Family travel tips: How to have amazing food experiences with kids

Food for many travellers is a key part of the journey. Tasting local dishes and drinks along the way connects us to local cultures and traditions. Even when language is a barrier, the offering of food is a form of welcome and hospitality.

And every destination should have something to satisfy the fussiest foodie: think gelato in Italy, bahn mi in Vietnam and buttery croissants in France.

But the mental – and financial – load of deciding what to eat every day can be exhausting when travelling with children in tow.

In this guide, the experts weigh in on how to find three affordable, kid-friendly meals a day, while grazing around the globe as well as the lowdown on how to dine with champagne on a beer budget in France.

BE PREPARED

The ultimate foodie experience with children begins before you travel.

Food blogger at Healthy Little Foodie Amy Whiteford (healthylittlefoodies.com) suggests talking to your kids about the places you'll visit and the food you'll find there.

"Perhaps take a trip to the library or local book store and look at recipe books from that country," she says. "Is there anything that they want to try or make before the trip?"

Show them pictures of what they can expect and try learning some of the language.

Kate Di Prima, spokeswoman for the Dietician's Association of Australia, agrees preparation is key. She advises to check what your airline will be serving, as the children's meals are not always the ideal travel food.

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"Korean Air gives lollies, chocolates, juice, and jelly to the kids," she says. "It's completely different for adults, with a Korean barbecue and rice."

To avoid upset tummies, Di Prima says the adult meal can a better choice. However, the benefit of ordering the kids' meal is that they'll be served before the rest of the plane, avoiding whinging and grumbling tummies if you're seated near the back.

Doing some research on food options when you get to a city will reduce choice anxiety.

"Don't go straight into takeaway joints and fast food outlets in every city because that's all you'll end up eating," Di Prima says.

Your hotel reception, guide or Airbnb host will be able to point you in the right direction for family dining. And a quick call ahead to a restaurant by your concierge can really elevate your dining experience, with possible accoutrements such as high chairs, kid-sized cutlery and novelty plates.

Preparation is vital when dealing with food allergies and intolerances. Leah Squire, founder of the travel agency BYOkids, (byokids.com.au), says this is one of the most commonly asked questions.

"Things like peanut allergies, especially in Asia, are a problem," Squire says.

"If they have a really bad allergy or food intolerance, go for a family-friendly chain, like a Club Med-type resort, so you can talk to the chef."

A private or family tour is also a good option, as your guide will be able to communicate any dietary requirements, regardless of the language barrier.

Cruise ships also cater well for any food-related needs.

"Have a translator app on your phone to ask the question," she says.

Try to stay in accommodation which is self-contained, even if it's just a kitchenette. Being able to have cereal and toast in the morning can save you $15 per child [a day], and is a much more relaxing way to start the day. Most hotels have extra plates, bowls and cutlery for larger families.

Having access to a few basic utensils means you can pack some snacks for the day. Chopped fruit and vegies can keep everyone going without the sugar crash.

AVOID FOOD FIGHTS

Holidays are not the time to be starting a war over the family meal.

"I'm not a big fan of having battles over food, I don't think that helps anybody," GP Dr Ginni Mansburg says.

Mansburg says many of her patients are worried their kids will starve if they don't eat three times a day but that's not the case – children aren't that stupid.

She recommends to respect their tummies' wishes, and not force-feed them if they aren't hungry.

If your little one doesn't want to try a new dish, they may have a genuine fear of that food.

Mansburg suggests a soft approach to coax them into trying something new.

"Acknowledge their fears, then say something like, 'I'm your parent. I love you and I would never poison you. You won't know if you like it until you try it'."

Ultimately, your kids will follow your example.

"If you want your children to love tandoori and okra curry, you need to eat it first," Mansburg says.

It's easier to find kid-friendly food in some destinations compared with others, Arianna Albertazzi, the director of Helloworld Travel Pakenham, says.

"We travelled to Vietnam in June last year. Finding a variety of options in Ho Chi Minh City was no issue at all, but in smaller towns and cities trying to find something that the kids liked to eat was very challenging."

Search for meals that are a happy medium between the familiar and the exotic.

After all, a ham and cheese crepe is basically a ham and cheese toastie.

Ask a friend who speaks the language to write down key words for you – like 'not spicy' – to help navigate the choices off the beaten track.

The United States has a super-sized offering of food outlets, but it can be surprisingly difficult to find good dining experiences.

