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Dining Out with the Small Fry

So you're on a Caribbean island for a week with the kids and you've promised them a fancy dinner out under the stars. You go early to avoid the mad dinner rush and everything's going smoothly until your six-year-old's fish dinner arrives. "What kind of fish is it?" you ask the smiling waitress. "Dolphin," she answers. The six-year-old looks sadly down at his plate and shakes his head. If he's the sensitive type, he might burst into tears. "I can't eat it," he says. "It's my favorite animal." No matter that the dolphin fish is quite different from the mammal he's seen swimming that day at the aquarium. No amount of coaxing will bring around his appetite. As usual, dining out while on holiday has thrown yet another sinkhole you weren't expecting.

This actually happened to us some years ago while down south. Although some kids seem nonplussed about eating strange foods-we know one ten-year-old who enjoyed eating alligator on holiday-there are many who refuse even the slightest change from their regular menus. We met one junior extremist who actually staged a hunger strike while vacationing in the Dominican Republic; she refused to eat anything but French fries for an entire week. Our kids are usually pretty good about at least trying new foods, but our three-year-old Natalie erupted into tantrums in France over mustard (it was way too hot) and hot dog buns (way too crusty) and apple juice (it was cider). "I want my own mustard," she wailed.

Even the best eaters, especially young ones, may demand certain foods that they love in no uncertain circumstances-to no avail. We once spent hours searching in Jamaica for almost nonexistant cartons of milk. When we finally made a special bus trip into a certain supermarket in a specific part of town (where we had heard from our housekeeper they sometimes sold cow's milk), the product tasted so strange to the kids' taste buds that they refused to drink it. We would have been better off to milk the goat tied up behind our house. If you're staying at big resorts, then ketchup and hot dogs are not a problem. But if, like us, you want to save money by shopping and cooking, or want to sample the culture by tasting the local cuisine, then dinner could become disaster.

Happily, there are ways to alleviate at least some of the tension brought on by menu stress.

A MOVEABLE FEAST: We have travelled with whole flight bags stuffed with jars of peanut butter, boxes of Kraft dinner, a sampling of granola bars, bread sticks, crackers and juice boxes. As long as you're not bringing meats or fresh fruits and vegetables, it's usually allowed. A friend of mine brings a whole Christmas dinner down south in a green garbage bag-ham in a tin, pineapple rings, rice, Christmas pudding-it's sustenance the kids know well. It also helps to bring along familiar dishes, cups, cutlery, etc. from home. It may sound ridiculous but for a preschooler, a piece of weird fish will taste better in his own dish. We still travel with a set of plastic cups, thermal coffee mugs, bowls and Swiss army knives complete with corkscrew and can opener and it's amazing how often we use them.

CULTURE SHOCK: Another thing that works well is to bring home food from that part of the world well before we travel there. Find a restaurant that makes Jamaican jerk chicken, steak and kidney pie, or Mexican fajitas and ask them if you can take home a sampling of their menu items. I also scour the supermarket for foods that may have pictures of the Eiffel Tower on a packet of toasts, or pictures of clams on a tin of clam chowder. I rent tapes from the library of accordian music or fiddle music, whatever's appropriate, and we have a feast. The kids still may not like what you've presented, but at least they're prepared for it.

FRIENDLY CHEFS: The other solution is to hire a housekeeper while on holiday. Most who cook for the tourists know the kinds of foods kids will eat. And most tourist areas now have pizzerias, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or Mcdonald's. Caribbean islands have bakeries, and fruit ladies, and juice stands. If you are going to a restaurant, call ahead to let them know that kids are coming; sometimes with enough advance warning, a chef can prepare a special treat.

If every tactic fails, remember that as long as a kid keeps drinking, they'll be O.K. for a few days. I still think of the couple who were stranded in the Arctic after their plane went down. They survived for 22 days on nothing but snow by preparing it in a variety of ways and pretending they were eating the real thing: snow soup one day, snow sandwiches another, snow waffles and so on. Now if only we could do that with the kids and have them imagine that every bite of guacomole or goat stew is a hot dog. Bon appetit!





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