12 Ways To Use Food To Give Your Children Global Experiences At Home

One of my favorite parts of traveling is getting the opportunity to indulge in New cuisine.

Isla Mujeres, México, eating paletas

Isla Mujeres, México, eating paletas

My children are no different, and while two of them are picky eaters, they all love food. When they find a tasty dish, they fall passionately in love with it and we are sure to look up the recipe and make it at home. Some people collect shot glasses, keychains and trinkets from their travels—my children collect recipes. Just the other night, for dinner, Amaris was determined to make Mexican lemonade (made from limes). She’s a huge fan of limes, so limeade is her drink of choice when we’re in México. She was excited that she was able to master the taste and it instantly brought us back to our travels.

Food tells powerful stories and is a fundamental pride that most take in their cultures. When stolen Africans were brought to the Americas, they kept Africa alive in their hearts through food. All throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States, powerful remnants of the Motherland linger in traditional dishes. Okra, which is a typical vegetable used in West African cooking, can be found in Haitian dishes, Black American cooking, Barbados and all throughout the region. In Cuban cuisine, quimbombó is a stew made with pork, plantain dumplings and okra—amongst some other ingredients. It could be compared to a Cajun gumbo, without the seafood, which also traces its roots back to West Africa.

Using food to teach equality and respect

Food has the power to teach lessons of tolerance, equality and respect. All over the world, food has different smells, tastes and ingredients; teaching children to honor these varieties shows that different does not mean inferior or “gross”. Some people eat chicken feet and not chicken wings; some people eat pig snout and not bacon. Some people eat fried grasshoppers as a tasty treat; the only thing that makes food “gross” is one’s unfamiliarity with it.

Respecting the eating practices and ingredients of others does not mean you must force your child to try them—I don’t make my children eat brain and bugs when we travel just because they may be eaten locally. But I do make them respect what other people eat, and I don’t allow them to call someone’s food “disgusting”.

When children are taught to celebrate gastronomies that are unfamiliar to them, they learn critical values of respect and equality.
— Iliah, Negra Bohemian

Food as a weapon of decolonization

Reclaiming traditional foods and ingredients are vital weapons against colonization.

One of the first assaults by Europeans against Indigenous peoples in what is now known as the Americas was an attack on their diets. Food was a social status in Spain and the wealthy and elite ate meat, olives and drank wine; poor Spaniards ate rye, vegetables, oats and barley—this food elitism was brought to the Americas with them on ships. Indigenous peoples were forced by Spaniards to plant European crops instead of their own, and European animals such as cows, goats, sheep and pigs were given optimal land to graze upon. Indigenous meats such as guinea pig were seen as inferior and unfit for European bodies, as were “Indian” crops such as maize and beans.

The arrival of Spanish women to “New Spain” further assaulted Indigenous gastronomy. Indigenous women were brought into Spanish homes as domestic workers and wet nurses; they were instructed on how to make Spanish food, which led to indigenous women bringing these recipes into their homes as well.

Indigenous peoples did not sit back passively at the onslaught of their cooking and food traditions. There were many uprisings where European seeds would be burned as an act of resistance and maize and chiles planted instead.

Eventually, there would be a mixing of Spanish, Indigenous and African cooking throughout “New Spain”, yet the impact of the incursion upon traditional foods would be felt for generations.

In the United States and Canada, Buffalo and whale meat were once sacred staples in many Indigenous tribes. After massacres, land theft and forced assimilations, First Nations peoples were forced to eat foods provided to their reservations by occupying governments.

On a trip to French Polynesia, a friend of mine was blown away by the severity of French colonialism in the region; the first sign of this savage brutality she noticed was on the cuisine. Almost no Tahitians ate their own food, and they only found a couple “hole-in-wall” places that served typical cuisine. Most of these were frequented by older residents, and the young people would cling to French culture and food. Many people could not tell them exactly what typical Tahitians dishes were because they simply didn’t know. Years of French occupation had erased their diet, thus erasing a piece of who they are as a people.

