As parents, we all know how fickle the relationship can be between a child and food. What was a favourite dish last week can suddenly turn into the most disgusting, unpalatable morsel they’ve ever tasted… and there’s no ignoring the wrinkled faces, retching, and the utter refusal to even take a mouthful. Monkey has got better as he’s got older – we now have fewer stand-offs at meal times, but there are still occasions when he can be difficult. When you’re at home, this isn’t so much of a problem. But what happens when you go abroad on holiday or abroad? And you’re not in self-catering accommodation?
On our recent trip to Hua Hin in Thailand, I knew we would be going to several restaurants to enjoy the local cuisine but I was concerned that Monkey wouldn’t eat very well, if at all. My worries were unfounded – again Monkey surprised us with how well he adapted to the change.
Tips on how to handle fussy eating toddlers and kids
However, there are some tips that helped the transition during our fortnight away. Taking a fussy eating toddler abroad doesn’t have to be a mission – in fact, you may find your little ones are more curious and daring than you first thought. Try these tips and you’ll hopefully be enjoying a stress-free family meal together…
Preparation is key
If you know a particular food or delicacy is served in the country you’re going to, try introducing them before you even step onto the plane. We made sure Monkey ate plenty of rice, noodles and seafood before we left the UK so it wouldn’t faze him while we were abroad. Introduce new foods slowly and over a period of time and hopefully, your perseverance will pay off.
Head to the buffet
There is always some sort of buffet selection at meal times if you are staying in a hotel, so let your children go up with you and let them decide what takes their fancy. Buffets tend to offer more variety and choice from local to western dishes.
In Thailand, the breakfast buffets at both hotels were very good – so I left it up to Monkey to choose what he wanted – within reason, though, otherwise the waffles and pancakes would have been scoffed daily! I also took our Yum Box along and filled it with healthy treats such as fruit and cheese to put in the fridge, so when he was hungry during the day, I could provide him with a decent snack.
When your child is being difficult and refusing to eat, it can be easy to lose your patience, but try to encourage good eating habits without being too forceful. Tell your child how yummy something is and encourage them to try certain things. We found that if we put a variety of food on Monkey’s plate, his first instinct was to refuse it. But when we left him to it, on more than one occasion he devoured the lot – even asking for more one time when he enjoyed the chicken satay.
And the one thing I always have to remind myself is, if he’s hungry, he’ll eat.
Choose familiar foods
Unless you’re in some off-the-beaten-track tribal village which is untouched by the civilised world, in most cases abroad, western food is available in hotels, restaurants and eateries. If not western cuisine, at least something plain and simple, without chilli and fragrant spices which can be overpowering for young taste buds.
Because we were away for a good while, and there was so much choice on offer in our resort, it was impossible for us not to sample other cuisines including French, Indian and Italian. Which also meant Monkey got to eat familiar foods that he was accustomed to.
Make mealtimes fun
I like to practise good eating habits when sitting at a restaurant table and, as much as I wanted to get the iPad out and let Monkey sit there distracted throughout the whole meal – we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it because we were away for a whole fortnight and eating out at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We decided to let him bring his favourite toys along, as well as colouring books and stickers – we played games while waiting for our food to arrive; made a big deal about what we were ordering; made sure we included him when we clinked our glasses; compared who had the most food; and who could eat most of it up the quickest. We tried to make it as fun as possible – and this certainly went some way to encourage him to eat up.
And if all else fails… Bribery!
Okay, I won’t win any parenting awards, but when you’ve tried everything and your child isn’t cooperating, bribery can work wonders. My favourite one is: ‘If you finish all of that on your plate, you can have an ice-cream/cake/treat.’
Is there anything I’ve missed? How do you handle fussy eating toddlers and kids abroad?