The bread is sweet, the cheese is yellow and the coffee is bitter so try to skip the Dunkin' Donuts on every corner to search for fresh food markets, dining halls and bakeries.

Consider ordering a couple of plates of food to share between the family, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the portion sizes.

When all else fails, Google "Australian-style cafe" to find a familiar caffeine fix.

THE FOODIE EXPERIENCE

Look for those can't-have-at-home experiences that will fascinate children of all ages.

"My kids have always loved going to markets," Leah Squire says.

"It's an educational experience too. The food in Asia is all very colourful. Hawkers on the street cut the fruit up in front of kids and served it on a stick."

Because anything is better served on a stick.

When in Rome, take the kids to Pasta e Vino Come Na Vorta facebook.com/pastaevinocomenavorta/, and not only because of the quirky name: the chefs make the best ravioli in the city.

Sometimes, it's the small touches that make a restaurant seem top notch. At Restaurant Santo at Zlatni Rat, Croatia (santo-bol-croatia.com), the waiter gives the kids starched linen napkins in the shape of suit coats and pixie boots.

A food gimmick also doesn't go astray. Melbourne-based executive chef Ian Curley said his kids, aged three, eight and 10, were "very impressed" by sushi trains.

"They enjoy a good sushi because they can choose different things. That's good because it's relatively healthy. You want to be able to steer them away from too many burgers and chips."

Get the story behind your food with a family cooking class. It may take a while to find one that will accept children, but there's no better way to discover places like Vietnam and Thailand than by cooking dishes with local ingredients.

Street food can be dicey in some countries, but it can also be the best, freshest food you will find. Take a look at how it's being prepared and make your own judgment, Leah Squire suggests. Is the food prep area clean? Has it been sitting in the sun all day?

"There's a lot of food available that is being prepared, cooked and cut in front of you. It's as fresh as fresh can be," she says.

FRENCH CHAMPAGNE ON A BEER BUDGET

Really, you don't have to pay Le Jules Verne prices to enjoy fine dining with the kids. Eat produce from the area, support family-run restaurants, and follow local customs to eat flash for a fraction of the price.

During our week cruising along The Lot River in the south-west of France, we tie our boat to a pontoon each day to explore the villages. The friendly folks at Le Boat supply a list of recommended restaurants, many of which include a free aperitif. As most are in vineyards, farms or quiet streets, the kids wander off to play hide-and-seek towards the end of our three-hour lunches.

At the Michelin-starred Le Vinois in Caillac (levinois.com), the three-course Sunday lunch – foie gras* de canard, fillet de canette and souffle glace – comes in at €32 per adult, with a two-course kids' option costing €13. The alternative is to buy the children a cheese plate at around €8. "But what about the wine?" I hear you cry. We're in the heart of black wine country: the Malbec of Cahors. A half-bottle of Chateau Haut-Monplaisir Malbec plus a couple of artisanal beers costs next to nothing.

Further along the river at the chocolate box town of Vers you'll find La Truite Doree (latruitedoree.fr), a family-run restaurant for five generations which serves home-made terrine in an enormous pottery bowl as part of a three-course meal priced at €16.

Dining in the cities is more expensive, however most restaurants have menu a prix fixe, which are quite affordable. In the first arrondissement, near the Louvre, try Ellsworth (ellsworthparis.com) for shareable plates of salad, ravioli and buttermilk-fried chicken, at around €10 to €17. Unfortunately, I can never go back there because I accidentally asked for "piscine" instead of "poisson". (The waiter wondered aloud why I was requesting tuna from a swimming pool)

Towards the Palais de Tokyo, the Cristal Room Baccarat (cristalroom.com) has opened its balcony for family-friendly dining. "It looks amazing, but the prices are very good," our Parisian friend Alexandra says. The menu has everything from steak tartare to French fries and oeuf mystere, with prices ranging from €14 to €43. Perturbed by the idea of "mystery eggs", 12-year-old Taj opts for the raw mince dish to try to impress Alexandra's son Sascha, only to pick at it with a fork. Lesson learned. The entrees are the size of mains, so we have a cheap and cheerful lunch while drinking wine from exquisite crystal glasses. After lunch, we show the kids the priceless artworks on display at Musee Baccarat (there are even chandeliers in the toilets).