A Filipina friend recently shared how deeply impacted she was while eating at a restaurant in Manila owned by a young chef. Most trendy restaurants model themselves after the United States and Europe, and traditional Filipino dishes are seen as “inferior” and “unsophisticated”—this is due to years of colonized influences that produce self-hate. At this cool and trendy restaurant, all the dishes were distinctly and, in her words, proudly Filipino. The menu was ever-changing and showcasing the complexity and beauty of Filipino cuisine.

This is food being used as a weapon against colonization.

Food is power; never forget that.

Typical Puerto Rican cuisine, which has deep roots in West African gastronomy

Typical Puerto Rican cuisine, which has deep roots in West African gastronomy

By now you know that while I value international travel in the lives of my children, I do not believe it is the only way to give them authentic global experiences. Travel is a wonderful resource to open up the beauty of the world to young learners, but only when done with purpose and sincere intent.

There are many ways to raise true global citizens filled with empathy and respect, food is one of those ways to do so.

12 ways to give your children global experiences through food:

1. Get a cookbook

One doesn’t always have to eat out at restaurants in order to give children a global experience through food, and this can be done right from your own home by using cookbooks. There are so many great cookbooks available to incorporate new types of food into your child’s diet. From meals, desserts and drinks, use cookbooks like passports.

Using cookbooks also opens up an opportunity to visit different markets and grocery stores to find ingredients which are also opportunities for global studies and learning.

Teachable moments:

  • Cook your way around the world. Throughout the year, spend time finding recipes from different countries from around the world.

  • Get your children involved in the kitchen. Let your child help prepare recipes they pick from the cookbooks.

  • Check out your local library for a variety of international cookbooks.

  • Add international cooking tools to your kitchen. From woks to chapati presses to a tamale steamer—different utensils are used in kitchens around the world. Find ones to add to your home.

Curtesy of    Barnes & Noble

Curtesy of Barnes & Noble

2. Eat with your hands

Did you know that all over the continent of Africa, the Middle East and South and South East Asia, eating with one’s hands is common? In 2012, we spent a month in Malaysia and the girls became accustomed to eating with their hands. When we returned home they wanted to continue this tradition. While seen as bad table manners in the U.S., I allowed them to continue to do eat this way. Spaghetti, rice, veggies and everything-in-between was all eaten with their hands. I found it precious that they connected so much with Malaysian culture that this practice became natural to them, and I didn’t want to make them think that it was bad or “improper” to eat this way because it’s not. It’s only “improper” and “bad tables manners” to those who have never been exposed to it.

So let your kids eat some meals with their hands!

Teachable moments:

  • While eating with one’s hands is a common practice in eastern cultures, it’s not a foreign concept in the western hemisphere. Make a list of foods that are commonly eaten with one’s hands in western culture—I’ll give you a hint: hamburgers are one of them.

  • Research which countries commonly eat food with their hands.

  • Have an “eat with your hands night” where your family eats dinner without utensils.

  • In many Muslim majority countries, eating with one’s left hand is seen as “unclean.” Study the reason why with your children and have a night where everyone eats with their right hand.

3. Eat with chopsticks

For billions of people around the world, chopsticks are the utensils used for eating. They have been used in China since around 1200 B.C. and then spread throughout the Asian content. Used mostly for cooking, chopsticks became an eating utensil around 400 B.C.

Let your children practice using chopsticks at the dinner table and familiarize themselves with the method. They can be tricky at first, and making mistakes while trying to use them would be sure to add lots of laughs and memories at the dinner table. Don’t worry if you never master them, I still make a fool of myself when trying to eat with chopsticks!

Teachable moments:

  • Which countries in Asia use chopsticks? Research this.

  • Study different chopstick styles. Different countries have different chopstick styles—some longer than others, some with sharp tips and others that are blunt.

  • Research the different materials chopsticks have been made from over the years.

  • Learn about Confucius’ connection in the rise of the chopstick’s use for eating.

4. Eat on the floor

Not everyone eats at a tall dining table with chairs for a family meal. In some cultures, you eat at short tables and sit on large pillows, and in others, you place a mat on the floor and eat there—most often with extended family members. Family meals are special bonding times; they are sacred moments shared amongst the ones we love, and they provide memories that last a lifetime. It’s becoming commonplace in the United States for families to eat in front of the t.v. or while on the go, and the art of the family meal is being lost to busy schedules and technology. Communal meals are very common around the world, and many of these don’t take place at a dining table.

