Does Travel With Kids = The McDonalds World Tour?

I experience travel destinations largely through my stomach. My husband says that it took time to get used to traveling with me because I'm always up for a snack. Regardless of the time of day, if we pass by interesting street food or a bakery or a market, I always stop for a bite, especially if I see something i've never had.

Before we had kids, we dined at some of the world's great restaurants. Places like Arpege in Paris, San Dominico in the Italian countryside, and Daniel in New York. So you'd think that traveling with the kids would really put a crimp in my style & bum me out.

Not for a second. While we're not above eating a lengthy meal at Robuchon while E sleeps in his stroller, or having dinner with a baby carrier hidden safely under the table (don't worry, we pick up the baby if he or she wakes up, but our kids were both reliable sleepers), high-end dining never really defined my eating experience when we traveled. I enjoyed it, and I miss it now, but to a large extent, restaurants that operate on the world dining scene don't really reflect the local culture, the local ingredients, or have a deep connection with place.

The fact is that constraints are good. Constraints force you to focus. My fear of being dragged into the equivalent of Denny's or McDonald's everywhere we go forces me to seek out and try small local places. Places like Pinotxo, a bustling bar in the Boqueria Market in Barcelona. Putting our order in at the crowded bar took some work, but we ate some of best and freshest ceviche I've ever had. Pinotxo's chickpeas made me want seconds (and I normally think that chickpeas are vile slimy little beans whose only service to humanity is to be ground beyond recognition and mixed with garlic, olive oil and sesame).

Needing to serve quick and easy meals to our 1-yr old in our Rome apartment pushed us into a butcher shop in the Campo Dei Fiori that sold us deceptively simple looking pre-made meatballs. To this day, I'm trying to recreate those meatballs at home.

Even better, my quest to find accommodations with a kitchen has meant I can buy and experiment with interesting ingredients from the market instead of dreaming about it. In Paris, with a 6-month old, I made daily trips to the local market and the food hall of the nearby Bon Marche. I also came home with delicious local berries, fabulous juices, fresh bread, apple tarts, and anything else that caught my eye. What foodie wouldn't want a vacation like that?

So, no, traveling with our kids hasn't meant a McDonalds World Tour, though there was that moment of desperation in Sevilla when, for the first time ever, we put a Happy Meal in front of our 2½-year old son. He was offended by the sub-par chicken nuggets and just ate the fries. We haven't been tempted since.

I'll be writing more this week about how I find great places to eat with kids when we travel.

Related Links:
Meals and Snacks on a Family Vacation Dining Out With Young Children
Reader Questions: Eating With Kids in Paris

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  1. Heidi on May 5, 2008 at 5:12 p.m.

    (This is off-topic, but I couldn't find any contact info on your site.)
    I'm new to your site and wondering if you've written at all about the recent changes in airline luggage policies. I wrote about it briefly here:
    Since you're an experienced, family traveler, what's your take on this?

  2. familyonbikes on May 5, 2008 at 8:13 p.m.

    HA!! I can sooo relate to the struggle to find food for kids. My boys are now ten, and I'm sad to report they are getting pickier by the day - I never thought I'd see the day they could be pickier than they were a few years ago.

    The good thing about the way we travel (on bicycles) is that they get so hungry, they'll eat nearly anything. Notice I said - nearly anything. There are still some evenings when they would prefer to go hungry rather than eat what ends up in our pot, but fortunately those days are fairly rare.

  3. soultravelers3 on May 6, 2008 at 2:34 a.m.

    Luckily, in our two years of world travel, we have not found eating great food as a family hard at all. Even at 5 my daughter was willing to try escargot in Paris and surprisingly she even has loved going to wine tasting places with us in Burgundy, Umbria, Santorini, and Austria. That one surprised me, but she loves it, perhaps because she spent her first 5 years on our own vineyard.

    Often they indulge her at fancy places and fill an elegant wine glass with cranberry juice which she enjoys. She has made up a special toast for us... Soultravelers3. Just this weekend we went to the wonderful, colorful horse fair in Jerez and enjoyed some new authentic dishes and they gave her a special sherry glass to use and keep.

    She loves trying the good food every where including tangines in Morocco or one of her favorite meals in Cappadocia, Turkey. We have had many fantastic meals on the road at 5 star places and special small venues too.

    We also love shopping in local markets, cheese shops, butcheries and sometimes directly from farmers. It helps all of us get a sense of the real life of each culture and we love trying new things. Enjoying great food can be one of the delights of family travel!!

  4. Debbie on May 6, 2008 at 4:03 p.m.

    I find the differences between kids so interesting (and funny)

    E is possibly one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. Ever since he started solids he approached each new food with skepticism. We've even had days where I have to take all the ice cream off his cone so that he can enjoy the cone alone (at Ben and Jerry's no less). Since day one, we've tried to feed him what we were eating... which seemed like a good plan. The result is that he likes things like goat cheese, pickles, olives, soba noodles, and broccoli, but absolutely refuses string cheese, mac and cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers and noodles with butter. That's fine when we're home, but it's sometimes limiting when we eat at a friends house or a "family friendly" restaurant.

    D on the other hand yells and screams if she sees any type of new food that she hasn't tried before. She's up for almost anything, and the only thing I can think of that she doesn't eat is fake cheese (cheese filled crackers, cheese spread, singles) and bland food. When we're out someplace new I really get into trouble... she eats so much off my plate that I have to put in a second order, especially if the food is very flavorful (Indian, Chinese, Japanese, etc). We don't know where she puts it all... she's about 20th percentile for weight... but we're pretty confident that she's getting a well rounded diet.

  5. Debbie on May 6, 2008 at 4:06 p.m.


    You're right. I should write about the changes in baggage policy on many domestic airlines. I want to wrap up some other food related articles first, but then I'll let you know my thoughts.

  6. jenny, Bloggess on May 27, 2008 at 6:39 a.m.


  7. TulipGirl on November 1, 2008 at 7:24 a.m.

    On the other hand, I overheard a conversation with a group of teens who had lived and traveled overseas compare the various merits and prices of McDs in Paris, England, Prague, Rome, and Kyiv. . . Very interesting convo. . . and while we prefer to avoid McDs in general, I'ld love for my kids to be that familiar with other countries that they can do the same!