Traveling with kids can be stressful, especially when it comes to mealtimes and especially if you have fussy eaters. But there are ways to get your kids to eat while on family vacation say Annabel Karmel. The baby food guru has famously written 37 books about feeding babies and children and, as the mother of three grown kids (Nicholas, Lara and Scarlett), she knows a bit about how to deal with fussy kids in foreign environments. So much so, she has collaborated in creating kids’ menus with several international hotel groups including the InterContinental. She tells suitcases&strollers her travel tips for tantrum-less meals with kids.
How is the kids’ menu you created at InterContinental Hotels different from other kids’ hotel menus?
Many children’s menus tend to stick to stereotypical children’s food (like chicken nuggets and pizza) and do not encourage children to try new and exciting foods and flavours.
I was really excited to create this menu. The dishes embrace flavours, textures, smells and tastes to take children on a tasty voyage whilst, at the same time, ensuring enjoyable and nutritionally balanced meals. For example, we have on the menu Wok and Roll Pad Thai and a traditional Italian tomato risotto.
What happens when you know you are travelling to a place that DOESN'T have a healthy kids menu? Are there any tricks for how parents can start "training" their kids' palates to enjoy plain steamed veg or fresh fruits that you might be able to order from an adult menu?
Getting children to enjoy a variety of foods from an early age means you can have more choice when it comes to eating out.
· Get your children eating in season. Fruit and veg in season taste better and tend to be packed with more nutrients. Giving fresh tasty fruit and veg [in season] may increase the odds that they will enjoy it and want to eat more. Try some of the local exotic fruits that might be new to them like dragon fruit, rambutan or passion fruit.
· There are often local dishes on the adult menu that children would enjoy like satay chicken, fajitas, salmon teriyaki, paella or sushi. Often children are more sophisticated than we might imagine. It’s also good to make simple versions of these foods at home and I include lots of ethnic recipes in my books.
· A good way to get children interested in trying new foods is to get them in the kitchen. I used to get my children to cook for me every Friday and they loved being part of the adult world. You will be surprised that even very young children can be involved in cooking simple things like mashing potato or threading fruit on to a straw to make skewers.
[For more travel tips on introducing kids to foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant.]
What are some healthy and travel-friendly snack ideas for traveling with kids?
I make up trail mix bags combining favourite cereals, seeds, pretzels and dried fruit into zip lock bags. Much better than a bag of crisps and more entertaining as you can make a game of guessing what you will pick out next. You could also put snacks in a tackle box, with different snacks in different compartments.
Other great travel-friendly snack ideas include:
· Fruit crisps
· Mini rice cakes
· Soft dried fruits like apricots, apple or prune or mini boxes of raisins
· Miniature sandwiches or wraps
· Sticks of mild cheese or rolled up slices of cooked chicken or turkey
[For more travel tips on travel-friendly foods, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
What’s your favourite simple, easy and travel-friendly snack recipe parents can make themselves?
I would recommend my Flapjacks and also the Apple and Carrot Muffin recipes to use when preparing snacks to pack while travelling. The Flapjacks might need to be stored in the fridge prior to packing, but they can be eaten over a couple of days while on-the-go.
What about fussy eaters? What are the best ways to introduce them to foreign foods?
If you struggle to get your children to eat healthily while on holiday, don’t let frustration take over and try not to respond to bad eating habits. Let your child be hungry sometimes. A hungry child is often a less fussy child. Your child will soon find there’s not much point making a fuss if you don’t react.
A good way to introduce your child to foreign foods and get their palates prepared for different flavours when travelling internationally is to get them excited about the new things they will try in advance. Before travelling, try making food similar to what they might be having whilst away. Make an adventure of what is to come!
Be a good role model. Children will learn far more from what your actions than from your words. If your children see you eating and enjoying a range of colourful, nutritious food they will be more likely to do give things a go themselves.
Are there particular cuisines that tend to be healthier than others?
A good [way to judge] the nutritional merits of a meal is to go by colour. More often than not, the more colourful a plate of food, the healthier it is. A plate of predominantly yellow and beige food is not going to provide you with many nutrients compared to a plate bursting with greens, oranges and reds.
Asian foods can be full of different vegetables and can often be less carbohydrate heavy than Western dishes, but it important to get a good balances and include a lot of variety in what your children are eating. Stir fries are often good as they tend to contain lots of vegetables and Japanese food tends to be a good source of tasty fish and essential fatty acids.
[For more travel tips on healthy eating for kids while on family vacation, see the suitcases&strollers interview with a nutritionist here.]
Are cooking classes for kids while on holidays a good way to introduce them to new foods and new ways of eating?
Yes, absolutely. Cooking classes are a fantastic way to introduce them to new foods and flavours and get them enthusiastic about food in general. Sometimes learning about something away from mum and dad can also make them more likely to try something without making a fuss.
Most children love cooking and it’s amazing how being involved in the planning and preparing of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite. Children also like a bit of independence when it comes to food, so going to a class is a great way to let them do something on their own and they can proudly show you their efforts once they have finished (if it is not all eaten before you get there!).
Should parents get hung up on nutrition when they travel with their kids or should they just let go and enjoy the holiday?
You need to have a balance. Whilst being away from home does not mean that meal time structure and healthy eating habits need to completely disappear, it also does not mean you have to stick with your routine completely.
Going somewhere new and exciting is a great opportunity to experiment a little with food and make trying new foods a fun experience. This may mean that a few more treat foods are allowed in, but it is important to highlight that these are treats and not every day foods.
What is your personal favourite food memory from travelling with your kids?
I remember one April Fool’s Day that we played a trick on Lara. We were skiing and we were having lunch in a restaurant outside on the slopes. She ordered lemon sorbet but we got a glass bowl from the waiter and made two scoops of snow and put a mint leaf on top. It was interesting as she ate several spoonfuls before she realised that something was wrong!
What is your worst personal experience of food while traveling with kids?
We were in France and we had this clip on high chair. We clipped the high chair on to the table but it was quite wobbly and I had to keep my arms on the table to stabilise it. Unfortunately I’m quite used to gesticulating with my hands and I completely forgot about Nicholas in the high chair. The whole table fell over and luckily my husband caught Nicholas. I remember that we beat a hasty retreat as it was a lovely country restaurant with lots of couples and I think we rather ruined the atmosphere!
[For travel tips on how to eat in expensive restaurants with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
What are your top 3 tips for happy, tantrum-free meals while on family holidays with kids?
· With different time zones and long journey times, little ones can get tired which doubles your chances of getting a fractious tot at mealtimes. Try to make meal times earlier and watch out for their energy levels.
· If you are in a new place, there can be lots of distractions all around you. Don’t worry too much if your child would rather take in their surroundings than eat a full plate. It is far better to encourage and praise the good behaviour and ignore the bad.
· It’s probably a good idea to take a few foods that your child loves with you on holiday like a box of their favourite (healthy) cereal or something like Marmite to spread on toast in the morning if that’s what they enjoy (and it’s something that lasts and is easy to transport). For babies it’s probably a good idea to stock up on some of their favourite baby puree pouches for travelling.
Images: Annabel Karmel MBE