This post was written in association with ‘Anywhere Travel’:
Finding family-friendly activities and managing the logistics of family travel is enough work on its own.
When it comes to mealtime on your Central American vacation, you’ll be dealing with some new and unfamiliar foods.
Hopefully you have an adventurous eater along for the ride. But in case you don’t, the following tips should make trying new foods enjoyable for your kids. Instead of fighting them over what they’re going to eat, plan a few activities to get them interested in the local cuisine.
See food in its natural habitat.
Go to a plantation or a farm to show your kids where food begins. If you visit Ecuador, it’s a worthwhile fieldtrip to a cacao plantation. Chocolate is becoming an increasingly important crop in Central America, and Ecuadorian chocolate is some of the highest-quality chocolate in the world. Your kids will be astonished to learn that their chocolate bars start life as beans, encased inside a yellowish, oblong pod.
Many cacao plantations offer cooking classes that show visitors how to dry, roast, and cook with chocolate. The chocolate may not be as sweet as what they’re used to, but the act of making it themselves is empowering for youngsters.
Get them out of their element.
You’re traveling somewhere new, and there will be a lot of unfamiliar foods. Take a trip to an outdoor market to see it all in one place.
Market stands in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama will be piled high with unrecognizable fruits. Make your trip to the market into a scavenger hunt – who can find the most alien-looking (and sweetest-tasting) new fruit?
In Ecuador, sample a guanabananá, a fruit with a spiky, green peel that tastes like a cross between a strawberry and a banana. Visit Guatemala for a bite of purple-and-pink pitayas (a type of dragon fruit), and stop in Costa Rica and buy a bushel of hairy, red rambutans.
Once they choose something unfamiliar for themselves, your kids will start feeling a little more daring when it comes to mealtime.
Sweeten the pot.
Maybe you’re not into bargaining. But maybe just this once?
Along with new grown-up foods, new countries present new types of ice cream, cakes, and candies. Make it clear that your junior gourmands can’t taste new treats until they’ve made a good effort with everything else.
Here’s a short list of desserts that will tempt them to cooperate.
- Flan de coco – Costa Rican flan
Flan is a popular dessert all over Central America and South America. On Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, ply your kids with flan de coco. Originally introduced by the Spanish, this custard is made with egg whites and condensed milk. Costa Rica’s flan de coco comes studded with tropical flakes of coconut.
- Paila – Ecuadorian ice cream
Ecuador’s different fruits taste especially good in a dessert called paila, a light, sorbet-like dish made from local fruit and ice. The dessert is named after the paila, the copper dish that cooks use to make this old-fashioned treat.
- Buñuelos – Guatemalan doughnuts
Buñuelos are Guatemalan doughnuts, often served soaked in syrup. You can also find similar desserts made with fruit – plantains and sweet potatoes are often served marinated in honey.
- Tres leches cake
If the country you’re visiting is a former colony of Spain, chances are they’ll have their own version of tres leches. Tres leches translates to “three milks.” To make it, cooks soak a sponge cake in evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream. Each country has its own preferred toppings.
If all else fails, you can usually find easy substitutes for their favorite foods back home.
Instead of French fries, try fried yucca with ketchup. Yucca is a starchy plant that grows in the dessert. Fried plantain is another filling (and intensely sweet) side dish that is popular with kids all over Central and South America.
In Belize, rice and beans cooked in coconut milk makes a tasty, fibrous meal for visitors of any age. Panama also relies heavily on its own version of rice and beans as inexpensive fillers.
Picky eaters can rejoice – eateries in this part of the world usually have a stack of freshly made tortillas and mild cheese on hand. Ideally, your kids will use the family vacation as an opportunity to stretch their palettes beyond quesadillas, the grilled cheese of Central and South America. But we all need a taste of home now and again.