Traveling with kids can be stressful. The flights, the car rides, keeping them entertained, the change in routine, change in time zones, and of course: the food.
If you have a picky or selective eater at home, feeding may feel stressful for you quite often – and the thought of traveling with your picky eater may feel overwhelming. You may worry about your child getting enough food, the meltdowns, or how you will go out to new restaurants.
Traveling with a picky eater does not have to be overwhelming. In fact, it can be fun. Whether you are taking a plane, train or automobile, here are 7 tips for traveling with a picky eater and keeping your vacation stress-free.
7 tips for traveling with Picky eaters
1. Know your child’s safe food, and how to obtain your child’s food while traveling
Your selective or fussy eater most likely has a list of safe foods. Those are the foods you know they will most likely eat when offered. Know those foods. Depending on your mode of travel, it may make sense to bring these foods along, or do some research and know where you can obtain them.
Even if you have a child that is more adventurous in their eating, having known snacks on hand can come in very handy when traveling. Think about those simple snacks you can have for your child, and know where to get them when traveling.
2. Don’t stress about what your child is or isn’t eating, and embrace the change in routine
My family recently vacationed on the east coast of the United States. We were in a new time zone, new routine and new modes of transportation (walking, a lot more than my kids were used to). This meant more frequent snacks, more ice cream trucks and less balanced 3 meals per day.
Vacation is not a time to spend energy worrying about your child not meeting their nutrition needs. Remember that a few days, a week, or even a month of your child’s intake is not going to make or break their nutrition. Focus on making sure they have enough, and don’t go hungry. That might not mean 3 balanced meals per day – let go of their intake needing to be perfect.
3. Don’t necessarily use this as a time to try new foods BUT as an opportunity to expose to new foods
This tip may feel contradictory but hear me out When some children travel it’s scary: they are out of their routine and really find comfort in sticking with the familiar, known foods. This is probably not the time to try to expand what they are eating.
BUT, traveling can be a good opportunity to expose your child to something new. Remember, you don’t need to pressure or force them to try something, but it can be fun to show them what else is out in the big world of food that may be different from what you serve at home.
4. You may have to do some prepping and planning
Research is key when traveling with a picky eater. Think about where you will be eating, and what to expect. Check out the menu of local restaurants, or the hotel that you may be dining at. Look into local grocery stores – you can even call and find out what products they stock.
If your child is older, you can talk to them about it as well. Discuss the options and help them to feel empowered by making choices and knowing what to expect.
5. Understand what you have available: kitchen in a rental house? Fridge in a hotel room?
It’s important to understand what you have available when traveling with your picky eater. Will you be staying in a home with a kitchen? A hotel? Do you have a refrigerator? Plan ahead so you know what to expect and there are as few surprises as possible.
6. Traveling with new family and friends? Talk to them beforehand – it will reduce your (and your child’s) anxiety
A client in my private practice recently expressed her anxiety about meeting up with friends and family. She felt worried her son would be judged, or asked to eat foods that he doesn’t find safe – and that it would ruin her vacation.
We talked about prepping family and friends, which can be so important. Let those you are meeting up with or traveling with know what to expect. Explain to them the necessary facts that you want them to know.
That might look like sharing with your extended family that your child has strong preferences so they might be bringing their own food to the family reunion BBQ.
Or telling your family friends that it’s important to rent a house that has certain kitchen amenities.
I find that sharing this information beforehand can lessen anxiety – and also help those around you to understand what might be causing you stress.
ANd if they aren’t understanding, repeat this mantra: it will all be over soon!
7. Remember to have fun: focus on the new memories, scenery, people and places
And finally, have fun! Although you may need to do some prep work, research and put thought into food and traveling with kids, don’t let it stop you from having a great trip. Focus on the new memories, scenery, people and being together as a family.
Remember this: when your child looks back on this trip in 10, 20 or 30 years from now, what do you want them to remember?
There you have it! Seven actionable tips to help feeding be stress-free while traveling with your picky eater. With a little prep work and some planning, you can and will have a wonderful trip – and get to focus your energy on making memories.
Want to dive deeper into having stress-free mealtimes at home? Check out my free guide: 4 steps to help your child try new foods – to help expand what your little one is eating and leave the table with smiles!