Top Tips: Children And Foreign Food

22/05/2012 16:08 | Updated 22 May 2015

When I was growing up our annual trip to France to visit my aunt was a culinary highlight. We would wend our way along the back roads stopping off for a fizzy Orangina in a dusty, sun drenched café and feasting on buttery croissants and crisp, fresh bread for breakfast.

In contrast my own boys regard anything that doesn't come in a box they recognise from the cupboards at home with deep suspicion. I will never forget trying to hunt out ingredients my son would eat in tiny, ill-stocked Italian supermarkets on our first holiday with child in rural Perugia.

Eventually the poor boy ended up subsisting on breadsticks and yoghurt, though he did get his first taste of ice cream so it wasn't an entirely wasted trip. The problem is that holidaying with picky eaters adds yet another layer to the hell that is travelling with children.

While my boys are in seventh heaven in America, where they revel in the diet of junk food that makes up every children's menu in the States, take them to Europe and they instantly turn their noses up at the gastronomic treats their Continental peers seem to lap up, clamouring for the safe choices of chips and nuggets.

Many is the time when I have looked down a menu in France and despaired, as there is literally nothing my sons will eat. The combination of a protracted restaurant dinner and a starving six year old almost always ends in tears – more often than not mine.

As the summer holiday is almost upon us I want to find a way to get my boys to enjoy the pleasures of exploring new foods, rather than fuelling up from the bread basket as we shovel down our meal quickly enough to avert a full scale restaurant rebellion. Not least because I don't want to fuel the other diner's prejudice against British brats.

I asked Fi Bird, a mother of six and author of Kids Kitchen (Barefoot Books, 2009), for her advice on what can be done to get picky eaters to expand their horizons on holiday.

"You can prepare your children for foreign holidays by giving them a book to read or telling them stories about the country you are going to visit, as there is usually a section devoted to food", she advises. "You can also point out ingredients from overseas so they are familiar with the foods they might be offered.

"Picnics are a good way to introduce new foods; with a break in the normal routine with bite sized portions and in a general spirit of adventure a child might well try different foods", she suggests.

It also helps if you aren't picky about your food, as children learn by example, so if you insist on egg and chips at every meal, you can't expect your child to lap up the paella.

Bird also says it's important for us to remember how scary new tastes can be for children. "Research says that a child may taste a food 10 times before eventually accepting it and we mustn't forget how distressing the fear of an unknown taste may be. When presented with a sheep's eye for the first time, would an adult open his or her mouth wide?" she says.

If your children do refuse to try anything out of the ordinary then don't panic. They will eat when they are hungry and there is no point in turning a meal out into a battle. "Avoid food crabbiness by allowing children some freedom at a hotel or restaurant table, and persevere at another, less stressful time", advises Bird.

So it seems that the key to stress free meal times is to relax and be patient. And if all else fails give in and order them that portion of chips. After all you are on holiday.

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