Why not try the same with your family? You don’t even need to cook a special meal from another country; just grab a table cloth and eat whatever meal you’ve prepared—or that frozen pizza because let’s be real, we all have those nights—and eat on the floor.

Teachable moments:

  • Study which cultures typically don’t eat at western-style dinner tables.

  • Ask your children what their reaction is to the idea of eating on the floor. Do they find it strange? Is it fun? Use this moment to teach respect for the practices of others.

  • Invite friends and/or family over to enjoy a communal meal eaten on the floor or at a short table.

  • In India, many eat on the floor with their legs crossed—study the benefits of eating in this position.

Disclaimer: I don’t condone all of Drew’s videos

5. Try new fruits

Have your children ever tried passionfruit? What about rambutan or starfruit? Did you know that plantains can be used for savory meals when green and unripe, but they are deliciously sweet when fried while overripe and nearly black? Jackfruit is often used as a meat substitute, and durian is famous for its pungent smell.

Mangos and guavas are some of the most common international fruits, and they can be found all over Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. Try them and do a study on all the regions that they’re eaten in—it’s a great way to show that while we are all different and unique, there are some things, like fruit, that actually unites us. Although mangos are relatively easy to find in the U.S. and Europe, I’m always shocked at the number of people who have never tried one.

Teachable moments:

  • Go to an Asian or African market with your children and search for fruits that are unfamiliar to them.

  • Read “D is for Dragon Fruit” with your children and learn about the variety of global fruits in the book and ones not mentioned.

  • Make a Jamaican Toto cake and learn its origins.

  • Melicoccus bijugatus is a cluster of fruit in the soapberry family that can be found in Latin America and the Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, it’s called “quenepa” (“k”-nay-pa), but each country has its own name for the fruit. Research which countries in Latin American and the Caribbean quenepas can be found in, and also what name it’s given.

6. Replace your smoothies with Lassi

Lassi is a sweet or savory yogurt drink that originated in the Punjab region of India and is consumed all over the subcontinent. When made in its authentic form, lassi holds many health benefits as preventing bloating, aids in digestion and is a great source of probiotics. Lassi is also calcium-rich, supporting bone health; lassi is also known to lower cholesterol and is naturally packed with protein.

My kids’ personal favorite is mango Lassi, and they would drink it all day if I let them! You can also find sweet lassi, mint lassi and other varieties. People all over India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh drink Lassi; incorporating this drink into your family’s diet is an easy way to bring this part of the world into your home.

Teachable moments:

  • Did you know that India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were all one country? Research what caused this split.

  • Where is the Kashmir region and what fuels conflict in this area? Talk about conflict resolution with your children. Watch the film Dil Bole Hadippa as one of its themes is using the game cricket to build bridges between India and Pakistan.

  • Bangladesh was once called “East Pakistan.” When did they win their independence and become their own nation?

  • Do Indian, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Pakistani foods have any similarities? Research what foods and/or spices these countries may share.

7. feast on rice

Rice is a global food like no other and can be used as a means to raise your child’s awareness of other cultures. All over the world, rice is central to national dishes and is truly an international food. Jollof rice is so important in many West African countries that it sparked a rivalry between Nigerians and Ghanaians over whose Jollof is the best. Rice is such a vital part of Japanese society that it has been commonly referred to as the “essence of culture” by many people in the country.

My Ariela fell in love with sticky rice when we traveled through Thailand and Laos in 2012, and while she may have only been two-years-old during our travels, she still remembers devouring sticky rice every day for two months.

Nothing captures the heart of Spanish cooking like paella. Made with bomba rice and most famously known as a seafood dish, paella can also be made with chicken and rabbit meat. Tahdig is a traditional Persian rice meal, and almost no Puerto Rican dinner is complete without Arroz con Gandules on one’s plate. Wild rice and Jambalaya are steeped in U.S. history and culture, and Dolmathakia is Greek finger food made of grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs.

Rice also has the power to take on many forms. In México, horchata is a delicious drink made from rice, water, sugar and cinnamon. Mochi is a Japanese cake made from pounded rice that when frozen, can be similar to an ice cream treat; and dosa is like an Indian crêpe whose batter is made from ground fermented rice.