Our favourite area remains The Marais, especially the funky cafes around NOMA (North Marais) including the Marche des Enfants Rouges (marchedesenfantsrougesfr.com), a gourmet market selling fresh produce and hot lunches from Moroccan, Italian and local stalls.

Our Airbnb host Mattieu has meticulously listed all of the family dining options, such as Les Chouettes (restaurant-les-chouettes-paris.fr) – the best French restaurant in the district, serving entrees from €9 – Le Barav (lebarav.fr), a fun wine bar with a child-friendly tapas menu, and La Chocolaterie Jacques Genin for dessert. While this is considered the best chocolate shop in Paris, the service is bad. The kids find a better (and cheaper) chocolaterie down the road at Maison Georges Larnicol (jacquesgenin.fr), where you can buy meringues the size of your head for a couple of bucks apiece.

But the award for creative children's cuisine goes to La Briciola (facebook.com/labriciolaparis), down the end of our street, where the chefs whip up pizzas in the shape of bunny heads.

Overall, the secret to affordable five-star dining in France is choosing local produce, a rule of thumb that will work in virtually every country. Staying in the Quercy region we stick to lamb and goats' cheese, while in Paris we pick the house-made steak tartare, snails and pate.

In summer, head to the Alps for cheap and cheerful meals in any buvette or auberge, which are similar to our inns or taverns.

Really, restaurant experiences with children are over-rated. There's nothing better than dining on fresh baguettes, charcuterie and cheese in a park or on the banks of a river. C'est la vie!

THE TAKEAWAY TIPS TO ENJOY THE FOODIE EXPERIENCE WITH KIDS

THE DIETICIAN

KATE DI PRIMA

Be prepared. Set realistic ideals for your children. Show them pictures of food beforehand so they know what new foods to expect.

THE DOCTOR

GINNI MANSBURG

Holidays are not the time to get on the healthy food wagon. Minimise fights, enjoy your trip and come home to start healthy habits.

THE COOK

AMY WHITEFORD

Outdoor food markets and supermarkets are full of food that you don't see everyday at home. Why not let each family member chose one food they've never tried before and share them together?

THE CHEF

IAN CURLEY

Take plenty of snacks in your day bag, including a tube of Vegemite. You can usually find bread and an avocado to make a great breakfast or snack in any country.

THE TRAVEL AGENT

LEAH SQUIRE

Take a cooking class with your kids, especially in Asia. Classes usually start with a tour, then back to the kitchen to cook the meal. Kids really appreciate it because they've been involved in making the meal.

TOP DISHES

*Diavola pizza, Italy, which is similar to peperoni. It literally means "pizza devilled", because of the spicy salami.

*Buttery croissants from the patisseries in Paris, accompanied by freshly squeezed jus d'orange.

*Streetside pazar - farmers' markets - in Croatia, which in summer heave with cherries, peaches and apricots.

*Mint gelato (Taj) and chocolate gelato (Grace) after wandering off the tourist trail in Venice.

SURVIVAL TIPS FOR FEEDING KIDS ON THE ROAD

*Don't give in to the whingeing: a baguette and cheese is cheaper than a meal from McDonald's.

*Bribe them to try different cuisines. Usually it takes one euro to go from "ew!" to "ooh!"

*Suggest they try the local language when ordering food. Then, they're more likely to eat it.

*Stock up on healthy snacks at the grocery shops, like Carrefour and Monoprix in France or Aldi in Germany.

*Time your meals well, because – even in 2018 – many small towns in Europe shut down for hours in the early afternoon.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/france

traveller.com.au/croatia

VISIT

Families on Intrepid Travel's eight-day Croatia Family Holiday with teenagers will have a true culinary adventure along the Dalmatian Coast, hiking and biking in Paklenica National Park, and rafting or canoeing on Zrmanja River. The tour includes accommodation, on-the-ground transport, a local Intrepid leader for the duration of the trip and some meals. Prices start from $1870 per adult and $1683 per child in twin share rooms.

FLY

Singapore Airlines flies regularly from Australia to Europe. See singaporeair.com for prices and schedules.

STAY

Airbnb is your best option for self-contained family accommodation. Our tri-level two-bedroom apartment in The Marais in Paris cost around $330/night. See airbnb.com

Alternatively, why not combine accommodation with transport and stay on a river boat? Seven nights on the Lot River in south-west France on a new Horizon 2 cabin cruiser, with kitchen, air conditioning, sundeck, BBQ and dual steering, starts at $2599. See leboat.com.au

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