We all want to raise kids who are kind, respectful, and accepting of others. One way to do this is to introduce them to cultures that are different from their own. While it may seem like a daunting task, trying foods from other cultures is a great place to start! In fact, I’d argue that food equals culture. Trying a new-to-you recipe or food opens up the opportunity to discuss the many different ways people live, eat, and play.
Even the youngest children can begin to understand that there are many people who are different from us with unique habits and preferences. Begin instilling the idea that different is OK, and while one person may like bold, spicy flavors, another may prefer softer, sweeter flavors. While we don’t have to force ourselves to like a certain food, we can be kind and polite to others who do.
Additionally, introducing foods from other cultures helps to expand your family’s diet, which may be beneficial in the long run. While we all have unique nutritional needs, eating a large variety of foods promotes health for most of us. Plus, it gives kids an opportunity to find new foods that they like! Read on for tips on how to introduce your little ones to food from different cultures.
Read Books About Food
Books are a wonderful way to introduce a child to a new topic—including food! A quick visit to your local library or bookstore will show you there are tons of children’s books about food and culture. Not only is reading a story educational, but it also counts as food exposure. Most kids need more than one exposure to a food before they will try it, so this is a great way to get them comfortable before interacting with the food itself. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
What Can You Do with a Paleta?
As the winner of the Tomas Rivera Mexican American Children's Book Award, this book follows a little girl who introduces readers to this delicious Mexican treat and all of the different ways it can be served.
also available in Spanish
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
This incredible depiction of the modern Native American family told in verse won both the 2020 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal and 2020 American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor.
This beautiful Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Award winner immerses you into a celebration in the kitchen as a family makes their traditional New Year's soup and share the history of Haitian independence.
Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story
Lailah learns that she can make new friends who respect her beliefs as she celebrates Ramadan with fasting for the first time around at a new school far away from her home. This wonderful story has won a multitude of awards including the 2019 Daybreak Children's Picture Book Award.
Use Cultural Spices or Sauces
Many cultures rely on unique spices or sauces to give their cuisine its signature flavors. From salsas in Mexico to curry in India, these additions to food make the meal. At home, make introducing new flavors a bit easier by adding a new spice blend or sauce to a meal you already enjoy. For example, za’atar seasoning (a mix of herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac), popular in the Middle East, can be used to season veggies, meats, or manaqish (flatbread).
Here are some additional spices and sauces to try:
- Chimichurri Sauce (Argentina)
- Berbere (Africa)
- Garam Masala (India)
- Adobo (Mexico & Latin America)
- Hoisin Sauce (China)
Visit an International Grocery Store
If you’re lucky enough to live near an international grocery or market, take a trip to check it out. Wander the aisles and look at the different foods. Make a game out of it and have your kids look for what is similar and what is different from what you usually purchase. Don’t be afraid to ask the employees questions and pick something out to try at home.
Try Ethnic Restaurants
If you are going out to eat or grabbing takeout, try an ethnic restaurant in your neighborhood. Many times, this will allow you to try foods prepared in a traditional way. Ask your server for suggestions and consider ordering a few dishes to share. This way, there is hopefully something everyone likes and you can model trying new foods for your children!
Make learning about a new food culture a fun project! Start by choosing the type of cuisine you’d like to try. Look up a recipe online or go to the library and check out a cookbook. Make a list of the ingredients you need and research their significance. Then set some time aside to cook together. Even small children can help in the kitchen!