The Guide to a Family Holiday in Thailand

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THAI FOOD FOR KIDS

THAI FOOD FOR KIDS

If you are a foody then you might be forgiven for believing that when you arrive in Thailand you've died and gone to heaven. The food in Thailand is justifiably regarded as perhaps the finest in the world. But I think we all know it is also regarded as one of the spiciest, and we all know that kids and red hot chills don't normally mix. There are also issues relating to hygene, allergies and food availability. The following chapter aims to provide a guide to help you and your children get started on your own Thai food adventure.

Food 

Food is always a worry with children, and since you are in a foreign country the worries will be more so. A word of comfort here, after spending ten years living working and raising two children in Thailand, in which time we have eaten out in hotels and restaurants ranging from top class to side of the road, I can report less than half a dozen occasions when any of us have suffered food poisoning. I’d wager far fewer stomach upsets than we would have had in the UK had we eaten out as often. My conclusion and that of my many expatriate colleagues is; food in Thailand is clean, safe and wholesome. 

There is though one food hazard you cannot avoid, chillies! If you are not used to eating spicy food then you have to be a little careful. The good news, you can ask for your food to be mild and there are plenty of dishes that are not at all spicy. See Hold-up Cards. 

Here’s another surprise, not all chillies are spicy! So just because you have a plate full of chillies doesn’t mean you’re mouth will catch fire. The general rule is the smaller the chilli the hotter it will be. Large Chillies can be quite sweet. 

Later on in this chapter I have listed a few dishes that I know from experience most children will like and I've put together a dowloadable/printable extract of this chapter - see Thaifood4Kids.

In the event that the odd chilli does get through and either you or your children have a mouth that is on fire then the cure is sugar. A boiled sweet, a sweet drink or a spoon full of sugar left to dissolve on the tongue.

Tip: Watch Thais eating spice food, they don’t allow their lips to touch the food, rather they drag the food off their spoon with there teeth. You will probably find yourself doing this after a couple of encounters with hot chillies.

 

Basic Foods 

There is some more good news here, western style foods are widely available throughout Thailand so there is no need to force yourself or  an unwilling child to eat the local food.

I feel I must add that when I say ‘western style’ this style is sometimes a bit Thai, but I believe always perfectly wholesome and safe to eat.

If you visit the "Essentials" link you'll find a tabulation of the basic food stuffs, prices and suggestions of where you can buy these - Actually its a lot more than just food basics but that's why you came to Thailand4Kids - spread the good news. 

Milk 

Bottled, tinned or milk in cartons bought in stores are safe. Pasteurised and UHT milk are widely available but taste slightly different from the milk at home, not better, not worse, just different. There is nothing wrong with the milk it is simply the different feed the cattle are given. 

You should avoid milk if you cannot determine its origin, typically milk shakes from road or beach side vendors. 

Canned milk is often heavily sweetened with sugar. Soya milk is widely available in Thailand.

 

           ADD PHOTO OF MILK

 

Perfectly safe brands of milk available in Thailand (The bottles with the blue labels in the centre of this photograph are of the brand we normally use) Again see the "Essentials" page. 

 

Chicken, Bacon and Eggs 

These taste far better in Thailand than they do in the UK or Europe. Sorry, I’ll clarify that, the chicken, bacon and eggs you get in any of the top hotels will taste much the same as at home, but order breakfast at any local restaurant that advertise ‘English/American breakfast and you’ll taste bacon and eggs like they should taste. 

Bread 

Depending on where you are, bread can be excellent or indifferent. Bread is not part of the traditional Thai diet so good bread is hard to find. If you buy packaged bread you’ll find it contains quite a lot of sugar.

 

Ice Cream 

All the major brands of ice cream are available in Thailand and are of course safe. Local brands of ice cream are available but I can’t vouch for how safe they are, they may not be made with pasteurised milk. A curious note here, Thais often serve ice cream in rather an unusual manner, ‘in a bread roll on a bed of sticky rice!’ 

My guess is it’s just another excuse to eat rice. 

 

Baby Foods 

The use of bottled or canned baby foods is a western practice that Thais do not follow, they have their own traditional methods of feeding very young children, for this reason the availability and variety of western baby foods in Thailand is  somewhat restricted. You will not find western baby foods outside of the main tourist destinations. 

As with all foreign imported foods it is always advisable to check the sell-by dates. This is of course especially important with baby foods so do check the sell by date, the seals and that the cap to the bottle is not convex, bowing outwards, this is an indication the food inside is spoiled. 

 

Formula Milk 

International brands of formula milk are available throughout Thailand. 

 

Water and Ice 

All bottled water is safe and there is no need to buy the most expensive brands. The Nestle brand of bottled water meets the highest standards and is widely recommended. All ice in Thailand is safe, you’ll hear all sorts of recommendations such as ‘only eat ice with a hole in the middle’, this rang true ten years ago but more recently hotels and restaurants have installed their own ice making machines that produce cubes or squares of ice. Don’t worry, the ice and bottled water are safe. 

Tap water is chlorinated, but I don’t recommend that you drink it, I once drank a whole jug of the stuff that my wife had left out after watering the flowers. I remained "unmoved" but perhaps I was lucky. 

We have always used tap water for cooking and making tea or coffee drinks, so do all the restaurants that you will eat in. Again don’t worry, you would have to be extremely unlucky to get anything other than a mild stomach upset from water and ice served in Thai restaurants. 

 

Brushing your teeth 

We always use the tap water to brush our teeth, doing so is an excellent way of introducing yourself to small amounts of the local water. Now before you say ‘No way!’ Bear in mind, all cooking utensils, crockery, spoons and forks are washed in tap water.

 

A Cold Drink! 

During my first couple of years in Thailand I worked on an oil refinery construction site, I was working outside in the tropical heat for up to sixteen hours a day during which time I consumed, sometimes as much as five litres of water. 

I soon learned not to drink cold or chilled water, doing so can cause colic and diarrhoea, this is even more so with small children. I know it runs contrary to instinct but it really is better if you avoid drinking chilled drinks when you are hot and thirsty, stick to cool water rather than iced. 

 

Fruit 

Thailand is famed for its fruit and depending on when you go you’ll find fruit in varying degrees of abundance, May through June is the real fruit season. I really do recommend that you try as many of the huge varieties of fruit you will find, I’m quite certain you’ll love some of them. My favourite is without a doubt fresh pineapple, but our children love Pomallo a kind of large sweat grape fruit and Farang or what you might know as Guava Pear.

 

A Caution for Mums to be 

The Thais have an old wives tale that pregnant women should avoid eating Papaya (Ma-la-khor), it is said to increase the risk of a miscarriage. So on the basis that its seldom good practice to argue with old wives, its probably best to take their advice. 

Too much pineapple can give rise to sore gums and a small number of people are allergic to Mango.

 

Sugar/Peanuts/Chillies/MSG 

Thais add these ingredients to a surprising number of dishes. Again see the ‘Hold-up Cards’ you can use these to request restaurant staff not to add the above ingredients. 

 

Food Additives and Food Labelling 

Thailand has enacted laws governing food additives and food labelling but they are not the same laws as you have at home, more importantly the labelling laws require food additives to be labelled in Thai script. If the food product is a foreign import, just the kind of thing you might want to buy for your children, then the Thai distributor will comply with Thai laws by sticking a “Thai Script” food contents label over the English script label provided by the food manufacturer” – If you peal the Thai sticker off you’ll find the manufacturer’s label underneath. 

The other problem is Thais are far less aware of the issues surrounding food additives, Thai food manufacturers still add colorants and flavours at levels not seen in Europe and the US since the 1970’s. 

My advice here is stick to international brands of ice cream, soda drinks and candies, the Thai versions can be loaded with all manner of colorants, flavours and flavour enhancers. 

Tip: If you or your child have a history of allergic reaction then it might be worth carrying anti histamines or anti asthma medication as a precaution against an allergic reaction to a strange food. 

Tip: Many Thai foods will  have their name and description written in both English and Thai  but only the Thai script showing. Take a good look at such things as bottles of milk and other packaged food, there is usually an English Script description somewhere on the packet - often, and milk is a good example, the front will be printed in Thai script while the back will be reprinted in English.   

