Theodora Sutcliffe / TravelsWithANineYearOld.com
Theodora Sutcliffe's son, Zac, prepares to gobble up some ice cream during their round-the-world travels. Kids are often willing to try unusual flavors packed in ice cream.
At home, American kids often balk at any dish beyond chicken nuggets and PB&J, only to surprise parents by diving mouth-first into exotic cuisine while traveling. Surrounded by new sights, sounds, smells and tastes, children’s ideas of “normal” are challenged and they are often more willing to try new foods on the road.
With limited options, children are sometimes willing to eat a new dish out of sheer hunger. Other times, they see local kids gobbling up escargot or sushi, and therefore take a bite, too. Or they get so swept up in the thrill of eating something outlandish, they chomp right into a fried cricket and then giggle with delight when Mom and Dad recoil.
Theodora Sutcliffe, author of TravelswithaNineYearOld.com, has been on a round-the-world tour with her now 11-year-old son, Zac, for more than two years. During their travels, Sutcliffe says, Zac has sampled such unusual eats as camel, dragonflies, grubs, snake, raw oysters, foie gras, eel and, “lots of different types of innardy things.”
Not all children would be as adventurous as Zac, of course. Sutcliffe suggests parents open the door to adventurous eating in a foreign locale by starting with the sweet stuff. She recommends loading up on unusual fruits at the local market or heading to the gelato shop to taste crazy flavors.
Fun-looking and colorful foods also appeal to traveling children. Keryn Means, who blogs at WalkingOnTravels.com, says, “On a trip to Kyoto last spring, my then 20-month-old son sat with us at a sushi bar watching the conveyor belt go round and round. Suddenly he perked up and pointed at a plate. It was a roll filled with nothing but salmon roe (large fish eggs). We shrugged and grabbed the plate for him. He demolished it in no time, making happy sounds and even saying ‘yummy, yummy’ as he let each salty bubble burst in his mouth.”
Keryn Means / WalkingOnTravels.com
Keryn Means' 20-month-old son gobbled up salmon roe while on a trip to Kyoto, Japan, last spring.
Family doctor turned childhood feeding specialist Dr. Katja Rowell advises parents to model tasting something new in front of children. Sharlene Earnshaw, mom of 5-year-old twins and editor-in-chief of the family travel site Trekaroo.com, did just that when traveling through the Sonoran Desert. “I decided to order cactus to accompany my entree," she says. "My kids were worried that I would have a tongue full of thorns, but once the waiter brought out my meal and my children saw it looked like squash, they were eager to try cactus for themselves.”
Tara Kennedy-Kline, a blogger and family coach at MultilevelMom.com, has had great success getting her boys (ages 11 and 13) to taste new foods on vacation by holding crazy food-eating contests. Whichever family member eats the most outrageous item at each meal earns bragging rights and a few bucks to spend on souvenirs.
Kennedy-Kline has encouraged her sons to further expand their gastronomic horizons by creating wacky food reports. They take photos of the unfamiliar foods tasted during their travels and paste them to a poster board to share with classmates after returning home. Their mom says this has been particularly effective, “because they are so excited about grossing out their friends.”
Whatever you do, Rowell says parents should avoid a food stand-off, which could take away from the fun of vacation. It is tempting to insist children take at least one bite of new foods, but she warns this may have the opposite effect. “Abundant research shows that pressuring kids to try new foods backfires,” she says. This is especially true of extremely picky eaters. These children, Rowell says, tend to be, “stubborn, cautious and don’t like to be told what to do.”
For more tips for getting picky eaters to try new foods on the go or at home, check out Rowell’s site TheFeedingDoctor.com.
How do you get your kids to try new foods? Tell us about it on Facebook.
More on TODAY Travel
- Author visits 'endangered' national parks — with family in tow
- Families booking vacation rentals as alternative to hotels
- Farm stays offer homegrown fun for families
- Video: 'Around the World in 80 Plates'