she can make a choice she’ll like.
On the other hand, I hate buffet breakfasts as I have dietary issues and they never cater to me.
It’s also pretty easy when you’re traveling to carry a box of cereal or bagels or whatever your child has for breakfast and you can serve that up no matter where you are.
3. Know your destination
Research your destination and their cuisine and how to find foods that suit your child.
It’s also good to know how the cuisine may affect a sensitive stomach. Be aware of how the food you are ordering is cooked, especially in regards to street food and water!
It’s a good idea to give your child (and yourself) probiotics to help strengthen their gut for travel.
Doing your due diligence before you arrive will help you have a satisfied fussy eater on the trip.
We always make sure we have travel insurance to protect us and the girls in case of any unforeseen emergencies!
4. What food can you pack?
With a fussy eater it’s important to have a back up plan.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for not being better prepared. I feel so bad for Savannah when she’s faced with no food options she’ll eat, and I could have done a better job at having something for her.
As I said she is one determined lady and one fussy eater and she is not going to try any food she doesn’t want to no matter how hungry she is.
It’s a challenge for us to always remember since we travel full time.
It might be a good idea to have an “Out the Door Checklist” so you remember to have food packed in your bag for the day’s adventures.
When traveling in Australia, we would pack vegemite sandwiches (and in the US when we can get our hands on it. She’ll eat that all day long!!)
In the US, we’ll pack peanut butter or honey sandwiches.
5. Take your own plane food
With a fussy eater, it’s best you pack your own plane food as you don’t know what food they will serve.
It’s a long flight for everyone when you have a hungry child.
Even though you buy a child’s plane ticket, you still have to request a child’s meal. Go figure. It’s obvious a planet ticket for a child would need a child’s meal.
We didn’t know this on a flight to Singapore once and Savannah was served an adult meal and there was no way she was going near that saucy looking funny thing so she did not eat for the entire 8 hour flight.
Do not make the same mistake.
Be sure to pack your own food and request that child meal.
6. Encourage new flavors
Encourage them to at least nibble on new and exotic food.
I know I mentioned a sanity saving tip is to just let them eat the foods they like and are used to.
But, you do want to introduce them to the new and exciting and at least give them the opportunity to sample it.
Let it be in front of them. Let them experience the different texture, colors, and the smell and even if they choose not to eat it at least they are still having some kind of experience with the exotic food.
We encourage food tours and cooking classes when we can.
All the experts tell you how letting a child cook their own food encourages them to eat what they cook as they’ll feel more connected to it.
Yeah. Nah. Not our Savannah. She LOVES cooking and does it with me all the time.
She never eats any of it, including this delicious pizza above you can tell she’s experiencing so much joy cooking!!
Check the restaurant menus before you visit.
Some restaurants may not have kids menus or any great options your child will eat.
It’s better you know this before hand before you sit down and have to go through the drama of leaving once you figure it out.
You can find these menus on websites or look at reviews like TripAdvisor or Yelp, which leaves good advice as to whether places are family friendly.
If they don’t have kids menus, check the appetizer section, as you can often find suitable meals there for kids.
Or, they could even share a main, if you can find something suitable. (To be honest, in the US at least, they can even often share a kids meal. )
8. No dessert until…
And don’t forget the “No dessert until” rule.
You’re on a vacation, your children will want to eat ice cream all day long.
You want them to have these treats, but be sure to also enforce good eating practices as well. Make sure there is no dessert until they have eaten some of those vegetables or fruit on the plate.
Don’t worry once they see that dessert menu they’ll make sure they’ll eat them.
9. Be sure they eat something before bed
Make sure your fussy eater has something to eat before they go to bed.
We have discovered that if Savannah doesn’t eat much before bed, and is super tired, she’ll often wake up vomiting.
This is a pattern we have discovered so I have since learned to make sure she has something good to eat before bed. And it has drastically reduced the number of times this has happened.
In fact, I don’t think it has happened once yet on our current RV trip (3 months in).
She is aware of this being a problem and is much better now at eating as she doesn’t want to be sick. Sometimes it does mean we have to give in to the battle and give her something plain for dinner like a vegemite sandwich.
At least we know she’ll eat it and go to bed on a full stomach and a greater chance of waking up fresh vibrant and happy the next day.
Travel will exhaust your kids so it’s vital they are getting enough energy for each day.
Click the playlist below to see more tips in this family travel challenges series: