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Surviving Family Travel with Picky Eaters

Matt Villano

You don’t have to be a fan of Anthony Bourdain to understand how important good grub is to great travel. In a new city? Try the food! Exploring unfamiliar countryside? Swing by a Greasy Spoon for a slice of pie and a slice of life.

When the grown-ups are traveling solo (read: sans kids), embracing this approach is easy. With kids, however—especially when those kids are picky eaters—it can be virtually impossible.

I’ll confess: Our older girl can be a picky eater. And on a recent trip, after four consecutive meals of scrambled eggs, I nearly went berserk. The experience inspired me to buck up and take charge of her eating on the road. So I asked around (experts, other parents, etc.), and I culled the following strategies for surviving an overly discerning palate when we travel as a clan. 

Bring it with you
The easiest way to placate the picky eaters in your family is to bring with you some of their favorite foods. If your kids love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for instance, bring bread in a Ziploc and little portable packets of PB and J to apply upon request. If they prefer to snack on Cheerios, pour those into snack-sized vessels and bring those, too. Of course the best scenario is a road trip—then you can schlep any number of grocery items as you go.

Ship it
If long flights and bulging suitcases make it difficult to bring food, you also can ship it to your destination—essentially creating a care package for, well, yourself. Pack the box before you leave home and drop it at the local UPS Store on your way to the airport. If you’re lucky, the package will arrive at your destination the next morning, just in time for breakfast (or at least in time for lunch).

Another option for feeding picky eaters on the road is to get creative. This strategy is about as open-ended as they come. If your kids like the hotel’s room-service version of chicken tenders and you’ve got the budget, go for it. If you’ve spotted a local supermarket around the corner and you can talk the concierge into sending up a mini-fridge, hit the carts. Flying by the seat of one’s pants on this issue usually works. If you can pull it off on a family trip, more power to you.

Take the hard line
Of course if all else fails—or if you’re determined to break your kid of his or her picky eating habits—you could always play it stern. This means no concessions, no adjustments and no kowtowing, period. Under this strategy, if your child doesn’t want to eat (insert unfamiliar food here), the child simply doesn’t eat. It might be miserable for a day or two, but eventually, the kid will crack. 

What strategies have worked for y’all when you’ve traveled with picky little eaters? Have I missed any viable solutions? Leave a comment and let us know.