It's true. Family vacations are a great time to help your picky eaters expand their palates.
Here's why this tactic works like a charm:
- You are more relaxed, and most likely, not cooking the food yourself.
- Whenever kids try a new food, they associate the food with the people, setting and feelings they had when you tried it.
- You don't have other distractions adding stress to the meal.
- You're eating together as a family.
When you remove the "I spent 45 minutes making this dinner, you better darned well eat it" factor out of the equation, your expectations for what they should eat go way down.
That makes you relax more. And when you're relaxed, you tend to pressure the kids less. And when they feel less pressure, they feel more comfortable trying something new.
Think about it. Half the reason food tastes great in gourmet restaurants has to do with the ambiance.
The first time I tried Indian food was in college when I was studying abroad in England.
I went with a big group of friends. They could've served us fried mosquitos, and we would've had a great time.
Fortunately, the food was delicious on its own, but the atmosphere made even the picky eaters in the bunch willing to try anything. The same is true on a family vacation.
At home, dinner time is also the time you have to worry about homework, dishes, baths, signing permission slips, and packing the kids' lunches for the next day.
On vacation, you can just enjoying being together and eating together. It makes for a perfect environment to introduce kids to new foods.
This isn't always possible at home, but typically, on vacation, families eat together. Family meals can encourage kids to be more experimental, especially if the other family members are enjoying the food.
A great example of this is guacamole.
At home, your kids may only eat salsa with their chips, or nothing at all. But if they see you enjoying guacamole on vacation, they may give it a try. This is especially true if they know they don't have to try it.
Ideas for Picky Eaters on Vacation
Here are some tips for using your vacation to expand your picky eaters' palates:
- Don't force your picky eaters to try new foods if they don't want to.
- Keep your kids' eating habits in mind, but don't let them dictate your meals.
- Pick the right time to introduce them to something new.
- Enjoy your food.
If the meal is so expensive, you'll feel uneasy if they waste it, don't order it. Let them try something new from your plate instead.
It makes sense to choose restaurants where kids can find something familiar on the menu. But that doesn't mean you have to choose restaurants that only serve mac and cheese or chicken nuggets.
The first time I took my kids to an Indian place, I chose a place that had naan with cheese on it. It's basically grilled cheese, and I knew my kids could fill up on that if they didn't like anything else.
If you've been traveling for 12 hours, and everyone's hungry and cranky, that isn't the best time to take the kids to a sushi bar for the first time.
Wait until you unwind a bit. Go when everyone's feeling rested, fresh and relaxed. And if it is sushi, choose a place that serves tempura too.
Kids who see their parents enjoying food develop good eating habits themselves.
This is true whether or not they ever taste the foods you're eating. They absorb your feelings, attitudes and behaviors around food, whether you realize it or not. And when they're ready, even really picky eaters will try new foods.