Going on holiday can be a pretty exciting time for kids and often means the end of a diet (periodically) for adults. And I had no problem with food indulgence on vacation, until I started living the vacation life.
In the last 2 years of travel we’ve had to learn to say, “No, we don’t want nuggets.” Again.
The prevalent kids menu tortures our travels. Nuggets and chips, spaghetti bolognaise, fish and chips, hamburger and chips – all of these meals once a delicious occasional treat, have become the bane of our travelling life. While we use to love kids menus, our many months on the road have led us to dodge them wherever possible.
I am no health expert and I guarantee there are many more healthy alternatives than what I provide here, but this is our 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 lollies/candy for mints.
Okay so not every kid likes mints, but my daughter loves them. The only thing is she can only handle 1 or 2 before that’s enough. 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.
Substitute ice cream for yoghurt.
For a delicious dessert substitute ice cream for yoghurt. There are many health benefits to yoghurt, including all those good bacteria. Add fun toppings like raspberries or a few chocolate sprinkles to make it feel like a yummy indulgent treat.
Substitute fries for mash or sweet potato fries.
Fries, hot chips, shoestrings, whatever you call them, they come with everything. I am sick of seeing those thin fat sticks. At Jamie Oliver’s pop up restaurant in Leicester Square you could substitute for sweet potato fries or mash potato. Sure mash potato still has cream and butter, but it must be better then all that oil and saturated fat on chips, right? Or even healthier, go for a jacket or boiled potato option.
Substitute deep fried nuggets for grilled chicken.
So the kids want the nuggets. 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 these at home now too.
Substitute ice cream for iceypoles (popsicles).
Where possible when we are out and having a treat on a hot summer day we encourage the kids to go with an iceypole/popsicle. There is less fat as they are water-based rather than milk-based. Of course sugar is sugar, but we do what we can.
Substitute food for soup.
Our kids are hot for chicken soup. When we found most restaurants in Bulgaria wanted to feed our kids nuggets and chips, we scanned the entrees for an alternative and once they heard chicken soup was on the menu it was their new favourite. At $1 a bowl it also became ours.
Tips and Tricks
Often kids meals are for kids under 12, and let’s be real, while great value, a 3-year-old is not eating the same size portion as a 12-year-old. So you need to watch the dish sizes.
In the US our kids often shared a kids meal and still had lots left over.
Alternatives to the giant kids meals, or if you just want to skip the usual nuggets and chips option, is ordering one adult meal for 2 kids. Only have one kid? Try an entrée sized adult meal or let them share from yours and get a side like mash or steamed vegetables to share too.
Scanning the entrée/appetiser menu or side menu is also a good place to find small portions for kids.
The “I’m hungry” emergency
Often we arrive at a destination early in the morning or late in the evening and the 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 has also become a part of our travel kit for such situations.
Did you know some kettles can even boil eggs inside for the quick pure protein fill-me-up!
The quick and cheap alternative to eating lunch out
When we could be on a press trip visiting many different attractions in one day, we sometimes don’t get time to stop, or if we do, it’s usually at an expensive theme park snack bar. With a plastic 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, we buy a loaf of bread at the first chance when we arrive.
You can also use those tiny hotel-size spreads you get with your breakfast and never need to carry 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 everyday. 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 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 they are often in our bags.
The US and Europe sell baby carrots, peeled and ready to eat. Often we will get a tub of humus to make it more fun.
Raisins/sultanas – another favourite. Save money by buying a large bag and refilling your 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 to crisps and are less oily too.
Local snacks – we like using the food from wherever we are as a treat. In the Netherlands we were eating Stroopwaffles (not so healthy), in Israel we were regularly stopping for falafel. Introduce new foods to the kids when travelling, it’s fun and can even be quite hysterical watching their facial expressions as they try grubs, or tea or Roti Tissue as big as they are!
We hope our tips and tricks for finding kids food on holiday helps make your life somewhat easier, but don’t forget it isn’t a holiday without a little ice cream.
As the Cookie Monster says nowadays, “cookies are a sometimes food.” So enjoy your holiday food… sometimes.
Reader Comments..."I respond to every comment by direct private email. I look forward to your feedback" - Josh Bender
Great practical advise Erin. Thanks
don't think I've bought R a kids meal yet! I always just buy me a meal and split it :) I bet once she's older that'll be the end of that - sigh
Great article. We do lots of the things you've said too. Also a punnet of sugar snap peas, grapes or strawberries is a very welcome healthy snack for my sons.
Appetizers that the family can share instead of full meals is also a great option
Write Your Comment
Please DO NOT include links, URLs or HTML in your comments - they will be automated deleted and you will waste your time.