Satisfying little appetites is difficult at the best of times, but what if it's guinea pig on the menu? Will Gray reveals the tricks to expanding young palates
It was a terrifying looking meal. Tasty, but terrifying. Take one bubbling pot of moqueca, a crowded restaurant and two inquisitive five-year-olds, and the only outcome was bound to be dining anarchy.
Joe and Ellie might not have eaten much of the traditional Bahian seafood dish that we’d ordered in a restaurant in Salvador, but they were thrilled with the bits of marine life they dredged from the coconut milk broth. Before you could say “Waiter, there’s an octopus in my soup”, they were attacking each other with dismembered crab claws and innocently unleashing a barrage of shellfish shrapnel at neighbouring diners. It was like a culinary form of rockpooling.
Trying new food is all part of the travel experience – but it’s not always easy with kids. First, there’s the uncertainty with language. Is that spicy? Does it come with chips? Will you end up with frozen fish fingers when you thought you’d asked for ice-lollies?
Breastfed babies, of course, have no qualms about coping with foreign food – they have a familiar, convenient and safe source of nourishment wherever they go. But how do you deal with a fussy feeder on holiday – the kind of child that will consume Cheddar cheese by the wagonload at home but run a mile from a French fondue?
One thing guaranteed to stir their digestive juices is to involve them in the planning and preparation of meals. Self-catering gives you flexibility to do this, while many hotels have buffets where kids can pick and mix.
Another useful weapon in your hunger-busting offensive is to pack some staples, such as soup powders, pasta, cereals, dried fruit and biscuits (children’s multi-vitamins are also a good idea). Try to keep mealtime routines as regular as possible, and remember that travel can naturally affect appetites and unsettle stomachs – force-feeding is often futile.
Ultimately, though, no matter where you go there are simple, indigenous dishes that will appeal to children. Take your kids to Ecuador, for example, and chances are they’ll baulk at spit-roasted guinea pig, but happily devour the many potato-based dishes. Similarly, we’ve come close to mutiny in Africa trying to sneak impala kebabs on to the twins’ plates, but they’ll have no such qualms about a juicy beef steak.
Undoubtedly one of the most challenging times for feeding children on holiday is during flights. Most airlines offer children’s meals if you book them in advance, but it’s a good idea to bring plenty of snacks in case they turn their noses up at what lurks beneath the (often extremely hot) foil cover.
Children’s meals are usually served first. This means you can help them negotiate all those fiddly pots and plastic bags of utensils (which invariably explode like Christmas crackers) before relaxing later with your own haute cuisine.
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Main image: Traditional food sellers, India (Shutterstock.com)