Just because your child only eats cheese sandwiches at home, travelling to countries with more exotic cuisines doesn't have to cause a hunger strike. Travel tends to open the culinary minds of the fussiest people (adults included). And if it doesn't, most countries will have dishes available to appease simple palates.
The travel effect
For many children, being removed from their everyday environment can make them more open to eating new foods. Strange-coloured sauces, spices or alien-looking vegetables that would never have a chance in your own kitchen are more easily accepted in a new setting, particularly when local kids are eating and enjoying these things.
For children as well as adults, travel brings a sense of adventure that can open the tastebuds as much as the mind. A vibrant market where food is on display is a great place to cash in on this effect – my son for example, who rarely ate anything besides cereal and pasta at home, happily snacked on spicy fried crickets when I took him to a Mexican market. ‘They're kind of like potato chips,’ he said.
Tricks for picky eaters
But what if travel has the opposite effect? What if, say, you're in a Hindu country where cows are sacred and all your child wants to eat is a hamburger? This is a good time for the one-bite rule. When trying a new cuisine, explain to your kids that this is what people eat in this country then make a rule that they need to try just one bite. If they don't like it, they don't have to eat anymore, but if they do, they may just find a new favourite food. Without trying it, they'll never know what they're missing.
Games are also helpful in this situation. Try having your kids close their eyes as you offer them one small bite of a new food. Let them guess what it is or what's in it. Starting with sweet things or foods you know they're likely to enjoy can pave the way for more challenging treats or even – yes, it's possible – spicy foods.
If you have cooking facilities, preparing new foods with your kids before you set out and try them in a restaurant can help familiarise them with new flavours.
When all else fails
The one-bite rule has resulted in chewed up bits of food spat out on the counter and that McDonald’s down the road is looking more and more appealing. Don't give up yet. Fussy eaters are found around the world and every culture has a plain staple food to nourish them. Rice and pasta are found in most places, but other destination-specific carbs like taro root (found in the Pacific and Asia) or cassava (South America, Africa and Asia) are easy wins.
Fruits are usually welcomed by kids and are full of vitamins. Tourist areas will most likely have restaurants with children's menus that include Western favourites, but even the most remote non-Western village will have parents who understand. Ask the locals for their help and you'll find foods your kids will eat and perhaps make some friends in the process.
Bringing it back home
Kids can quickly forget that they ate fried crickets on their travels and go straight back to their standard cheese sandwich diet. But there are a few ways to maintain that exotic food glow (even if crickets don't become part of your home repertoire). Did they eat spicy curries or salsas on the trip? Try adding a few more spices at home. Was there a new dish your child fell for while away? Try making a version of it.
You could also introduce foods from other cuisines every now and then, explain where the food comes from, and continue with the one-bite rule at home. You may find your fussy eater expanding their food horizons far beyond what they ate while abroad.
This article was published in September 2012 and refreshed in January 2013.