A Million Meals

Caring for children in today's confusing food environment

Eating Around the World: Food and Travel with Children

Facing down--and relishing--the challenges of travel food.

The many joys and challenges of traveling with children have been exhaustively documented by weary parents: the particular pleasure that struck me on our last trip was seeing and experiencing travel from my children's perspective. I recognize this is a hackneyed parenting cliché: children's innocence allows us to see the world afresh, and all that. But like many overworked ideas, this one is worth revisiting, as it provides insight into how one behaves as a parent, and also into how one could do it better and more happily. And I also found the experience tied quite neatly into my philosophy of raising and feeding kids: there's an incalculable benefit to freshness and new perspectives. Being wrenched out of your routine and thrust into unfamiliar territory can be the best thing to happen to all of you, your appetites included.

At the outset of our latest vacation, seasoned traveler though I fancied myself, I was shocked how much a fish out of water I felt. Not speaking the language, too cheap to activate my iPhone internationally (never making that mistake again), and battling a stomach bug that campaigned mercilessly through all four of us in turn, I felt uncomfortable and unsettled in a way I'd utterly failed to anticipate. It took every ounce of control and calm I possessed to overcome the travel anxiety threatening to consume me. And the trip itself was fraught with unexpected obstacles and missteps, like all family vacations: triumphantly boarding a train out of the city, for example, after an hour searching for the correct ticket machine, only to realize as it pulled away from the station that it wasn't our train after all, and we had no idea where it was headed. We handled that particular stomach-churning moment rather well, I think, convincing ourselves for our children's sake to stay calm and demonstrate how to handle adversity without falling apart. Now, if only I could pull that off on a daily basis...

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Which brings me to my point: if we could find the adventure in each day rather than merely dragging along through deadening routines, could we locate that inner resolve and fortitude that can seem so hard to remember in our daily lives? The same attitude can make eating abroad--even with picky children--an adventure rather than a hassle. Of course, unforeseen circumstances can wreak havoc with ambitious culinary aspirations (we thought our kids were being unreasonably picky before we realized they were, in fact, sick), but that aside, being away from your staple meals can open up new vistas for your children and shake you out of your buttered-noodle rut. 

The trick to eating meal after meal away from home is to balance the new with what you know your kids will eat: in our case, that usually meant "fried calamari plus." Plus lamb kebabs one day. Plus savory, cinnamony Stifado stew another. Plus small, buttery tiropites. Plus fried chickpeas. Sometimes the calamari grew tiresome and it became simply "good bread and olive oil plus"...Some of the additions met with rave reviews and repeats, while others were one-offs, rejected with scorn and upturned noses. But no one starved, and their repertoire of tastes expanded--not a lot, but just enough to make us feel the trip had led to an expansion of possibilities.

In parenting, as in life, a change of perspective often inspires positive changes, so whether you need to leave your country, your hometown, or even just your old routines to gain that perspective, get out and do it. You, your kids, and your attitude all stand to benefit.

Have you ever shaken yourself out of a rut in your parenting? Or your cooking? How?

What I cooked this week:

  • Braised Eggplant with Pine Nuts: crazy delicious!
  • Couscous with Dates (The Essential New York Times Cookbook)
  • Cold Poached Salmon with Cucumber-Mint Yogurt (Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)
  • Coconut Rice Pudding with Lime Syrup (The Essential New York Times Cookbook): rich, creamy, and very tart with the syrup.
  • Kohlrabi with Horseradish Cream (Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone): a rare, unqualified disaster that ended up in the trash. Does kohlrabi ever get tender?
  • Macaroni and Cheese: tried and true, this one is the best. Make in individual ramekins.
  • Sautéed Lacinato Kale with Garlic

Zanthe Taylor, M.F.A., is a former dramaturg and English teacher who is currently raising two daughters in Brooklyn, NY.

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