Take your family on a journey around the world through rice.

Teachable moments:

  • There are different grains of rice that are used all over the world. Study these and compare their shapes, sizes and flavors.

  • While most of the world’s rice is grown in Asia, Haiti has the best rice fields is the Western Hemisphere. Study how U.S. policies crippled Haitian rice production in the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Study the history and origins of rice. How did the use of rice spread around the world?

  • Research the significance of wild rice in Ojibwa culture. Are there other Native American tribes that traditionally eat rice? How does wild rice grow?

8. Let them eat cake

I’ve never been that mom who refused my children sweets. I definitely watch their sugar intake, and I try to have a healthy balance as they each have a sweet tooth, but I also want them to enjoy childhood treats. There’s nothing like walking into a store and seeing one of your favorite candies from childhood; there’s something about those memories that warm the soul and bring back euphoric and magical feelings.

I have said this many times, and I will say it again: letting your children eat treats from around the world is one of the best ways to make global connections. Macarons are quintessential French delights that your children are sure to fall in love with; Dadar Gulung is like an Indonesian crêpe dyed green by using pandan leaves and stuffed with sweet coconut—they are wildly popular on the island of Java. Baklava originated in the Ottoman Empire and is popular in the Middle East, Turkey, Caucasus countries and Mediterranean regions. Swedes are famous for their unique baking style, and Christmas time in Sweden is filled with sweet traditions. We had the privilege of trying some of these delicacies in Sweden a couple of years ago. Ngalakh is a Senegalese Easter treat that is shared between Christians and their Muslim-majority neighbors. In the Dominican Republic, a similar sweet stew made from beans, Habichuelas con Dulce, is also served for Easter.

Many confections are made with ingredients that are only found in specific areas; they are rich in authenticity and tell beautiful cultural stories.

Teachable moments:

  • Subscribe to Universal Yums! and get treats from around the world delivered to your door. Every month your family will receive a box of goodies from a different country, and a 12 page booklet containing facts about the country and sweets, along with recipes and trivia questions.

  • Visit a bakery. Find a Mexican, Turkish or Polish bakery in your city and make it a special field trip for the family.

  • Study the origins of flan and what countries it can be found in. Compare flan recipes from around that world—are they all the same or are there differences?

  • Go continent by continent and study popular holiday sweets. Sesame fritters are a special cookie eaten in China to celebrate the Lunar New Year—what other countries around the world commemorate a special holiday with a special dessert?


Both Jews and Muslims are forbidden from eating certain foods according to religious laws. These laws are known as kosher and halal. Under these guidelines, meat must be slaughtered in a humane way and no pork, nor pork byproducts, may be consumed.

Billions of people around the world follow these customs out of faithful devotion, and learning about these dietary restrictions is an excellent way to teach tolerance and understanding. See if your family would be able to commit for a week to eating kosher and/or halal. Reach out to Jewish and Muslim friends to help you along the journey.

teachable moments:

  • It is not just Muslims and Jews that adhere to religious dietary laws—study other faiths that restrict certain foods.

  • Study kosher and halal laws—make a list of similarities and differences. What do kosher and halal mean? What makes something kosher of halal?

  • Read the labels on some of your favorite fruit snacks and other foods to see if they contain pork byproducts—discuss the challenges of living kosher and halal in our society. Visit kosher and halal grocery stores.

  • Most of the world’s Muslims are Asian and not Arab—research Halal recipes from Asia. Most of the world’s Jews are from Africa and the Middle East, not from Europe. Research Ethiopian Jewish, Sephardi and Mizrahi recipes.

10. try goat and lamb meat

If you've never eaten goat or lamb, you just aren’t living! Goat and lamb meats are staples all over Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, South Asia and the Caribbean.

Goat meat is lean yet hearty, versatile and packed with flavor. Goat meat has one third fewer calories than most beef, and nearly two thirds less than pork. Goats are very selective with what they consume and enjoy a healthy diet of weeds, grasses, alfalfa and veggies. Goats are much smaller and affordable than cattle, making them accessible to many families around the world. Goats are also used for milk, which has less sugar than cows milk, along with more calcium and vitamins. Goat milk is also used to make butter and cheese.

