Traveling with Kids? Tips for Dining on a Dime
a long morning at the Louvre museum, tromping through room after
room of priceless goodies, we were starving. My boys were in
that state, "if I don't get food instantly, I'm going to
turn into a growling alien with eight mouths and arms."
From the museum, we headed to the rue de Rivoli.
On a side street, people streamed in and out of a sandwich shop.
We ducked into the shop, and 10 minutes later, my food bag was
stuffed with baguette sandwiches and cold drinks. We hustled
over to the Tuileries Gardens. Despite a cool October day, the
park benches were filled with local Parisians, having their
lunch outdoors. We had a wonderful impromptu picnic. The boys
gobbled their food standing up (atrocious table manners), while
I gratefully slouched on a park bench, enjoying my sandwich
- tender French ham and good cheese on a chewy baguette.
is one of most pleasurable and potentially most irritating aspects
of traveling with kids. When kids get hungry, they get cranky
or picky, and it doesn't matter where you are, it's no fun.
Food is also a big chunk of travel expenses for a family. Eating
out in restaurants all the time can cost a bundle and little
kids may not want to wait for infinity and beyond to eat a meal.
Here's some tips to help you to have fun and save money.
the day right
Breakfast can be a simple affair. As a cost saving, if you're
traveling by car, bring breakfast supplies with you, or shop
in a supermarket after you check into your hotel. Many motels
or hotels have refrigerators, so all you need is milk, juice,
yogurt, fruit, dry cereal, paper bowls and plastic utensils.
Eating in your room, breakfast is out of the way - when you
leave your hotel, you're ready to start sightseeing (instead
of hunting for a place to eat). And kids can eat in their pajamas.
a change of pace, splurge on a Sunday brunch or a big breakfast
buffet. Breakfast buffets often have kids' favorites - pancakes,
French toast or waffles, muffins, bagels, fruit salad, along
with sophisticated dishes and local specialties.
"On the spot" picnics
Picnics are fun for everyone in the family. There's no waiting
interminably for food to be served, no spilled milk dripping
onto your lap, no nagging at the kids, "Put your napkin
in your lap, hold your fork properly, don't squirm at the table."
Whatever you're eating, it tastes delicious. Kick back and relax,
while the kids run around.
You can picnic anywhere - in a grassy
city park, at the seaside, riding on a train, sitting along
a hiking trail next to bubbling stream. And picnics aren't for
lunches only - bring a picnic to the beach at sunset. Wherever
you are, there are possibilities for picnicking, even in a big
city. And, picnics are easy on the budget.
your picnic is part of the fun and you can shop to please individual
tastes in your family. Supermarkets are open day and night,
and usually have a deli where you can have sandwiches made,
or get roast chicken, sushi, salads, plus fresh fruit, cut-up
carrots and celery, cold drinks, chips, cookies - everything
you need for a first class picnic. Another easy option is to
scout out a delicatessen for sandwiches. If you're staying in
a neighborhood far from shopping, in the morning, ask at your
hotel to arrange a picnic. Hotel restaurants are often equipped
to do so.
In your luggage, tuck in a packable tote bag as your "food
bag" - to hold picnic supplies. Bring a lightweight bag,
preferably nylon or vinyl, so it can be wiped off if food gets
spilled on it.
While traveling with children, it's important to take frequent
breaks, so parents can relax and kids can re-energize. And late
in the day, don't start in on some huge museum without a substantial
snack first. One way to get to know a neighborhood is to sample
the local treats. What about a local ice cream shop that makes
its own ice cream, or a bakery with cookies shaped like surfers
in a beach city, a diner with the best milkshakes, a fresh-baked
bagel, hand-squeezed lemonade, old-fashioned candies or sodas
in an Old West town? A snack break can be a quick stop to buy
a soft pretzel from a street vendor, or a big event like afternoon
tea at a fancy hotel.
On your trip, you may feel your kids aren't really eating a
balanced diet. Too many hot dogs and sodas or fast food because
it's everywhere you turn? Be on the lookout for juice bars and
smoothies, drinks with fresh fruit and yogurt. Popular ice cream
shops often have smoothies. Jamba Juice is a juice bar you can
find all over California. Vegetarian or health conscious sandwich
shops often have fresh-squeezed juices.
If your kids are picky eaters at home, what to do while traveling?
Encourage openness to try new things, but don't take away choices.
One summer when I was young, we stopped into a little seafood
joint in Washington state. My mother ordered the local specialty,
Dungeness crab, but let us kids order hamburgers. When her crab
came, we tried a morsel or two - it was so delicious, our hamburgers
went untouched. (My mother ordered more crabs.)
isn't always easy to accommodate everyone's tastes in a family.
When you ask the question, "What do you want for lunch
or dinner," one child wants a pizza, another a hamburger,
another is vegetarian, one parent feels like a salad, another
is hungry for a stack of ribs. Look for food courts or "country" markets, where there are kiosks with all kinds of foods, reasonably
priced. The Farmers Market in Los Angeles has been popular with
local kids since the 1930's, and is still going strong with
over 25 different food stalls. The Grand Central Terminal food
court has New York favorites - Junior's Delicatessen, pizza,
Indian vegetarian, dim sum, chicken noodle soup, hot bagels,
custard ice cream.
At some point in your trip, it's nice to get dressed up and
eat in a "splurge" restaurant as a special experience.
But in a strange city, how do you avoid venturing into a restaurant,
only to have the waiters stare at you with cold frozen looks,
and belatedly you realize you've stepped into a romantic bistro,
only whispers are allowed and there are tables for two. Or,
after you're seated in the restaurant, you discover the menu
consists of dishes such as goat cheese covered with prune sauce,
topped with flecks of dried squid, something none of your kids
will touch and the price is through the roof.
dining can be fun, and worth the expense. Reservations may be
required, so do some scouting in advance. Check out the menu
posted outside or ask to see a menu. When the restaurant has
a kid's menu, by definition kids are welcome. (Use this as leverage
if your kids aren't perfectly well-behaved.) But the lack of
a kid's menu doesn't mean that a splurge restaurant won't be
fun. Check out other options on the menu - many fancy Italian
restaurants will do half portions of any pasta dish for kids.
Or, sometimes a restaurant will prepare an item from their lunch
menu at dinner. If the menu looks okay, but you're still not
sure if children are welcome, go inside the restaurant and ask
if you can split an entrée for kids. If they answer in
a friendly way, this is a good sign; if the maitre d' is insulted
you asked, that restaurant isn't a good prospect. Some expensive
restaurants simply like kids, and go out of their way to make
you feel comfortable, so take advantage of good service.
food memories are long-lived, and trips even more so. It might
be a memory of sitting up straight at a restaurant with sparkling
white table cloths, where the waiter hands you your own menu
and you feel very grown up, sitting out by the river eating
fresh cantaloupe on a camping trip, reaching for little pastries
during "high tea" at a fancy hotel, munching on a
cheese sandwich and hard boiled eggs while riding on a train,
shaking off the sticky sugar from Mexican pastries in Old Town
San Diego, or dreaming of a chocolate river at the Ghirardelli
Soda Fountain in San Francisco where the ice cream sundaes and
banana splits are really big, really cold and, "My dad
stole the banana."
Travel for Kids publishes Fun Food for Kids, family travel restaurant
guides. Fun Food for Kids lists hundreds of restaurants and
eating spots, located in areas your family will want to explore.
(Source: Travel For Kids)