Traveling anywhere with children can be rough. Going to a foreign country with them can be even rougher. Foreign travel is not a relaxing vacation, and in fact, you might say that it can be more work than actual work is. First of all, you're dealing with a language you may or may not understand. Second, you don't know where anything is, and although you might have figured out how to ask for directions, you probably won't understand the answer anyway. This is either because blind panic has set in and your mind has gone blank or because non-English speakers have a very annoying habit of not answering questions in the simple subject/verb/direct object structure you memorized from those foreign- language CDs you endlessly played in the car in anticipation of your trip.
Most important, however, the food will be unfamiliar. Even if you've had it here at home, there's a lot of other stuff on the menu you've never seen before. Sea snails may be one, unfamiliar greens might be another, and there are always the tricky cuts of meat that don't resemble anything in this country.
Fortunately, I speak restaurant in several languages. If you don't, I recommend a cheat sheet, laminated, that you carry with you at all times. Let me repeat: Carry this list of food-related vocabulary words with you everywhere. It just might save a complete family meltdown in a public space.
Even if you do figure out what kind of food to expect when the waiter arrives bearing those steaming plates of deliciousness, this is no guarantee that anyone (and I'm including teenagers here) will eat any of it. For a few people, this obstinacy may last their entire lives, but for most, you may have noticed that the experimentation part of the brain apparently begins to kick in during college (this isn't necessarily a good thing — but that's another column).
I'll let you in on a secret: I have an effective weapon I deploy on every trip, and its name is ice cream. Helado, glace, gelato or eiscreme. You need to memorize these words. Now.
Ice cream is a bribe that can work up to three or four times a day. Some real food must be eaten first (bread qualifies as real food) or one museum/monument/famous landmark must be visited before the cone is presented. The only exception to this rule is if you're lost and you've all been walking for a while, hot and tired and cranky. Immediately find the nearest ice-cream store or café and order quickly (parents may want a glass of wine at this point as well), and you'll have a better chance of averting tantrums once you leave to search again for that place you were looking for.
In other words, you must jettison everything you believe about children and food. Namely, that food must be nutritious. This is a vacation and you want to have a good time, don't you? Forgetting about what a real meal should be (to avoid the attendant nagging, pestering and subsequent whining) can really brighten your day as you walk around and around a city with no clue as to how to get where you're going.
After all, the week or two you spend out of the country is just a blip in all of the years spent feeding your children. So bribe them. You'll thank me.