Traveling With A Picky Eater

Before we left Canada I was worried about finding food my six year old would eat in Asia.  I had a picky eater on my hands.  My oldest son has a very particular idea of what tastes good to him and has a love of things plain and starchy.  He does not like to try new things and usually will decide on looks alone whether or not he likes something.

We have a rule in our family that all things must be tried once.  If you don’t like it after one bite you don’t have to eat it but you do have to try it.  Our friends call this the No Thank You Bite.  I like that.

Our first week into our trip no one in our family felt like getting adventurous with our food.  We were in Hong Kong and I was suffering from horrible jet lag and culture shock.  We all craved familiarity and we ate at the golden arches more often than I care to admit.

Our second week we were feeling much better in Penang and Mike and I were determined to get our children enjoying Indian food.  Instead they took their No Thank You Bites and they ate a whole lot of naan and plain rice.  Luckily we had a kitchen in our apartment and were able to prepare proper breakfasts and snacks.  Mangos, bread, and eggs to the rescue!

On the bus trip from Penang to Thailand with the well traveled Miller family, our driver stopped for lunch at a mall. We all trucked up to the third floor food court while we chuckled at the fact that our driver would think we would be needing western chain restaurants to fill our bellies.  We walked around the food court and my kids refused to eat anything.  Embarrassment of embarrassments our family trucked back down to the first floor.  Mike and I hung our heads in shame as we once again scarfed down at McD’s.

Time to get serious.  We needed our kids to eat the local food or get malnourished trying!  We laid down the law that when we went out to restaurants we would only order Thai food.  We started with things we knew they would love because we had had them back home.  Chicken satay, spring rolls, and Tom Ka became our mainstays.

If nothing else, the spring rolls will always get eaten!

Our next step in our food exploration was to order our sure-thing items and also add in one dish that we had never tried before.  The kids had to take a No Thank You Bite and low and behold they actually liked some of the dishes!  Stir fried broccoli in oyster sauce, stir fried mixed vegetables, fried rice, fat noodles in Thai gravy, and udon noodles are now crowd pleasers.

Vegetable fried rice. Yum!

They have come a long way in our six weeks of traveling.  Every week we find new things that they enjoy as well as quite a few that they don’t.  But the important thing is that they are trying new things and exploring the cuisine of Thailand.  Now every once in a while we even let them order something western at a restaurant!

One of the things that greatly helped in this process was having our own kitchen to cook in.  We don’t have to eat every meal out and I can cook family favourites like breakfast for dinner, spaghetti, or veggie sandwiches.  This has allowed the kids to get the familiarity they crave and I think it helps them to be more willing to try new things when we are out.  We are even branching out and adding some Thai meals at home.  Tonight we made our first Masaman curry and added enough coconut milk to even out the spice.  The kids loved it and I now have something new to add to my cooking repertoire back home!

Have you traveled with picky eaters?  What did you do?



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  1. Renee says:

    Good for you, Amy! I think it’s terrific how you’re easing the boys into trying new things, and taking the time to find Thai foods they like. It looks like they are making wonderful progress.

    I’m fortunate in that my daughter has always been a bold and enthusiastic eater of anything and everything, but I see a lot of parents with picky eaters who just shrug and acquiesce to a diet of french fries and mac & cheese. I love that you’re challenging the boys. You’re a great mom. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Miller says:

    Hurray for Lan and Kayden!!

    They have been SUCH troopers and I can’t believe how much they are eating now!! I love that you’ve adopted our “No Thank You Bite!”

    Can’t wait to get home and see you guys tomorrow!

  3. Andrea Chisholm says:

    Thanks for your post! We are soon to head out for a year in Asia with a very picky eater too. At home I have it sussed what he will eat and it isn’t a problem – so I wonder how he will go. We start in Thailand and I’m happy that generally a full range of food will be available there (including western if need be), but then we move on to live in Bhutan. The good part of this is we will be living there with a kitchen of our own and we can prepare similar foods to home – if the favourite ingredients are available – avocados in Bhutan???
    Your children are doing so well and your fairly gentle approach is giving them a chance to grow in their own time, you just can’t push a fussy eater!

    1. worldschooled says:

      I wonder how Bhutan will be for you. I’d be interested to hear if familiar food is available. I’m sure there will be lots of imports from India and if nothing else you should be able to get lots of rice and fruit.

  4. Living Outside of the Box says:

    Yay! Good for you guys! I’m eager to see how my kids react. They’ve learned to like Chinese food, and I do like to cook some “Thai” food at home (who knows how authentic it is!?!)…they almost always complain about it. Let’s pray they will at least fall in love with the mango sticky rice I hear so much about!

    When traveling in Mexico we found a few staple foods they would eat: pancakes, spaghetti, eggs, rice, beans, and corn tortillas. Yup–that was just about it. Sometimes that’s all you can do!

    And I love the idea of ordering tried-and-true, and throwing in an unknown, so they get a chance to fall in love with something else, too! Great idea–I’ll use it!

    1. worldschooled says:

      The will definitely like the Mango and sticky rice, so good! Just keep trying them on new things. I think the fact that for the first bit at least they will be surrounded by other kids will help them. When they see the other kids eating new things they will want to try it too.

  5. Jo Holland says:

    We’ve really struggled on our travels with a picky eater, three of us will eat whatever but one of us will only eat familiar, simple foods. We’ve had many stressful meal times trying to find somewhere that satisfies all of us, is somewhat healthy and doesn’t break the bank. We’ve decided that as a family rule we will try McDonalds once in every country we go to. It’s worked really well, once we’ve been, that’s it. We try to use it as a lunch stop too as we all tend to eat less then.
    I think we’ve also had to change our mindset of what constitutes a meal. In Paris we found ourselves nibbling on baguettes and delicious cakes rather than having set meals and as long as I knew there were a few pieces of fruit thrown in during the day I was fine.
    This was such a refreshing blog post to read, I’m stealing the No Thank You Bite!

    1. worldschooled says:

      I wish you luck. Definitely use the No Thank You Bite rule, it has helped our kids find so much that they like (and don’t like!)

  6. tereza says:

    My kids are really not picky eaters but they do go through phases were they refuse to eat a certain food in preference of another. So here is my question to you: “what do you do when they don’t eat and half an hour later they are hungry?”

    1. worldschooled says:

      They pretty much always eat. I will always find something for them. And funnily enough no matter how much they eat at dinner they are always hungry half and hour later. Growing boys are expensive to keep fed!

  7. Donna Novis says:

    Lovely to read about a family who enjoy travelling together and who visit so many exciting destinations.

  1. The World Is Our Teacher | Worldschool Adventures says:

    […] ate and enjoyed food that we were unaccustomed […]

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