By some measures my kids are adventurous eaters. Edamame have always figured prominently in their diets, and they have specific requests when visiting sushi restaurants (“May I please have a bowl of Miso soup with extra tofu, no ‘escallions,’ and a bowl of rice with a small bowl of tobiko on the side?” has been my older son’s standard order since he could speak full sentences. His brother, a.k.a. “Me Too,” has followed suit.) Oh, and they only eat hot dogs when we are camping (must be impaled on a stray tree branch and roasted to a crisp over a camp fire, and there must be s’mores at the ready for dessert.
But there are also lots of droughts in their adventure seasons. They tend to get stuck in the rut of “kid foods” more often than I care to admit. I’m not, as I’ve revealed in this space before, the world’s most reliably good cook. There are days when it “happens,” and days when my husband and kids politely thank me for making dinner as we scrape the inedible mush into the trash and help ourselves to bowls of cereal as consolation. But I am a lover of great food. And I want my kids to be, too.
So we have always treated vacations as a prime opportunity to force our kids to dine outside the box. And, because they know this rule, they also know that we can pull it out of our pockets at any time (we are, after all, the parents) and lay it on them in a local restaurant during a school vacation, special occasion, or just a one-hour “vacation” from the house.
To wit: We recently visited the Seafood Buffet at Deer Valley Resort not far from where we live, where my sons had the opportunity to try rather sophisticated menu items in a relaxed setting. We told them that it was a “vacation rules” moment, and they hit the ground running.
Here are 8 “vacation rules” that may work for your family:
1. Try at least one new food a day
During vacations our kids have to try at least one new food per day, sometimes two, depending on lunch and dinner plans.
2. Enjoy one of your favorite foods all day
We also have an “it’s vacation, so it’s all-you-can-eat-ice-cream week” rule. That is, if the opportunity for ice cream arises once, or even twice, a day, our kids get some. (Which means, generally, that they only want it once a day – and we try for lunch to avoid the pre-bedtime sugar rush). This can apply to any dessert, of course. We’re very fair that way.
3. Go to sleep or don’t eat
Sleep patterns determine restaurant success. When you’re traveling stick to routines wherever possible, unless there is a really good reason. If that reason is, say, the circus, or a late reservation at the restaurant everyone said we must try, then a mandatory, mid-afternoon siesta is enforced.
4. Try fine dining at least once
Expect your kids to be kids, but also to rise to the occasion of fine dining at least once on the trip. This means seeking out kid-friendly fine-dining options, like a high-end buffet (I promise that’s not an oxymoron) or a restaurant with a specific theme that might engage them. I like to call ahead and talk to the maitre’d to see if there is a sympathetic “we are all parents, too, and we applaud your refusal to eat Kraft dinners every night” vibe or a snooty “we don’t have high chairs” response.