I was blessed with a daughter who is a picky eater. Trust me, I use that term loosely. I’m talking a child who is a vegetarian who doesn’t eat vegetables and only a limited number of fruits; a girl who won’t eat pizza since she doesn’t like red sauce; someone who doesn’t eat rice because it has a funny texture. I mean really, no rice? You won’t find any food more benign than white rice! I believe Avocet (my daughter’s name) is in my life for having committed the sin of judging other people’s parenting habits with respect to food, prior to being a parent myself.
Eating in a restaurant is a challenge with Avocet. No hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets or pizza are going to work for this girl. So if eating in a restaurant at home in the United States is a challenge, whatever made me think we could travel around the world for a year and not come home with a malnourished child? Nothing! But I knew I wasn’t going to let my daughter’s eating habits keep us from making our dream come true.
Allaying the Fears of a Picky Eater
The first trick was to relieve her of her fear having nothing to eat. As we researched our itinerary, I would read about the foods of the regions to Avocet. Invariable there was one food per country she could hang her hat on: pancakes in The Netherlands, pierogi in Poland, empanadas in Chile.
We would also tell her about restaurants we discovered that served “American Fare.” Of course, that wasn’t a huge comfort since American restaurants were a stressful and often unsuccessful dining experience here in the U.S. Still, her tensions started easing; but not completely until we presented her with her security blanket – a large jar of peanut butter.
Avocet carried a jar of peanut butter with her around the entire globe. She wouldn’t finish up a jar until a replacement had been purchased. We learned to say peanut butter in quite a few different languages and were able to find it in every country we visited with the exception of Argentina.
Let Her Eat Cake
Given the fact that almost all countries have some form of bread and cheese–grilled cheese, cheese toasty, Panini, cheese empanadas—Avocet became a connoisseur. She also learned how to order pizza without sauce (pizza sin salsa in Spanish) in multiple languages so she could order a white pizza; another form of bread and cheese. Pasta with
only olive oil and garlic, known in Italian as Pasta Aglio Olio, was another standard and once again we learned to order this in a number of languages. I was completely bored with her diet, but she was just thrilled to be eating!
If we had to eat three meals a day for 365 days in restaurants, I don’t know if we could have done it. Fortunately, eight out of the twelve months we traveled, we stayed in apartments, which enabled us to cook our own meals. It is much easier to find a variety of healthy (or semi-healthy) foods for a picky eater in a supermarket, than it is in a restaurant. If we were willing to splurge, we could often find American products, like cereal, which we bought when it wasn’t too great of an expense. Since we were
saving money by not eating in restaurants, we could justify the luxury a little more readily.
At a minimum, we knew Avocet could obtain her calories from sweets. She has almost never met a dessert she didn’t like. And, after all, cake is just bread with a little added sugar right? For the most part, we didn’t have to sink that low, but there were a few Nutella and bread meals here and there.
In the end, we didn’t manage to expand her food options all that much, although she did pick up an appreciation for cucumbers in China, but we did manage to travel around the world and return home with a healthy and still growing daughter.