Travel tips

Readers’ tips: Fussy eaters on holiday

Last updated 17th April 2024

Fussy eaters can make travelling to new places awkward at best, downright impossible at worst. Luckily, Family Traveller readers are on hand to offer their top tips for coping when kids give local dishes the thumbs down.

Tip: Tapas-style food makes eating unfamiliar food far less daunting

Winning tip

Given the option, my children will always choose pasta when presented with a menu. While that’s fine by me, I wouldn’t want them eating it every day of the holiday. I have found that children’s chopsticks (joined together at the top) can be magic in getting my two to try different things. They don’t seem to mind the myriad hidden vegetables or unfamiliar flavours when distracted by the fun of chopsticks. Also, tapas-style food is great as they feel they have a choice when faced with lots of mini plates of food that somehow seem less daunting. This has resulted in shocked parents as both kids have declared their love of squid, mussels and chorizo, all disguised as ‘tapas’. We say try it once, if you don’t like it that’s fine, but at least you can say you have tried it.

Michelle Jump, Wiltshire

More of your great tips

Tip: Join local Facebook groups to find great tips on what to eat

Make sure to research where you’re going. We are a family of vegans, so when we go somewhere new on holiday we join the local vegan Facebook groups where you can find great tips on supermarkets, restaurants and food stalls. We’re going to Malta next summer and have already put together a list of all the amazing places that serve vegan dishes. My seven-year-old, on the other hand, can be reluctant to try new things, although he tends to be more adventurous when given a notebook to write down and rate everything new he’s tried. The rule is that he has to finish his plate in order to give a fair rating.

Emma Kaye, South Wales

Tip: Avoid using force and getting cross

Unsurprisingly, fussy eaters can spoil outings to restaurants and subsequently cause unwanted tension on holiday. I recommend not getting too stressed about it as there will always be something they can eat and they’re not going to starve. We took our young children to an Indian restaurant where they all initially refused to try anything but eventually ended up compromising by eating poppadoms and rice. The fear of being made to try flavours they don’t like is often the problem – get them a drink and encourage them to eat anything familiar. Tell them what the unfamiliar tastes like and give them tiny bits to try on implicit agreement that they don’t have to have more if they don’t like it. The number one rule is to avoid force and getting cross.

Alison Hunter, Lincolnshire

Tip: Persistence is key but avoid punishment or pressure

Just because a child refuses food once, don’t give up. Keep offering new foods and those your child didn’t like before; it can take as many as ten or more times before a toddler’s taste buds accepts certain types of food. Limiting snacks between meals can help ensure your child is hungry when a new food is introduced. If your toddler refuses a meal, avoid fussing over it. It’s good for children to learn to listen to their bodies and use hunger as a guide. If they ate a big breakfast or lunch, for example, they may not be interested in eating much the rest of the day. It’s a parent’s responsibility to provide food, and the child’s decision to eat it. Pressuring kids to eat, or punishing them if they don’t, can make them actively dislike foods they may otherwise enjoy.

Mr Banner, Norfolk

Tip: Ensure that at least one meal involves familiar, hearty ingredients

Try to relax – children generally won’t let themselves starve. We’ve found that opting for one meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) and ensuring that it is full of hearty and familiar ingredients that will fill them up is the key to success while on holiday. We usually go with breakfast – cereal, yoghurt, toast and fruit tend to taste the same everywhere. My daughter hates eating out and will eye any food suspiciously if ‘mummy’ hasn’t made it. So, if possible, try to cook one meal even if it is just pasta and sauce. From experience, never try to tell a stubborn two-year-old that the aubergine he is eyeing suspiciously is his favourite mushrooms – clearing up the regurgitated food in the middle of a restaurant and spending years trying to get him back on mushrooms was not worth it.

Charlotte Marion, Berkshire 

Tip: ‘Translate’ dishes on the menu to resemble food from back home

If we were eating out abroad when our girls were little, we used to ‘translate’ the menu by telling them what the meal most resembled from home; so Greek stifado, which is a beef casserole with tomato/onion sauce served with pasta, we called ‘meaty Bolognese’, while Spanish paella we said was like ‘savoury rice’. If we were self-catering and ended up with a strange combination of the most familiar looking foods we could find at the supermarket, we used to call it a ‘pot luck mix-up’ and this often became the highlight meal of the holiday for them.

Tracy Jones, Somerset

Tip: Try introducing local flavours before arriving

My top tip for fussy eaters on holiday is to try to introduce the flavours that they are most likely to encounter before setting off. We were travelling to Italy and decided to make pasta with pesto before we went so that, once we were there, we had this to fall back on if all else failed. That being said, Italy is great for children as they will normally make a pasta dish for you even if it’s not on the menu. Even better is getting them involved with making it as we have found that there is a lot less fuss if they have been helping in the kitchen.

Nicola Woods, London

Tip: If you are relaxed, your kids will feel relaxed too

As a parent of two fussy eaters and a husband with a food phobia, it’s safe to say that holidays away require a bit of extra planning. We don’t always go self-catering, which is undoubtedly the easier option for fussy eaters. Instead, I often use the internet to check local restaurants beforehand – if I know there’s a pub, restaurant, bar that serves their favourites I can relax a little and so can they. I think the important thing is not to stress – a holiday is a break away from the norm and should be relaxing for everybody. If your child wants to eat chicken nuggets five nights in a row, let them. Healthy eating habits can be instilled during the rest of the year. You may then find if you are relaxed and so are they, they are more likely to try the local cuisine on their plates.

Paula Jones, Wirral

Tip: Encourage each other to choose fruit from the local markets to try

Before we travel abroad with our three children – aged five, eight and eleven – we like to sample and talk about the local food from the country that we will be visiting. This gives the kids the chance to start understanding the culture and getting a taste for the kind of food that will be encountered in restaurants and supermarkets while we are away. Once there, we talk a lot about local ingredients and encourage each other to pick some fruit from local markets or stores for us all to try together. When eating in restaurants, we always encourage the children to choose their own meals and, as most places outside the UK don’t have specific children’s meals, we emphasise the fact they have such a wide range of delicious meals to choose from.

Emma Bradshaw, Devon

Tip: Buffet restaurants offer lots of options for fussy eaters

I was once told that the best thing to do is to find a buffet restaurant. Having a fussy son means that it can be hard to find something he will eat, as he tends to turn his nose up at food that isn’t familiar. Buffet restaurants, on the other hand, come with such a mix of items that not only is he able to find at least one of his favourites, he can also be encouraged to try flavours that he wouldn’t normally go for to discover whether he likes them or not. Now whenever we go away, we always look in advance for buffet restaurants nearby.

Dale Dow, Edinburgh

Thank you to all those who submitted tips. Next up, we’d like to hear about what you’re doing to travel more sustainably in 2020. We’re looking for practical changes, the best staycations, suggestions for train travel in Europe and single-use alternatives on holiday.

The winning entry will receive a £50 Amazon gift card.