It’s really tough to convince your kids of this one simple fact: there’s more to food than chicken tacos and spaghetti.
It wasn’t until I moved out of my parents’ house and had to start cooking for myself that I personally realized this. I’m easily bored in the kitchen, so it wasn’t long before I started experimenting with unusual recipes and international cuisine. Then about a year ago I hit on an idea – I was going to cook one meal from every nation on Earth and blog about the experience.
The idea wasn’t unique, as it turned out, but I might actually be the first mom who has tried to get her kids to eat one meal from every nation on Earth (with a few very decidedly non-kid-friendly exceptions).
This actually is as challenging as you might imagine. My kids are 2, 4, 6 and 7. For the most part, they are suspicious of everything I cook except for the aforementioned chicken tacos and spaghetti. But I wanted this to be a valuable experience for all of us, not just me and my husband, so I soldiered on.
You may not personally want to venture into the land of kangaroo burgers and yak dumplings, but cooking international food is still a great way to raise kids who become adults with sophisticated palates and a basic understanding of world geography. Here are a few tips for getting reluctant kids to try new cuisines.
Keep it familiar
My kids are like most kids. They like simple, easy-to-identify food. So start with food that looks familiar, like whole chicken breasts, rice and bread. Many international cuisines have basic recipes in all three of those categories, plus many more that your kids probably already eat and enjoy, like meatballs and noodles.
It’s especially hard to go wrong with dessert, so at the very least you can replace that Valentine’s day tart with an Australian pavlova or an Austrian sachertorte.
Another type of food that most kids love is bread and there are often interesting subtle differences in bread from different countries. For instance, you can make traditional soda bread and talk about irish soda bread history, which is fascinating.
Keep a globe on hand
Kids learn best through tangible experiences, but that doesn’t mean you have to whisk them off to Cambodia to teach them about South Asia. At the very least, have a map or a globe on hand and show them the country where their dinner originated, and then show them how far away it is from their home town.
Wikipedia is a great resource for photos and interesting factoids, which will give them context for the meal if they’re interested–but don’t push it. Young kids especially may get bored and then the whole enterprise will backfire.
Don’t give too much away
Your kids need to trust that you won’t give them anything scary or gross, so don’t surprise them with mopane worms or hakarl. But you don’t have to tell them upfront that their burger is made out of kangaroo, either. Kids tend to develop unwarranted aversions to the idea of eating something strange, and they’ll probably be pleasantly surprised to find out that they actually like kangaroo. If they ask, suggest that they taste first and ask questions later.
Cooking world recipes is both fun and educational, and you may actually find a few unusual recipes you want to add to your regular rotation. But the best thing it will do for your kids is help them to understand that food is one of the great joys of life, and trying new things can bring unexpected (and pleasant!) surprises.
Becki Robins is cooking one meal from every nation on Earth. She blogs about the experience at Travel by Stove.