[Also published on KQED's Bay Area Bites.]
It’s probably not going to surprise anyone to hear that one of the things I love about being in a foreign country is experiencing the food. But this simple pleasure became far more complicated when I started traveling with kids. I have tried to raise daughters with a sense of gastronomic adventure — and for the most part they are willing and excited participants in our culinary outings — but when you’re in a different time zone, all bets are off as the crabby-child factor increases with each 1,000 miles you journey from home.
I know many parents who spend their first days on vacation seeking out food items that will be acceptable to — as the Scottish would say — their wee bairns. Even if a child eats a fairly healthy diet at home, they often recoil when plates of “exotic” foods are placed before them elsewhere. A friend of mine had to search out pinto beans and French fries on a recent Mexico vacation as her son refused to eat anything else, while another friend of mine was frustrated to find her normally food-compliant daughter would only eat chicken fingers and pasta during their summer holiday. My daughters are thankfully less demanding (which may be due to the fact that I become temporarily deaf when they try to become picky eaters). But although our girls were happy eaters during our recent trip to Scotland — devouring haggis, local mussels, scallops, and other fine local dishes — I think they were more willing to try new foods because we also strived to provide an equal amount of food they felt comfortable with.
So there we were, all four of us in Scotland, ready to explore castles, lochs, and the many culinary delights available, but also on the search for food that would be easy on a kid’s stomach. Thankfully, finding kid-friendly food turned out to be much easier than I could have ever dreamed as it turns out that Scotland is the land of the panini. Yes — the panini. Although there were also plenty of toasties (the UK equivalent of the grilled cheese sandwich), Italian paninis was available wherever we went. Imagine my sense of motherly relief when I found out I could get my children’s three favorite foods — mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and basil — melted in flat bread wherever we traveled, including small towns, large cities, and airports.
Although there were some variations of the panini we failed to try, such as the haggis panini, more often than not, my daughters had some sort of melted cheese sandwich for lunch. These little bundles of toasty goodness offered them the calories they needed to march around castles, up and down long streets, and through museums and galleries, while also providing a sense of culinary calm so they could branch out and explore other dishes at dinner. As a friend of mine told me when we got home, “There’s nothing like melted cheese to soothe a tired kid,” which is why I will be forever thankful to the person who brought the panini to Scotland.
I’m curious to know how other parents address food issues while on vacation. Also, has anyone else out there found something unexpected, and mercifully kid-friendly, on a recent vacation?