Do you remember that feeling as a young kid being told you were heading on a plane? So much excitement. You knew there would be plenty of fast food, junk food, and eating. Loads of eating. For most adults, a vacation may also mean the end of a diet at least for a small-time.
And while I have no problem with food indulgence on vacation I did hit an issue when my 6-month sporadical turned into 5 years of vacation life. My weight ballooned out of control and, I found myself starting to repeat the phrase, “No, we don’t want pizza.” 5 years is a long time to be eating pizza for little ones.
I’m not sure you’ve ever noticed the prevalent kid’s menu? It was torture during our travels. Nuggets and chips, spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips, hamburgers and chips, Hawaiian pizza – all of these meals once a delicious occasional treat, become the bane of our travelling life. And while I use to love kids’ menus, after many months on the road I found myself having to dodge them at nearly every single restaurant.
Now I am no health expert and I guarantee there are many more healthy alternatives than what I provide here, but this is my cheat list for trying to maintain a more balanced diet for kids who eat out at restaurants more times a year than any travelling businessman.
Substitute kids vacation food
Substitute your kid’s vacation food lollies/candy for mints/gum
Perhaps not every kid likes mints, but my daughter loves them. The good news is she can only handle 1 or 2. Offering mints instead of lollies is a creative way to offer a “treat” that’s not going to be addictive and inspire a sugar craving. If the kids are a little older try offering sugar-free gum. They keep it in their mouth longer, can have fun blowing bubbles, and you won’t get a repeat request for “another one” for quite some time.
Substitute your kid’s vacation food ice cream for yoghurt
For a delicious dessert substitute ice cream for yoghurt. There are many health benefits to yoghurt, including good bacteria. You can even add some fun toppings to yoghurt these days. Raspberries or a few chocolate sprinkles make it feel like a real, yummy indulgent treat.
Substitute your kid’s vacation food fries for mash
Fries, hot chips, shoestrings, whatever you call them, they come with everything. I am sick of seeing those thin fat sticks. Until we came across Jamie Oliver’s pop up restaurant in Leicester Square where the kid’s vacation food could be substituted for sweet potato fries or mash potato. Sure, mash potato still has cream and butter, but it must be better than all that oil and saturated fat on chips, right? Or even healthier, go for a jacket or boiled potato.
Substitute your kid’s vacation food ice cream for Icey poles (popsicles)
Where possible when we are out and having a treat on a hot summer day we encourage the kids to go with an Icey pole/popsicle. The water-based Icey pole has much less fat compared to cream-based ice cream. Of course, sugar is sugar, but we do what we can. And the fruit popsicles with natural sugar is an even better alternative.
Substitute your kid’s vacation food for soup
My kids love a good chicken noodle soup. When I found most restaurants in Bulgaria wanted to feed my kids nuggets and chips, I scanned the entrees/starters for an alternative. I only had to whisper there was chicken soup on the menu and it was their new favourite. At $1 a bowl it also became mine.
Substitute your kid’s vacation food deep-fried nuggets for grilled chicken
So, the kids want nuggets? Well, not every nugget has to be fried in oil or coated in batter. Again, at Jamie Oliver’s fast food joint in London, they offered “chicken lollypops” – bite-sized pieces of grilled chicken on a stick. A fun way to present chicken in a more kid-friendly fashion. We make slow cooker chicken and rice at home too now, popping the chicken on sticks on a bed of rice. It’s a winner.
Kids vacation food tips and tricks
Kids menu portion control
Let’s face it kids meals for under 12s can be good value, but you won’t find many 3-year-olds eating the same size portion as a 12-year-old. So, I found I really needed to manage portion control. Much the same as a woman shouldn’t be eating a man’s portion.
Different countries will have different portion sizes, however in the US my 4- & 5-year old often shared a kid’s meal and generally had lots leftover.
Alternatively, instead of ordering a giant kid’s meal, or if you just want to skip the usual nuggets and chips, try ordering one adult meal for 2 kids. Only have one kid? Try an entrée/starter adult meal or let them share from yours and get a side like mash or steamed vegetables to share too.
What to do when the kids are starving
After a long flight, the kids and I often land early morning or after a day road tripping late in the evening. By then my kids are starving. It doesn’t matter if they had a big breakfast or late lunch, they are hungry. Some hotels don’t offer room service or have an absurdly high charge for it if they do.
But most hotels have a kettle.
We always carry Cup ‘o Soup or Noodles for a quick meal in a hotel where a kettle, mug and water are your only available cooking utensils. Keeping a supply of plastic forks, spoons and knives or a travelling utensil kit has also become a part of our family travel packing needs.
Did you know some kettles can even boil eggs inside for a quick protein fill-me-up!
The quick, cheap alternative to eating lunch out
During a press trip, the kids and I would be often visiting many different attractions in one day and sometimes we don’t get time to stop, or if we do, it’s usually at an expensive theme park snack bar. With our travel knife and a tube of vegemite we now have a portable lunch. Bread can often be crushed in luggage, so Salada crackers (or similar) make a great alternative. Otherwise, I usually buy a loaf of bread the first chance I get.
You can also use those tiny hotel-size spreads you get with your breakfast and never need as an alternative to carrying a full-sized jam or peanut butter.
To save on zip-lock bags, make all the sandwiches in one hit and put them back in the original plastic wrapping the bread came in.
Avoid soft drinks
When it’s hot and you want something cold, a Coke seems to be the best option, but not every day. Pre-pack your water bottles before going out.
Better yet, make water more fun. Our kids love a fun, colourful water bottle, which makes drinking water so much easier than the alternative.
You can great economical environmentally-friendly reusable bottles on Amazon, for pretty cheap.
We found a host of hotels that offer apples at reception or breakfast. Grab an extra one for the road for a fulfilling and healthy snack.
You may or may not find other alternatives that the hotel won’t mind you taking off with. This is not an endorsement or a judgement. 😉
Our Favourite Travel Snacks
My son adores cherry tomatoes so it’s not often I’m without a punnet.
The US and Europe sell baby carrots, peeled and ready to eat. Often, we will get a tub of hummus to make it more fun. Update: Australia just brought out baby carrots in 2021!
Raisins/sultanas – another favourite. Save money by buying a large bag and refilling your reusable containers or zip lock every time you go out, instead of buying the overpriced small-boxed sizes.
Asia and Central America are notorious for cheap fruit stands. Watermelon in a cup or strawberries in a box – perfect.
Pretzels are definitely not healthy, but they make a wonderful substitute for crisps and are less oily too. Popcorn is also a great alternative.
Local snacks – travel is always about food. So, for a treat, the kids and I indulge in national treats. In the Netherlands we were eating Stroop waffles, in Israel, we were regularly stopping for falafel, in Turkey gozleme was a quick snack.
Introducing new foods to the kids when travelling is fun and can even be quite hysterical when their facial expressions change as they try grubs, or tea or Roti Tissue as big as they are! As the Cookie Monster says, “cookies are sometimes food.” So, enjoy your holiday food… sometimes.
I hope my Holiday Guide for Kids Vacation Food helps make your life somewhat easier, but don’t forget it isn’t a holiday without a little ice cream.
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