Lamb meat is also rich in protein and packed full of nutrients. With a diet that consists of grass grazing, lamb is another healthy alternative red meat. It is so packed full of flavor and comes in a variety of cuts. My kids love lamb meatballs as it can also come in ground form.

Lamb and goat are such popular meats around the world; try some and take a trip to a far-off land without getting on a plane.

Teachable moments:

  • If your children are unfamiliar with eating goat and/or lamb meat, see what their reaction is to the idea. Talk about respecting the diets of people around the world.

  • Talk about other meats that are not commonly consumed in your own culture. For example, horse meat is beloved in Italy and France. Guinea pig is a delicacy in Perú and Ecuador—ask your children their reaction to this.

  • Research countries that commonly eat lamb and/or goat.

  • There are varying religions around the globe that use goat and lamb meat to celebrate sacred holidays and ceremonies—study these.

11. Netflix and chill

No, not that “Netflix and Chill”, but quality global learning with your children.

Netflix is a great resource to give your children global experiences through food right in your own home. The streaming service is packed with global cooking shows that teach different recipes and give great cultural insight into dishes. My girls are lovers of cooking and baking, and they also love cooking and baking shows. Netflix is our favorite streaming service for international cooking and baking programming.

“The Final Table” is a cooking contest between twenty-four of some of the best chefs from around the world. They cook iconic dishes from countries like Spain, Brazil, Japan, México and India to name a few. “The Big Family Cooking Showdown” is another favorite in our house. The UK-based show takes families from around the United Kingdom and pairs them against each other. Families make foods that are near and dear to their hearts, and gives a brilliant look into the UK’s ethnic diversity, and also global family cooking. “Taco Chronicles” takes a journey through México and the history of its iconic treat: the taco. The show is full of history and culture and worth watching. The great Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unkown”, is also available to stream on Netflix. He is by far my favorite with his mix of activism, travel and food. Not all episodes will be appropriate for children so be sure to watch them first.

There are so many great cooking shows on Netflix that exposes one’s children to culinary treasures from all over the world, all without leaving your home.

Teachable moments:

  • Go through Netflix as a family searching for globally-themed cooking and baking shows.

  • Make a list of food and desserts you know and ones that were unfamiliar.

  • Make authentic Mexican tacos.

  • Watch shows as a family.

12. have a tea party

While many in the west associate tea with the British empire and its upper class societies, the drink is believed to have originated in China during the Shang dynasty and was used as medicine.

Through early global trading and sailing, tea began to spread and became a truly global drink. From China to India to Turkey to Iran to Somalia to Uruguay, tea holds very special significance. No one country does tea exactly the same, and unique ingredients are used to define a country’s distinct tea culture.

Tea is a love language in many parts of the world and used to show hospitality to guests and dear ones.

And while most in the west think of British high tea and “Alice in Wonderland”- type experiences as ideal tea parties for kids, why not have a Moroccan tea party for your children to enjoy? Order a Moroccan tea set and serve North African treats.

Use tea as a means to cross the cultural bridges that often divide us.

Teachable moments:

  • Study the history of tea. From its early days in China to how it spread across the Asian continent and then the world. Go continent by continent studying which countries hold a special regard for tea. What are the special tea drinks that define these countries?

  • Have more tea parties. Learn about teas from around the world, learn about the countries and host tea parties themed after them.

  • In Andes mountainous countries of South America, Indigenous people have used coca leaf tea to help with breathing and for religious ceremonies. Study this and why some countries have made its cultivation illegal.

  • Study how British colonialism spread tea throughout many of the countries it colonized, and how many tea pickers across the globe are still bound by “tea slavery.”

Not every family can pick up and leave the country, but there are many powerful global lessons to learn without getting on a plane. Give your children the gift of the world through intentional learning and global interactions. Food is such a powerful resource to bring the world into your home; there are so many ways to use food and drink to give your children lessons from all over the world.

Further reading on raising Global Citizens

7 Simple Ways To Raise Your Children As Global Citizens Without Travel

20 Foreign Movies To Watch With Kids

How To Use Books To Give Your Children Global Experiences At Home


Pin this article on Pinterest using the photo below if you thought these tips were useful!

Copy of Copy of Pintrest graphic-4.png

On Facebook: