Food is, of course, a key component of experiencing and learning about any new culture, whether you are traveling around the world or the next town over. The same holds true for kids. Exposing them to the foods of different cultures is a wonderful way to not only expand their palates but also to spark curiosity about the world. Taking your kids on a food adventure will do just that.
The key is to keep it fun: When kids see you excited about exploring via food, it can be contagious. While you can certainly plan one meal at one new-to-them restaurant, a creative way of presenting new foods from different cultures to your kids is to plan a food adventure: a self-styled food tour of a neighborhood you wish to explore. This allows for the introduction of props like maps, possibilities for games, and fun for the whole family.
Ready for a food adventure with kids?
Here are five tips, gleaned from running my own world food tour for families in New York City (and doing this often with my own kids), for having a successful food adventure with your children.
1. Pick a few eateries that are easy walking or driving distance from one another.
You want to keep it as easy as possible to not lose their interest in between stops. This isn’t hard to plan for in a walkable city like New York or Miami (if you’re focusing on one neighborhood, that is). But in cities with more sprawl, aim for three or four eateries that are no more than a 10-minute drive from each other. Do some research, make a Google Map in advance, and create a doable plan.
Pro tip: Try for a variety of venues, like one restaurant, one food truck, and one bakery. It’s nice to show kids a diversity of food businesses and eating atmospheres. If you can plan for different cultures represented at each venue, then you’re really onto something!
2. Know exactly what you are going to taste beforehand.
Once you have your food spots in mind, consult their menus and decide in advance what you’ll order at each one. Kids will fade fast if there’s too much hemming and hawing figuring out what to order. You know your children best, and how adventurous their palates may be. With my own boys, I’ll try to order something I know they’ll like and another thing that’s newer to them. A good rule of thumb is to find familiar foods with a twist—think Tibetan dumplings (momos), Cuban burgers (fritas), Canadian poutine (fries, but better!). Maybe your kid has had plenty of tacos at home before, but never from a food truck—or filled with barbacoa de chivo (slow-cooked goat), which is, it turns out, pretty kid-friendly.
Aim for one to three dishes at each eatery, depending on how many people you are, and go for variety. Think of your adventure in terms of a meal progression: appetizers at one or two spots, main course at next, dessert at the last.
3. Be prepared with games or toys for downtime.
This probably applies to every meal you have out with your kids!
No matter how well you plan in advance, there will be some waiting around for food, and it’s a great idea to have activity books, some crayons, or a favorite toy to help occupy that time. Maps are a good addition. Try a Google map of the spots you are visiting, so everyone can collectively track progress. Or try a world map that shows where the food you are eating comes from.
On the family food tour I lead, I give packets to the kids with information about each country we “visit” via food (Nepal, Tibet, India, and Colombia, in my case!), space to write down tasting notes, a word search, and a blank page for drawing on.
4. Give an incentive for tasting everything at least once.
You might get some resistance here, so it’s a good idea to have a reward at the end for playing along. On my tour, it’s a small prize like stickers, but it doesn’t matter—a prize is a prize, and kids like them. Remember, they don’t have to finish everything; they just have to try it! If they don’t like something, they certainly don’t have to eat more of it. That’s no fun.
5. Choose your teaching point.
Make your food adventure educational. You can bring a world map, talk about famous things from the country whose cuisine you are eating, noting the capital cities. You could teach the children how to say “thank you” in the local language—anything you’d like to impart. Don’t bore them with too many facts, but pretend you’re actually traveling in that place.
Encourage your kids to think about the food too! Ask them what it tastes like, what the texture feels like, what it reminds them of. Tell older kids to pretend they are a food critic: What would they want to say?
Approach food as a fun family adventure. You never know: you may make foodies (and world travelers) of your kids yet.
Further activities to learn with/through/about food:
- Mexican hot Chocolate lesson: printables and recipe
- 10 Moroccan snacks to makes with the kids
- Korean Bibimbop for kids
- And many more food adventures around the world.
About the author: Laura Siciliano-Rosen is a NYC-based writer and the cofounder of global food and travel website Eat Your World. She leads food tours for adults and kids in Jackson Heights, the diverse and delicious Queens neighborhood in which she lives with her husband and two young boys.