 

Where To Buy Your Food 

All the guide books on Thailand include long eulogies of how great Thai food is, what they neglect in their enthusiasm is the difficulty parents often face, providing food that their children will eat, new food in a new place can be problematic. These guidebooks can also appear to scoff at anyone who doesn’t eat the local food. 

So being a little less judgemental, children like certain foods and you need the information to be able to help you find those foods, you also need some pointers to the Thai foods that children might like. 

If for whatever reason you need to buy and prepare your own foods then the following outlets are your best starting points. You’ll need to ask at your hotel for directions.  See 'Essentials' page for specific food stuffs, meanwhile as a general pointer.

7/11 and "Family Mart" stores can be found throughout Thailand and stock basics such as Bread, Milk, Water, Ice Cream etc. 

There are a number of supermarket chains in Thailand “Foodland, Lotus/Tesco, Carrefour and Robinsons” these stock most foods that you could possibly want, but be aware that the selection will be limited.

I don't subscribe to the view that 'when in Thailand you should only eat Thai food' - Children often have their own ideas on such things, so let's not turn our noses up at the fact that Mc Donald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut and various other fast food outlets can be found in Bangkok and many holiday destinations. 

If you are in one of the main tourist areas, look out for “Sizzelers, they have a good western style grill menu and a fantastic salad bar. 

I hope you do try the Thai food and if you do I recommend that you try some of the restaurants outside of your hotel, the food will be cheaper and better than the bland offerings most hotels provide. I have included a list of foods that I think will get you started, foods that are relatively easy to get to know and enjoy, I’m sure after the first meal you and your children will find things you like and will come to appreciate Thai food. 

Who knows, you might want to graduate to side of the road and beach stalls, they are good value and you would be very unlucky to get ill.

 

Tip: Thai restaurants survive or die on their reputation, and these reputations travel like wild fire. When you are looking for a restaurant choose one with plenty of customers, a mixture of foreign and Thai customers is a sure sign that a restaurant is selling good clean food. 

Restaurants with only Thai customers are of course authentic, but they will probably not have a roman script menu and the food is likely to be very much more spicy.

Taking Your Own Food to Thai Restaurants 

Don’t be shy about this, you are on holiday as a family and you want to eat as a family. If your child is too small to eat adult food or has special food needs, then take your child’s food to the restaurant so you can eat together.

We’ve done this many times and always found the restaurant staff and management to both accept this and too be glad to see families in their restaurant. 

 

Food and Climate 

Here’s an important health tip. Thai food is cooked and served in a manner that suits the Thai climate; European food and its preparation does not. I have been ill three times in ten years all three times after eating in upmarket restaurants, twice after eating European food. 

I really do advise you to stick to the local food if you can and certainly stay away from large multi course European meals. 

One of the ways Thai food is adapted to the climate is the way in which meat is served. Meat is chopped into small pieces that will cook all the way through, you will not find joints of meat or breasts of chicken or large cuts of meet, if you do I would advise you to avoid them. 

 

Children’s Seats (High Chairs) in Restaurants 

There are a few restaurants that have child seats, but mostly they don’t. You’ll also find that where there is a child seat it will not be built to the standards you are used to, it may not be as stable as a child seat at home and it may not have any form of restraint  to keep the child in the seat.

 

Tip. We used a child harness, the type you use to fasten children into pushchairs as a means of restraining our children in restaurant high chairs. 

Tip: Take a couple of sterilising cleaning wipes along with you to wipe the eating area of infants, we all know food tastes better eaten off the table than it does off the plate. 

Children’s Eating Implements in Restaurants 

When our children were very young we always took their own spoons and cups with us to restaurants; I have never seen children sized eating implements and rarely come across plastic drinking beakers, they are always made of glass. Plates are invariably melamine. 

Tip: Take an eggcup with you to Thailand for Junior’s boiled eggs, I have never seen egg cups used except in the better hotels. 

Tip: Don’t be shy about wiping eating implements, glasses and plates in order to make sure they are clean, Thais do this all the time and nobody is going to be offended.

