Fifteen months ago, our lives changed forever when we welcomed our son into this world. Like all new parents, we’ve had to figure out a lot since then—how to keep our baby healthy, how to sleep more than three hours a night, and, eventually, how to maintain some semblance of our former traveling-food-explorer lifestyles. Fortunately—for now, anyway—our little guy fits right in, with an impressive appetite and a willingness to try almost anything, from frog legs in Kentucky to Nepali momos at home in Queens. Until we have to deal with tricking him to eat anything that’s not brown, here are our tips for feeding yourself and your baby local eats while on the road.
Let’s say you love to travel. You live for the thrill of stepping into unknown territory, meeting people from all walks of life, finding adventure around every corner and eating food you’ve never encountered before. Let’s say you also have a baby—a curious, demanding little person who requires lots of milk and food, and 13-plus hours of sleep a day. Must the two be mutually exclusive?
Of course not, as countless family travel blogs will tell you. While you might want to wait a few more years before trekking Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit, there are plenty of holidays and adventures suitable for young kids—if you have enough desire and patience to tackle them. You’ll need to plan around naps and bedtimes; in fact, you will probably need to plan more in general than you ever have before. But you’ll also come across more unexpected adventure and likely have more interactions with people than you did pre-baby. As for enjoying local food with a baby? That’s an easy one, really, with a few key preparations and attitude adjustments. Here’s how to do it.
Stock up your kitchen
Standard hotel rooms are tough for traveling with a baby, so if possible, rent an apartment or a suite with a kitchenette—this will make your life infinitely easier when it comes to both sleeping and eating. Then, hit the markets. Local foods like fruit, bread, cheese, yogurt and jam are great to have around for breakfast and snacks—for all of you—and it’s nice to not feel like you need to rush out of the door every day to find food and, essentially, coffee.
What we do: We always rent a two-bedroom apartment—it’s a bit of a splurge, but since we spend more time than ever in our accommodations now (during most of his naps, at night), we want to be comfortable (bonus points for an outdoor space). Then we stock our rented kitchen with local fruit and other snacks—and the fridge with local beer—and usually bring coffee from home. For our son, we bring his favorite bowl from home as well as our trusty travel screw-on chair, so it is easy to feed him at home if needed.
Take advantage of your new schedule
No matter where you go, chances are your baby will awaken earlier than usual in his or her new surroundings. First, make coffee, then take your child outside and embrace the opportunity to explore a new place at the crack of dawn before the crowds descend. Find out which markets and cafes open early and go there to watch the local food scene come to life. You get to start your exploration of a place much earlier than you normally would and you’re exposing your little one to new scenery—as well as the sun, which is key for adjusting circadian rhythms to a new time zone, if that’s a factor. Additionally, starting everything a bit earlier in the day (breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m., dinner at 5 p.m., perhaps) lets you dine out at off-hours in restaurants, not a bad idea when you have an unpredictable baby or toddler in tow.
What we do: Our son always wakes up super early when he’s sleeping somewhere that’s not his crib. It ain’t easy to be cheerful and motivated at 5:30 a.m., but eventually we suck it up and make the best of the situation, as we did in Mexico.
Who knew Ethiopian food (in Washington, D.C.) would be such a hit?
Let your child experiment with new tastes, too
You may be quick to try unfamiliar local foods, but your baby? Depending on his or her solid food progression and whether allergies are a factor, there’s no reason why you can’t take the opportunity to introduce some new, palate-expanding flavors to your child. (Within reason, of course — guidelines about not giving raw or sugary foods to a baby do still apply on the road.) Strive for a mix of what he or she may eat at home (eggs, toast, beans, veggies, chicken) with some new stuff thrown in off your own, more exotic plate — a handmade tortilla, curry sauce, seasoned rice, stewed meats or fish, among others. It’s never too early to start training your little one to be a young culinary explorer, too!
What we do: Exactly this, whether we are at home or on the road. It’s fun for both us and our son, and sometimes inspires what we then cook for him at home.
Hire a local sitter for an evening out—or two
Babies tend to hit the hay on the early side, so you have three choices: have an early bird family dinner and stay in with your child, seek out a local take-out option to enjoy later (and stay in) or find a sitter to watch the baby monitor so you can have a proper night out. Ideally—unless you’re out in nature where there’s no sense in staying up past 9 p.m.—you should be able to do all three. The first two are relatively easy to pull off with some planning, but do you really want to completely miss the post-sunset life of a city? Getting out for an adults-only cocktail or local beer and a leisurely dinner is key not only to your travel experience, but to your sanity as well—traveling with a baby can be exhausting! To find a sitter you can trust, ask around for friends of friends who might live in the destination you’re visiting, try a national service likeSitterCity.com or ask your hotel or even the local tourism bureau for assistance.
What we do: We nearly always line up a sitter for a night or two when we travel, trying first for a personal recommendation (friend of a friend, etc.) before moving on to a vetted professional. Some restaurants you are better off visiting without your kid in tow, we think, and it’s during those meals where we can truly relax and enjoy the food. Plus, how could we visit Charleston and not have dinner at Husk? In coastal Yucatan, we skipped the sitter because we were at the beach and didn’t feel like we were missing out on any nightlife, especially since the monitor worked just fine on the terraces and patios of each place we stayed.
Pack some food from home
At the end of the day, having a baby with you won’t really interfere with your own plans to explore the local cuisine—you just tote your child wherever you want to go, for the most part. But you have to keep your kid well-fed and you certainly don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute for something, anything, to feed him or her that’s not animal crackers left over from your flight. So, it’s always a smart idea to bring some of those baby-food pouches from home. Keep some in your hotel or apartment and tuck a few in your diaper bag, in case you’re out later than expected or at a restaurant with no suitable options for a baby. Between all your own meals out and what you stock your kitchen with locally, you might not even need them—but you’ll feel at ease knowing they’re there.
What we do: I order some organic spinach-mango-pear packs in bulk from Amazon, and use them exactly in these situations—they are great not only for those on-the-go moments when nothing else is available, but also for those days when veggies don’t feature much on the menu, which admittedly happens a lot when we’re traveling for EYW. If we are doing a road trip from home, I might take this a step further and make some kind of snack that’s reasonably healthy and easy to reach for (for all three of us!), like a variation of these spinach balls.