How to Eat Like a Local While Traveling … With a Baby
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.
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 coffee.
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, a good idea when you have an unpredictable baby or toddler in tow.
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!
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 like SitterCity.com or ask your hotel or even the local tourism bureau for assistance.
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. 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. So, it's always a smart idea to bring some 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 trusted baby food is within reach.