 

Recommended Thai Foods Foods

    

Description (English and Thai)

                             

Age from

Grilled Chicken with Sticky Rice

Gai Yarng Koaw Niowe

2Yrs +

 

Steamed Crab

Boo Nung  

     

4Yrs +

 

Steamed Crab Legs        

Gan Jian Boo Nung

 

2 Yrs +

Plain Rice

Koaw Ploaw

 

2 Yrs +

Egg Fried Rice

Koaw Pat Kai

 

2 Yrs +

Chicken Fried Rice

Koaw Pad Gai

 

2 Yrs +

Crab Fried Rice

Koaw Pat Boo

 

2 Yrs +

Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Gai Pad Met Ma-Muang

 

3 Yrs +

Fried Mixed Vegetables

Pad Pak Ruem

 

2 Yrs +

Fried Chicken in Fragrant Leaves

Gai Hor Bai Tuaey

 

2 Yrs +

Fried Mixed Noodle/Shrimp and Bean Sprout Omelette with Prawns.

Pad Thai Gung

 

3 Yrs +

 

Plain Omelette

Kai Jiow

 

1 Yrs +

   

The above list is not meant to be exhaustive, rather a safe starting point.     

 

Bones with Everything 

This is something you need to take care of with small children; Thais serve their meat ‘bones and all’, this is especially so with BBQ Chicken. What makes matters more difficult is the cook will BBQ the whole bird, or half bird, and then chop it into portions with a cleaver and in doing so splinter the bones. Because of this you have to be a bit careful and you will probably have to take the meat off the bones for smaller children. But don’t be put off, BBQ chicken in Thailand is far tastier than anything I have managed to find back home.

 

A Restful Afternoon 

Sticky rice Koaw Niowe is very high in gluten; a plate of this stuff will send you and your children off to sleep while you digest it. I see evidence of this every Friday afternoon in our office, when after a Som Tam and sticky rice lunch half our staff doze the afternoon away. 

 

Drinks 

All the main brands, of soft drinks are available (I’m not going to advertise them here until I get the contract signed). There are also numerous other drinks that you and your children might want to try, my favourites are:

    

Nam Ma Noaw

 

A sharp fresh lemon juice.

Deng Mho Pan

 

Liquidised water melon

Nam Ma Proaw

 

Coconut milk

Nam Som Pahn

 

Fresh orange juice

Bottled water, tea and coffee are widely available. 

 

Drinking from a bag! 

Here’s another strange thing; if you buy a soft drink from a side of the road stall it will very often be poured into a plastic bag containing crushed ice, a drinking straw will be inserted and the whole thing tied together with an elastic band. It seems odd at first, but it is perfectly clean and safe, just a bit odd to start with.

 

Breast Feeding   

My wife took the advice of Thai friends and restricted her breast feeding of our children to indoors, certainly not openly in restaurants. She also commented that whenever she did breast feed in a public area she inevitably received the attentions of every passing Thai. My Thai colleges advise that breast feeding, like bathing, is an indoor activity. That said, I don't think anyone is going to object to you breast feeding in public and who knows you might be doing your bit to improve Thailand's woefully low breast feeding rates by demonstrating its not a "lo so" thing to do. (Thailand sadly needs to do a lot of work to reverse class attitudes on things like breast feeding).

You may find that eating spicy food carries over into your milk, I’m not saying it will happen but do keep this in mind as a possibility.

Self Catering 

Very few hotels provide rooms with kitchen facilities, I have never seen kitchen facilities at guest houses, at most you will find a kettle and perhaps a toaster in your room. 

I suspect this is simply because fresh cooked food is so cheap in Thailand that there is no market for self-catering. 

 

Sterilising Infant Bottles 

One of the great advantages of breast feeding is you don’t have to worry about sterilising bottles.

If you are feeding your very young baby with bottles then you need to give sterilising some thought. 

I’m quite sure that most guesthouses and hotels will be happy to boil your bottles for you, alternatively you might want to simply steep them in boiling water. 

Alternatively you might want to use sterilising tablets, for which you will have to buy a bowl anyway. 

What ever your choice of sterilisation or even if your child is beyond the age where you need to be so cautious, I still advise that you carry at least four bottles and perhaps two spare teats. Doing so will free you up a bit more for travelling around. 

Baby bottles are readily available in Thai stores. See the "Essentials" Page

 

 


Copyright©2005 CE Ryan King. All Rights Reserved.