Exposing children to other cultures is a great way to expand their understanding of the world around them while teaching them to recognize not only the differences between cultures, but also the similarities. As children become more familiar with new traditions, they demonstrate greater acceptance and social competence in our multi-cultural world.
Food provides a natural way to explore other countries and cultures. After all, food is a major component of many cultural celebrations, holidays and gatherings all over the world. Here are some ideas for expanding your children’s knowledge of other cultures, as well as their palates by exploring foods, restaurants and cooking in new ways:
- Explore your neighborhood’s ethnic restaurants. While Italian, Chinese and Mexican foods are popular, try branching out to other cuisines, like Indian, Korean or Mediterranean to expose your children to new experiences. Encourage them to speak with the servers or the owners of the restaurant to learn more about the food and customs of their native country.
- Research (non) traditional recipes to try at home. There is a wealth of information online about other cultures and their traditional cuisines. A good place to start is the “World/Regional Cuisine” tab on this site. Enjoy preparing a new recipe completely out of your routine as a family. You’ll be amazed at the conversations cooking together stirs, especially when you’re using new ingredients and learning about different cultures in the process.
- Visit an international market. Whether there is a Hispanic grocery store, an Asian market or a Jewish bakery nearby, it is fun to visit international markets and embark on culinary adventures. Choose a recipe beforehand and turn your visit into a scavenger hunt to find the ingredients. If you don’t live near any ethnic markets, you can visit the international aisle at a large grocery store and explore the different food items there.
Trying new foods is a wonderful way to celebrate different cultures and encourage your children to open up to experiences they may encounter in the real world. It’s not just about tasting new foods, but experiencing a new culture through the food that is customarily eaten there – much like visiting a foreign country through your taste buds! To help drive this message home with my children, we created passports with pages that represent each country or culture we “explored” through our taste buds. Depending upon their ages, you can have your children make notes or draw pictures of their experiences with new cultures and foods. Display these “food passports” on the refrigerator as a memento of your culinary adventures, adding a stamp every time your little one tries a new ethnic meal! You’ll end up with a well-traveled preschooler by the end of the year – at least when it comes to food!