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Mom Shares How Travel Made Her Children Stop Being Picky Eaters

  • I tried everything to get my three kids to eat a variety of foods, but nothing worked.
  • It got to a point where I was overwhelmed by everything I was preparing.
  • After a year of traveling through Latin America, my kids are not picky anymore.

Trick-or-treat-style eating had become my household norm. The ice-cube tray transformed into a rainbow buffet designed to entice my choosy toddler — strawberry slices for vitamin C, blueberries for antioxidants, hard-boiled eggs that looked like Saturn for protein. But those keen, young eyes always found the spinach buried in my muffins.

I put on a chef’s hat and explained the importance of healthy eating habits to my kids. I built a chicken coop to keep them close to the roots of their food. I involved them in meal prep. Now my 3-year-old has enviable knife skills. I even signed my oldest up for a cooking class, where she expertly rolled dough into a personal pizza and topped it with only pepperoni.

When faced with new foods, my children shied away and sometimes fought back. They have natural aversions and sensitivities. I’ve inundated myself with explanations and warnings. Kids need choices to fill their power buckets, but not too many choices — that’s overwhelming. It’s a phase, not a trait. Pickiness is developmentally appropriate.

A thoughtful pediatrician told me to feed my underweight child ice cream, and I hugged her with relief. 

It was impossible to keep all 3 happy with their pickiness 

Every parent wants to fill their children’s bellies with the nutrients they need to grow. I hoped to instill openness long term, but our organic produce and three-bite rules didn’t matter. They knew what’s on shelves and consumed broccoli only if it’s done to their request.

Squeezing the preferences of three children into the constraints of the nutrition pyramid and my own time felt impossible. I was drowning in homemade chicken soup — with the chicken strained out. My vision of health turned me into a personal chef, and no amount of advanced canning was getting me out of this jam. I was burning out from hearing the begging for lightly buttered brioche. 

We moved to Latin America for a year

My family decided to leave the US for permanent travel through Latin America. We dined in the culinary meccas of Mexico City, Antigua, and Lima, Peru. During one week in Oaxaca, Mexico, we all inadvertently ate grasshopper tamales and flying-ant sauce.

One of us — me — almost puked. But this was the start of a second, parallel journey with fewer familiar foods for our kiddos and some room for us to breathe at mealtime.

I relay menus with appealing translations. A tlayuda is “like a pizza,” and tejate is “hot chocolate but earthier.” These loose characterizations get a sample in their mouths without much extra convincing. 

This era of exploration was born out of having no alternatives. One rental host showed up at 7:30 every morning with pupusas, handmade masa patties topped in tomato puree and pickled cabbage. With no market close by, there was no cereal, no syrup, and no choice. The kids accepted breakfast in El Salvador for what it was. 

Their pickiness went away

When their top picks are scarce, my kids eat what’s there. Cinnamon used to be appalling, but no one has forsaken a dash since Mexican churros.

Biological imperative took over, and some of the culinary criticism I mistakenly groomed faded.

Each country brings a shift in food culture. There is no brand recognition or American cooking styles, so our kids can’t reject what they don’t know. They’re too curious, too hungry. I haven’t tricked them in a year, and tasting it all is the new norm. We respect their receptiveness enough that when they do protest, we don’t push.

From rainforests to deserts, our kids consume what a location provides. Their diets have expanded, and the variance has an influential benefit on their health — papaya for fiber, choclo for vitamin A, rambutan for potassium. 

We’re reminded that nutritional balance is not found in food groups on a plate but in a series of bite-size successes spread out over many places around the globe.

I used to have kids that loved pickling but never pickles. This trip made it acceptable for us parents to say what we needed to all along, “This is what we have to eat.”


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