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Explore Everywhere Culinary Adventures
As a music teacher who uses engaging songs and activities to introduce young children to global cultures in my program, All Around This World, and also as the father of three (6, 8 and 11), I’m very conscious of the way children develop an appreciation for people and places that are distant from theirs. How do we raise out kids to be “global citizens,” open to difference, eager to explore?
Also, as a human being, I eat. Sometimes up to three meals a day! And my kids eat too, and since I hope they always will, and since one of the tastiest ways to get to know about an unfamiliar culture is to meet it through its food, I’m particularly intent on raising my children to be culinarily curious. Like many children I know, my kids default to the bland — plain pasta, mac and cheese. And, like many children I know, my kids are kids; any food I would introduce “because its good for you,” no matter how yummy, would taste to them exactly like food that is “good for you.”
Instead of forcing far-flung foods on our family, my wife and I have chosen to take a less insistent, longer term approach. Our goal is not to micromanage our kids’ meals in the present, insisting that every lunch box includes a cuisine from each continent, but to enable them to develop a lifelong appreciation for different tastes and an overarching eagerness to explore. We stay active and try foods that are new, but when we do, we focus more on enjoying the experience than any eating one particular meal. We want to create an atmosphere of acceptance, and resist the instinct to arm-twist as we do.
This is a delicate, patient dance. I call it “the long con.”
Is this working? Slowly. Our family’s favorite restaurant has long been an Indian place nearby. My wife and I have brought the kids there for years and everyone in the family feels welcome. Until recently our kids, though claiming to love “Indian food” because we all enjoyed eating there together, would only actually consume copious amounts of rice and bread (naan). Tempted as we were to force-feed anything more exciting my wife and I usually restrained ourselves; a taste here, a taste there, no hard sell. Our hope was that one day the kids’ taste buds would catch up to their appreciation. Not so long ago during one usual family feast our eldest tried a sauce, liked it, and introduced it to her sisters. Now when we go they not only actually eat Indian sauces but also sometimes even try to find tastes that are new. Victory? Sore of. They still fill up on rice and bread. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel…and that tunnel is made of shahi paneer.
At home we aren’t always creative, but when we do try to cook something international and new we try to make it an adventure. Finding the recipe together, shopping for ingredients together, cooking as a form of family fun . . . We hope for success but we don’t rely on it. When the results are tasty we enjoy them. When the experiment turns out terribly . . . we laugh and break out the mac and cheese.
All Around This World’s online cultural curriculum, Explore Everywhere, approaches culinary adventures as participatory projects. First, we find a recipe that we can actually concoct from ingredients we find in our cupboard. Then, and most important, we cook it together. Lately in class, as we’ve been learning about the music and cultures of Africa, we’ve tried Ugandan chapati and sweet Moroccan couscous. We’ve achieved modest culinary success. But we’ve had 100% fun.
So maybe if you want to help your kids overcome the fear of eating internationally, relax. Forget about the food itself. Make international eating an adventure. Explore somewhere new, have a great time doing it, but don’t put on pressure. Promise the kids that if everyone tries everything and still hates it you’ll stop for pizza on the way home.
Play the long con. Will it work? Who knows. But one the way, we’ll all eat well.
** Jay Sand is the founder and lead teacher of a world cultures and global music program called All Around This World. Homeschool.com recently featured his online curriculum, Explore Everywhere, as one of the top resources in our Back to Homeschool guide.
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