Dinnertime at home can be challenging enough when you have vegetable-resistant kids, but when you’re traveling in another country and trying to get your kids to eat something healthy (or anything at all!) it’s a whole different ball game – especially if you’re trying to order vegetarian.
I recently spent 3 months traveling around Europe with my husband and two young boys while I was researching my fourth cookbook, The Forest Feast Mediterranean. At the time, Max was almost one and Ezra was three years old. The first month of our trip was spent in Barcelona, and we quickly got on board with the tapas culture. In the early evening, when tapas bars were just opening, we’d wander through the streets and snag a cute outdoor table. Lucky for us, there are playgrounds scattered everywhere around town and it was easy to find one adjacent to a tapas bar. We’d order a bunch of tapas to share, which ended up being the kids’ dinner, and we’d cook for ourselves later after they went to bed. The main hit was Patatas Bravas, Spain’s version of fries (but so much better!), which consists of fried cubed potatoes and a creamy, spicy sauce (which we ordered on the side). We’d order Tortilla Española and a few other small plates to round out their meal, and I’d pack carrot sticks and fruit as healthy options if all else failed.
In France they tried new cheeses and the freshest yogurt from the outdoor markets we frequented daily. We tried socca, a French chickpea pancake that’s high in protein. The kids prefer it topped with cinnamon instead of the traditional black pepper, but it was great to see them try something new. In Italy, the plethora of pasta made mealtimes easy, and in Genoa it made me happy to see our toddler devour pesto Genovese at the source.
Since finishing our journey and arriving back home, it’s been fun to incorporate some of the kids' favorite dishes from our trip into our weekly meals, bringing some of the magic from our amazing trip back with us. In my own kitchen, I make the patatas bravas recipe a bit healthier by mixing regular potatoes with sweet potatoes and prepare them baked instead of fried. I find the boys always have a better chance of eating something if they have had a hand in making it, so I have them pick out the potatoes at the market, then let them get their little hands messy mixing the potato chunks with olive oil on the baking sheet.
On pasta nights (which would be every night if the boys had it their way), we’ve developed a colorful way to serve it while sneaking in some vegetables. The kids help me stir finely grated raw beets into a bowl of just-cooked pasta which makes for a fun and vibrant meal.
While we are cooking and over dinner I encourage them to tell me something they remember about our trip. Ezra likes to recall the carousel we rode in Madrid and the gelato we tasted all over Italy. They are so little that they might not remember the trip years from now, but I like the idea that we can keep some of the memories alive by spending time together in the kitchen and rotating these recipes throughout our weeknight dinners.
Mediterranean-inspired recipes to try with your kids from The Forest Feast Mediterranean:
Tip: If the sauce is too spicy for kids, try serving it simply with plain yogurt for dipping, or just ketchup!
Tip: For picky eaters, chop the chard extra fine, or omit
Tip: My kids prefer that I omit the parsley garnish
Tip: Herb-resistant kids might prefer cinnamon instead of rosemary
By Erin Gleeson
Erin Gleeson is the author, illustrator and photographer behind the New York Times bestselling cookbooks The Forest Feast, The Forest Feast for Kids, The Forest Feast Gatherings, and the popular blog by the same name.