With the advancement of technology and the growing accessibility of transportation, our world has become smaller and more integrated, creating increasingly culturally diverse populations. Cultivating an attitude, especially in our children, of appreciation toward cultures that are different from their own is essential for building a future free of intolerance.
One way you can introduce appreciation for other cultures to the young ones in your life is through exploring diverse food traditions as a family. This can educate both parents and children about acceptance and gratitude for other culinary heritages.
Here are some tips to get you started.
Explain the cultural significance. Food is tied into many aspects of culture such as religion, geography, lifestyle, and family beliefs or traditions. Explaining the cultural significance of certain foods from specific parts of the world can make eating new and unfamiliar foods an exciting and interesting experience.
Either do your own research or, if you have friends who are from different ethnic groups who are willing and able to join you for one of their traditional meals, invite them over so your children can ask them questions about the symbolism of certain aspects of a dish.
Have fun with food projects. Make mealtime fun and playful by incorporating the customary utensils or eating tools used for whatever ethnic dish you are introducing to your family. Use chopsticks for sushi night or invest in a thali (an Indian bento box) to make the meal more engaging.
Another playful way to encourage kids to try new things is by presenting the unfamiliar in easily recognizable shapes such as hearts, stars, animals, or even landscapes.
Cook and eat together. This past year has many households constantly searching for new and fun at-home activities. Cooking together is a fun and affordable family activity with a delicious result. Additionally, your child is more likely to be open to trying new food if they were actively part of the culinary process. Study ingredients and recipes together and encourage your kids to decorate the dining room based on whatever cultural meal you are trying out that day.
Traveling through food is a great option that may alleviate feelings of restriction your family may have been faced with this past year.
Play food careers. If your child is interested in television shows like MasterChef Junior, The Big Family Cooking Showdown, and Kids Baking Championship, then borrowing aspects of these popular cooking competitions may incentivize your kids to participate in the kitchen.
Play creative games or encourage them to play the role of a chef, pastry chef, or competition judge to get them to expand their palates.
Encourage a polite bite. Sometimes, your child (or even you!) may be faced with a dish that is simply not appetizing. It’s best to have a conversation with your child about how to deal with an unappealing dish politely before this circumstance arises. Talk to them about how appreciating different cultures also means understanding that people have a variety of unique food preferences. Even if you or your child don’t share these preferences, showing respect for what other people like is of the utmost importance.
Inspire your child to have an open mind by setting an example. Always try a bite of whatever you are offered and accept it graciously. Once your child sees that you are willing to try something new, then they will be more likely to try it too!