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Can you vacation with your kids and still eat like a grown-up?

My husband and I love to eat great food and especially enjoy finding new culinary experiences when traveling. I naively figured that our son would follow in our footsteps, but being a parent has taught me that true foodie explorers aren’t born, but made. There are countless cookbooks that focus on how to (try to) get your kids to eat like adults at home, but what happens if you want to travel with your kids? Do family vacations need to mean a steady diet of fast food?

Because my husband and I didn’t want to give up eating well on the road and we wanted to help our son learn to love culinary exploration, over the years we’ve come up with five (adult- and kid-friendly) rules to travel by.

Be prepared

I’ve borrowed one of the most important lessons about traveling with kids from the Boy Scouts: be prepared. Yes, you’ll want to keep various tools on hand for situations you might encounter, but being prepared is also about getting your child ready for the adventure ahead. If we are traveling abroad, I’ll look for ways to introduce some of the foods we might come across before we leave. Last year before a trip to Spain we had several Spanish-themed meals to prepare my son for what lay ahead. This was fun for the grown-ups and my son discovered he’s a jamón (Spanish ham) fan.

Slow it down

Though there might be a lot to see and do, try to go at a slower pace to keep your kids more comfortable. This can actually make travel less stressful, and give you the chance to really enjoy a new place. A leisurely approach can make meals more pleasant too: Earlier dinners mean less busy restaurants, shorter waits and staff that’s more willing to accommodate families. We’ve also discovered that a long breakfast is an easy meal to enjoy out with kids, and we’ll sometimes make that the biggest meal of the day and then go for lighter (and less expensive) lunches and dinners.

Embrace the adventure

Unfamiliar places can be a little scary for kids. Try focusing more on the fun of the “adventure” than on the newness of a place so it seems more exciting and less intimidating. I love taking my family shopping at local markets for new foods for a picnic. Not only do we find this economical and a way to discover new local flavors, but we make a game out of the hunt for foods both familiar and different. And big or small, who doesn’t enjoy a picnic?

Eat dessert – and sometimes for lunch

Once, on a family trip to Florida, my parents decided that we should eat a Key Lime Pie for lunch. My little brother and I were so shocked! But this remains one of my favorite family vacation memories, and I like to share that fun with my son today. Trying local desserts and the occasional splurge on ice cream can make vacation eating exciting for kids and adults. But traveling is also about doing something you don’t normally do at home, and those are the kinds of sweet things kids remember forever.

Be flexible

Perhaps most important is to remember that the ride is sometimes bumpy. How we react to challenges and treat those around us is something that our kids will remember and learn from long after the trip is over. Being able to travel with kids in tow can be a lesson in patience, but in the end, exposing your family to new foods, cultures, places and experiences can be well worth the challenge.

As a parent, I’ve come to embrace that it’s normal for my son to prefer foods like fish sticks, chicken nuggets and popsicles – I know I did when I was his age. But travel and exposure to different flavors and cultures is what expanded my culinary world (and what finally got me to eat tomatoes and mushrooms), and I hope that by including him in some of my own foodie adventures today, it will whet his appetite for tomorrow.

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