This is how to avoid food fights on vacation

Here's how to avoid food fights on vacation by Christopher Elliott

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time thinking about food when you travel. And if you have kids, you know they spend even more time having food fights on vacation.

Culinary travel is a huge trend. About 22 million Americans will take a culinary-focused vacation in the next year, according to a recent AAA study. Three out of four travelers tell pollsters that food and dining are an important part of their travel experiences, and chances are you’re among them. I know I am.

But culinary travel with kids is a special kind of challenge. You have to balance the adult need to eat something healthy with the junk-food impulses of your offspring. And you have to weigh those against the requirements of your trip. Which is to say, you can’t always pull over for a restaurant-quality lunch because you have places to be.

Well, I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news: No article will end the struggle. The good: I can help you minimize the conflict. I’ve been on the road with my kids for years, and I have a few ideas. A little planning, creativity, and curiosity can bridge the divide between adults and parents — not to mention avoid a food fight.

Avoid fighting about food when you travel. Here's how. Christopher Elliott, author
Iden Elliott on the last stop of our burger tour of Santa Fe, N.M.

Plan your meals when you travel — or it could turn into a food fight

Some travelers like to experience their food spontaneously. Others plan. If you’re traveling with your family, you’ll definitely want to prepare. Why? Because, as I’ve told my kids on numerous occasions, if you don’t make plans, then plans will be made for you. Put differently, resolve any disagreements before you get to the restaurant or grocery store. No fighting about food in public.

Many travelers don’t like to cook while they’re on vacation, and that’s fine. A five-minute session with Yelp, Google, and the kids can usually result in a meal plan everyone can agree on. One of our favorite concepts involves the food tour. That’s where we make multiple stops at restaurants or coffee shops, trying the same dish.

In Seattle, we stopped in a dozen coffee shops one afternoon. The kids tried a pastry and I went for the espresso. In Santa Fe, we sampled six different chili burgers one afternoon. That was fun. In Chicago, it was hot dogs. Turning food into a theme — and an adventure — makes the vacation more memorable. You can do this in Philadelphia (cheesesteak), Memphis (barbecue), Austin (tacos) or New Orleans (gumbo).

A word of warning from someone who is willing to try almost anything: When it comes to definitions of “hot” and “spicy,” palates vary. I can almost still feel the burn of the chili I tasted in Santa Fe. It was nuclear-hot, even though the server assured me it was only “hot.” I’d hate to taste very hot.

Iden Elliott adjusts a smiley face on pancakes at Ellen's Danish Pancake House in Buellton, Calif.
Iden Elliott adjusts a smiley face on pancakes at Ellen’s Danish Pancake House in Buellton, Calif.

To avoid food fights on vacation, get creative — and stay creative

If you’re on the road almost nonstop like I am, you learn that routines are not your friend when it comes to food. If you feed your companions the same thing every day, they’ll eventually stop cooperating. Fighting about food is inevitable.

For my 13-year-old son, being uncooperative means declaring that everything I make is “disgusting!” And for my 11-year-old daughter, that means refusing to eat. Nothing is more exasperating than having unhappy kids at the dinner table.

Well, you know that saying — variety is the spice of life? The secret ingredient is creativity. Here’s where ours landed us:

✓ For breakfast, we loved our recent stop at Ellen’s Danish Pancake House in Buellton, Calif. The smiley-face pancakes are tasty. And fun.

✓ For lunch, we adored the Low Country fare at Red Bone Alley, in Florence, S.C. For some reason, that always seemed to be our halfway point between Washington and Orlando, where we used to live. Maybe that one was more opportunistic than creative.

✓ And there nothing quite like Remy’s on a Disney cruise, a multi-course meal with a wine pairing. Chef Arnaud Lallement of l’Assiette Champenoise, a Michelin three-star restaurant just outside Reims, France, and Chef Scott Hunnel from Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World Resort, created the menu. Remarkable.

The ultimate in creativity is finding a grocery store or farmers market and creating your own food. It’s also a terrific way to save money. After several years, we started stepping out of our comfort zone by looking up local recipes and trying ingredients you can only find nearby. Of course, you can only do that if you can cook, so go for the vacation rental if you feel like putting your chef’s hat on.

A raw oyster in Mobile, Ala. Dare you to try one.
A raw oyster in Mobile, Ala. Dare you to try one.

Remember, food is an adventure

Whether you’re exploring street food in LA or dining at a restaurant with Michelin stars in Paris, food is an incredible adventure. That becomes clear when you’re exploring the outer range of the culinary arts, like sampling raw oysters in Mobile, Ala., or savoring frog legs in the Florida Everglades.

It all starts with one of your kids saying, “I dare you to eat one, Dad.” I usually do.

Attitude is important. If you approach food as if it’s an interesting part of your journey, your family will be far less likely to fight about it. For an added challenge, try doing it with a dietary restriction — kosher, halal, vegan. That’s where things get really interesting. I’ll have to write more about that later.

You can avoid a food fight on your next vacation if you plan ahead and think outside the box. You know, the one that says “takeout” on it and has the hot dogs and fries. It’s no guarantee, but I’ve been on the road with my kids for the last eight years, and none of them has starved — yet.

Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.