One of our first family holidays was to an island in the Caribbean — an easy hop from New York City with plenty of kid-friendly beach activities and local spots serving up fish-of-the-day and curried rôtis. Unfortunately, at the time we arrived, our toddler son was going through a culinary beige stage and rejecting any new flavour. So instead of risking mealtime tantrums and eye-rolls from our fellow (generally honeymooning) diners, we’d resigned ourselves to a drama-free menu of cereal, cheese sandwiches and cheese pasta.
It was on a boat trip out to the cays that we had a breakthrough. While my son and I splashed around in the sea, my husband and our captain dived for conch, which we took to a deserted beach to prepare in the afternoon sun. When we’d cleaned, prepped and chopped the catch into a citrusy ceviche, our captain handed a few pieces to my son, who ate them without ceremony.
“Was that nice?” I asked, trying to hide my utter joy. “Mmm,” he replied, then went back to building a sandcastle.
A gourmet feast it wasn’t, but I couldn’t help feeling proud and relieved that he’d at least tried something new.
Novelty is one thing you’re absolutely guaranteed to encounter on the road. I use it to lure my boy from his comfort zone on all our travels, along with a host of other tricks to encourage and foster adventurous eating. Read on for my seven best tips, from crafting culinary treasure hunts on city trips to perfecting the foodie sleight of hand wherever you are in the world.
Get a taste before you travel
Kids are creatures of habit, so take some of the surprise out of their vacation menu and introduce new dishes at a local restaurant before you travel. This is easy in cities like New York and London, where you can travel from Little Italy to Chinatown in a few blocks. But you can also set up a restaurant night at home and have the kids research ingredients, draw up a menu and help with some of the prep.
With younger children, get them excited about weird and wonderful food in general and pick up a copy of food critic Joshua Daniel Stein’s beautifully illustrated Can I Eat That?, which is stuffed full of foodie facts and addresses important questions like “Do eggs grow on eggplants?”
A visit to a local food market on Day One is a great way to familiarize your kids with the types of ingredients they’ll encounter over the course of the trip.
When visiting London, for example, combine a trip to the South Bank’s Tate Modern museum and kid-favourite London Eye Ferris wheel with a stop at Borough Market. Here, kids can note regional edibles like hand-collected scallops from Dorset, Cumbria’s prized Galloway beef and prize-winning Cheddar cheeses. As you order new dishes throughout the trip, make a fun game out of having them point out any special ingredients they recognize.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane
Guests at Four Seasons Hotel Santa Fe can join Executive Chef Kai Autenrieth on a tour of a local food market and get acquainted with all the staples of his fiery Southwestern cooking.
Street eats are perfect family fare: fast, casual and available at all hours. In Istanbul, you can pick up a bagel-like simit from one of the carts on virtually every street corner to stave off hungry tantrums, while in Hanoi, children can enjoy the independence of ordering for themselves thanks to the simple picture menus used at most stalls.
The key is that the dining room can be the sidewalk, a scenic walking tour or a bench nearby, which means you won’t have to worry about disturbing diners at the next table. And since street food doesn’t call for proper table manners, you and your family can relax while eating, instead of continually ensuring that everyone is sitting quietly in their chairs.
Combine your street food with a picturesque view by finding a great local picnic spot, like the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia, or Fort Point in San Francisco, California.
Try edible sightseeing
Kids quickly tire from back-to-back rounds of sightseeing, but combining the big attractions with a pre-plotted restaurant crawl around a new city is a perfect way to see the sights and keep everyone fed and happy.
In Hong Kong, Michael Lau and Jacky Cheung, managers at three-Michelin-star Lung King Heen restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, suggest a dining crawl that takes in many of the city’s iconic dishes: Milk tea at Lan Fong Yuen, wonton soup at Mak’s Noodle, dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, tofu custard at Kung Wo Dou Bun Chong and egg tart at Tai Cheong Bakery.
“The key to discovering Hong Kong street food [and thus the country’s culture] is to be a bit adventurous,” says Lau.
Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong
In Paris, score serious brownie points on a small-group chocolate walking tour of the city’s best chocolatiers and patisseries (tastings included), or keep it classic in New York City with a pizza crawl around Manhattan. Four Seasons Hotel New York Concierge Austin Herzing suggests long-time favourite Don Antonio by Starita, which is just four blocks from Times Square and therefore a prime pick for pre- or post-theatre dinners. Farther downtown, Herzing recommends Marta, a popular spot that puts you within snapping distance of the Flatiron Building and busy Madison Square Park, as well as Chef Mario Batali’s upscale pizza restaurant OTTO — perfect after exploring the boutiques and cafés of the nearby West Village.
As parents of picky eaters will attest, playing chef is one sure-fire way to get kids out of their comfort food zone. “Having children involved in food preparation really helps make food less of the enemy,” explains Paulette Lambert, Director of Nutrition at Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, which offers a variety of cookery classes for young ones. “Most kids want to fit in, so they are generally much more adventurous in class than at home.”
At Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi budding chefs don small aprons and chef’s hats and learn the basics of making breads, pastries and other delicacies at the Hotel’s market-inspired Crust restaurant. At Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, the Kids For All Seasons programme gives young ones the chance to make anything from Thai pancakes to cookies.
Four Seasons Hotel Abu Dhabi at Al Maryah Island
Don’t skip the posh restaurants
Travelling with children who are picky eaters doesn’t mean giving up memorable dinners at upscale restaurants. In fact, parents should take advantage of kids’ early-bird mealtime and score a reservation before rush hour at a local hot spot. Add some theatre to the occasion by choosing a restaurant with an open-plan kitchen or chef’s counter, so kids can engage with the team and appreciate just what goes into preparing their meal.
At Four Seasons Hotel Austin’s fine-dining restaurant TRIO, children can order from a dedicated kids’ menu (from a PB&J to grilled white fish with vegetables and rice) and dine with custom dishes and silverware that were specially designed for little hands. Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane offers two children’s menus at its upscale Italian restaurant, Amaranto – the Il Bambino menu for early eaters and one for older diners, with teen-favourite paninis, pasta, pizza and gelato.
Four Seasons Hotel Austin
Alternatively, seek out a family-focused dining club like Nibble + squeak, which hosts popular parent-and-tot meals at some of New York, London and Washington, DC’s best restaurants. The most recent lunch in NYC was a sold-out takeover of Chef Enrique Olvera’s white-hot Cosme restaurant, and there are upcoming events at the President Obama-approved Vermillon in DC, and London’s award-winning Modern Pantry.
Serve their favourites, with local spice
“Como se dice french fries?” Ideally, you don’t say it at all, but if your children won’t stray from their favourites, find the local equivalent. At Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires, for example, Chef Patricia Ramos at Nuestra Secreto restaurant recommends tempting kids with the pacu croquettes, small fillets of fried fish that will seem very familiar to lovers of fish fingers.
Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires
Playing translator can be key to getting kids on board with strange-sounding foods. You might get a “no” to trying chicken roti in the Caribbean, for example, but not if you suggest ordering the chicken wrap – its exact equivalent. Or pitch the “cheese sandwich” instead of an arepa in Colombia, or “pasta” over dumpling-like manti in Turkey.
And remember, wherever you are in the world, ice cream (gelato, kulfi, dondurma, mochi ice cream) is always a hit.
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