Kid-friendly travel tips for food lovers

Larissa Sewell shares some of her tips and tricks for jet-setting with little ones and exploring foreign cuisines, so you can stress a little less, and (hopefully!) savour a few more piña coladas.

WORDS: Larissa Sewell

Before I start, full transparency, this isn’t one of those ‘typing away at a desk’ kind of situations. Nope, I’m sitting right by a lagoon pool in Bali, sipping on a piña colada served in a fresh baby coconut, while my twinnies are having a blast in a game of ‘pool volleyball’. Admittedly, travelling with kids hasn’t always been this stress-free, it is a lot easier now that my boys are 10, they are definitely more ‘seasoned’ travellers and a whole lot more self sufficient.

However, back in pre-COVID days, we travelled frequently with our boys. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all sunshine and smooth sailing; there was a lot of sacrifice and a lot of ‘work hard to play hard’. But we made a conscious choice to whisk our twinnies away on overseas adventures for a couple of months of each year, starting from around the age of two.

I vividly remember our first family trip to Bali, where despite me considering myself to be a pretty laid-back parent (snort!), I was pretty much a nervous wreck. “Don’t put your hands in your mouth, don’t drink the bathwater, wash your hands before eating, don’t lick the floor. For the love of God, do. not. lick. the. floor.”

So with a bit of experience in the realm of kid-friendly travel under my belt and school holiday season here; I thought I’d share some of my trusty tips and tricks for jet-setting with little ones and exploring foreign cuisines, so you can stress a little less, and (hopefully!) savour a few more piña coladas by the lagoon pool. 

Plan ahead

I know, I know; sometimes you wanna live a little and do things on a whim, but sister… listen up. I tell you from the pits of experience, plan ahead, and know your terrain.

Before you head off, do a little google research on the destination’s local food scene. Familiarise yourself with kid-friendly eateries and their menus. There are more and more families travelling that blog about kid friendly foods and destinations, there are apps and online travel guides, it’s a great plan to have a few of these up your sleeve.

I also think it’s a great idea to know your risk-points when travelling, is the water ok to drink? Is it safe to have ice in your drink? Can you brush your teeth with tap water? Do you need to peel fruit before eating it? Trust me when I say that a little planning goes a long way for that extra peace of mind *before* you leave. Another great way of planning ahead if your kids are slightly older, is to research local foods together, start to learn about local flavours and food.

Pack smart

Particularly if you have young children, Irecommend packing a well-stocked snack-pack with some healthy options to keep hunger at bay while on the go. Most commercially packaged foods can be brought into other countries—of course, you must always declare all food to be safe—we always packed the boys oat bars, crackers, those little packets of flavoured fava beans, jerky and different types of dried fruits. My hot tip would be to pack these into a soft cooler bag/lunch box for super easy, grab and go. Then your food items will be in one place when you need to declare them. Bonus is that you can use the cooler bag to keep food cool on day trips.

Once you’ve reached your destination, it’s a great idea to familiarise yourself with your local convenience store or supermarket to grab some kid-friendly essentials: think fresh fruit, cheese, yoghurt, juice and crackers. Oh, one more thing that lives in our snack-pack? Hand sanitiser and wipes.

Food allergies and restrictions

If your child has allergies or dietary restrictions, I highly recommend printing out some allergy cards or a list of restrictions translated into the local language. This is clearly not something to be messed with, and we don’t want to leave anything to be lost in translation. Creating allergy cards in the local language will ensure your child’s specific needs are understood and help create a safe dining experience. Always make sure you’re carrying your allergy plan and any medication that might be needed when overseas.

Get cooking

If you’re staying in an Airbnb, villa or vacation home, you’ll likely have access to a kitchen. I totally understand that the words ‘vacation’ and ‘kitchen’ together in the same sentence isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but hear me out; sometimes the familiarity of home cooked food and a little continuity can be a god send. Preparing breakfast, or cooking something simple (I’m yet to visit a country that doesn’t sell packets of dried pasta) could be just what’s needed to keep your kiddos fed, or to keep your sanity (both, ideally). If you’re feeling adventurous you could experiment with local ingredients, which is a fun way to bond and try new things together. I remember on our first trip overseas with my twinnies, I organised an in-villa cooking class from an amazing local lady in Ubud. It was such a great experience; I could be really clear about what my children would and wouldn’t eat, and let me tell you, we all ate so well.

Food exploration

I am all about encouraging your kidlets to be adventurous eaters, after all, it’s one of the best ways to connect with other cultures and one of the biggest things I look forward to when travelling. A tip here would be to opt for family-style dining or share plates so kids can try small portions of different local dishes. Engaging them in the process of choosing dishes from the menu and trying new things can be such an exciting family activity; use the opportunity to explain the ingredients and flavours, talk about local food customs, how local people eat and what utensils they use.

Hydration heroes

Stay hydrated. Can’t stress this enough, especially in warm destinations. We always carry reusable water bottles with us, the double walled, stainless steel type. We will almost never travel to a country where we will allow the kids to fill up from a tap as even slight changes in water can upset sensitive tummies. I recommend buying large water bottles from a supermarket or convenience store and using that to fill up reusable water bottles daily. Another hydration hero for us is some kind of fruity flavoured electrolyte powder (we use Ultima, but another popular option is Hydralyte). We rarely need to use them, but wouldn’t be caught without them; dehydration is no joke.

Stay flexible

Be prepared for food-related surprises. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, kids might just not like the local fare. Have a backup plan or look for restaurants serving more familiar dishes. French fries and burgers are universal, and fed is best! Have a stash of familiar snacks and comfort foods from home, just in case your child gets a bit homesick. These can be a lifesaver during long flights or in case you’re in the unlikely situation where you can’t find suitable options abroad.

Sweet souvenirs

Cement your experience and bring back food-related souvenirs from your travels. Some things we love to bring home are locally roasted coffee (ok, ok… that’s for me), local spices, fun snacks we’ve found, or a cookbook and recipes (remember to declare everything!). A fun idea might be to create a scrapbook of all the different foods you’ve eaten and places you’ve travelled. It’s such a fun way to relive your food and travel adventures.

Yes, there’s a little more to consider when travelling with kiddos, but trust me when I say that with a little planning and preparation it can be such an enriching experience for both you and your littles. It’s an opportunity to explore new flavours, cultures, and create lasting memories. My boys now have friends all over the world, and have tried all sorts of wonderful cuisines!

I hope my little pocket full of insights help guide you when planning to travel with your kiddos and create unforgettable food experiences. Warning: once you start, it’s impossible to stop – there is so much in this world to explore!

Bon voyage and bon appétit!

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