My 19-month-old has turned into a picky eater. Although I meet moms every day who are going through the same, frustrating phase, it’s still stressful for most moms worried their child isn’t getting enough to eat. No matter how many doctors tell you it’s fine, or how many books you read saying this is just a phase and “kids will eat when they’re hungry,” it doesn’t much ease our minds.
So, when my son, Luca, and I accompanied my husband on a work trip to London recently – we spent the following week in Ireland for vacation – my son’s picky eating habits cast a pall over the trip. How was I supposed to feed him sufficiently in a tiny hotel room? He barely eats meat – so am I supposed to feed him pasta every night at dinner? Even if I went to the store to buy some kid-friendly food, much of the pre-made toddler food sold in those countries are full of meat or fish – so likely, Luca won’t touch it. What if he was so out of his comfort zone, being in a different country, that he was turned off to all food? How could we go out to dinner as a family since, not only is he a picky eater, he won’t sit still in restaurants these days, either?
In the end, we opted to rent an apartment for the week instead of a hotel room, which not only had two bedrooms for baby and parents, but also had a kitchen and a lot of space for Luca to play. I also took up valuable real estate in my suitcase to bring some of his reliable standby foods made by good-ole Gerber – Graduates for Toddlers Lil’ Entrees (they have veggies and the only meat he will eat is in these meals), and their Pasta Pickups. He ended up eating a lot of bread, fruit and yogurt – and pasta here and there – but never once seemed to send the message: “Mama – I’m starving!”
It was, in the end, a learning experience for me – albeit not without stress – but one in which I still tried to tell myself: “It will be OK, he will eat when he’s hungry – even if he doesn’t quite know what he’s eating.”
Here are some tips I learned from traveling with a picky toddler that I hope can help you as you navigate this frustrating phase with your child, as well!
1. Bring some familiar food. The Pasta Pickups and other meals I brought were a godsend, not only because I knew Luca would eat it (even though they have vegetables and meat!), but I think it brought a little bit of familiarity back to him while staying in strange hotels, bed & breakfasts, and other places for two weeks. I even brought a meal to a restaurant in Galway, Ireland, with me, and hesitantly asked the waitress to heat it up for me after Luca rejected the first three options we offered him from our plates.
2. If possible, choose to stay in a place with a refrigerator and microwave, at the very least; a kitchen is, of course, ideal. I was able to buy groceries and make Luca pasta, toast, and other meals I otherwise would not have been able to because we stayed in an apartment with a kitchen. I could also store reliables like yogurt. Not only did it make more foods available for him to eat, it also saved us a lot of money! (Hint: Vacation Rentals By Owner – vrbo.com – is a great resource when looking for places to stay for more than a few days.)
3. If you’re staying in a hotel, opt for the buffet breakfast, where available. The buffet breakfast at the hotel we stayed at in Dublin, Ireland, was fantastic, since there was a plethora of food we could offer Luca to make sure he at least ate a good, hearty breakfast. You also may get more for your money than going out for breakfast (especially if you have to buy several different breakfast foods after having your picky eater reject each and every one). Plus, I was able to stash away a banana or two from the buffet for Luca to eat later during our travels.
4. Have a lot of snacks on hand. While traveling around London and Ireland during the day with Luca, I always brought snacks in my bag – snacks from home (familiar items like animal crackers and yogurt melts), and snacks I bought there (veggie puffs and sticks, which he loved!). If you meet fellow moms on your travels that are native to that country, ask what snacks are popular with their kids at the local markets or stores. Then at least you know the snack has traction among some of the local toddler community. My mind was at ease that no, he would not starve.
5. When going out to eat, ask the waiter/waitress what they can make for kids, even if there’s not a separate menu. We had several waiters in London and Ireland tell us that their cooks could make kid staples like pasta or chicken fingers, or grilled cheese, even though it wasn’t on the menu. This gives you more restaurant options, instead of hopping from one to another, looking for a good kids’ menu (like we did). Just ask the waiter or host/hostess what’s available if you find a restaurant mom and dad don’t want to pass up.
6. Relax. It’s obviously easier said than done, and I still haven’t mastered the craft (many moms can’t!). But keep reminding yourself that they will eat when they’re hungry, and, hopefully, this, too, shall pass!
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