Every student knows there is nothing better than taking a break and enjoying lunch before returning to the hustle and bustle of class. But not all students look forward to what’s served in their cafeteria. This back-to-school season, prepare your child’s lunchbox with their favorite snacks while incorporating some easy-to-prepare international cuisine to spice up their lunch and immerse your child in a new culture.
“The key to get kids to eat new foods is to introduce them to it early,” says Tanja Cicerchi, a native German and teacher at German Language School Cleveland. “A big problem, I think, is that if you are somebody who hasn’t been introduced [to new foods], then you’re not likely to try it, and therefore you’re not introducing your children, either.”
Incorporating new foods in your child’s lunchbox is a great way to teach your child about a new culture, while also discovering new foods to enjoy. Having a discussion about why it is important to bring these foods to school can happen over meal prep or at the dinner table – this conversation is not only a bonding experience but a learning opportunity.
“My kids are getting introduced to new cultures and foods all the time,” Cicerchi says. “My kids love to eat sushi, and my daughter even brought home crickets to try. My mom comes from Germany, and she would cook things and find recipes and books, and then she gave me the love of cooking, and I’ve given that to my daughter. We have a giant stack of recipes and love to try new foods and new restaurants.”
The benefits of immersing children in a new culture are extensive – not only does it help them understand the world better, but it can enhance effective communication, create opportunities to meet and connect with new people, expose them to new experiences, and assist with opportunities in the workforce.
Learning about other cultures allows us to draw deeper connections to our own culture and develop an appreciation for the history behind where we come from.
“For two and a half hours once a week I feel like I am in Germany,” principal at German Language School Heike Haddenbrock says. “Our kids get to experience their own culture and learn about where they come from. Food is the best approach to learn about your own culture – everyone has to eat.”
Cicerchi, whose children attend German Language School, says parents should encourage their kids to try a bite of new food, and tell them that if they don’t like it, they don’t have to finish it.
“Don’t pack anything they’ve never eaten before,” Cicerchi says. “Make a meal they’ve had before and then incorporate a new food. I think this is the best method for kids. This is the best way to integrate them into new foods.”
Haddenbrock agrees that it is best to slowly begin introducing children to new foods. Try swapping out foods they already love with something similar, such as a Bratwurst for traditional sausage or an Italian sandwich instead of a PB&J.
“Food is a big theme in our curriculum,” Haddenbrock says. “Creating a cultural awareness nowadays is just so important. Our kids have an open mind. They accept and are interested in other cultures as well. If you want to get a child interested in another culture, you need to find something that they are interested in. What kid is not interested in food?”
Cicerchi and Haddenbrock both highlight that meal prep doesn’t have to be intricate, and it can also taste just as good as other lunch foods. For example, traditionally, German childrens’ school lunches consist of bread, bologna, cheese and yogurt, which can be easily integrated into any child’s lunch.
“Learning about a new culture opens your horizons,” Cicerchi says. “Food is one of the ways to get to know a culture and to be close to a culture. Everybody eats, and most important things are discussed over a meal. Food is a great approach to learning more about another culture.”
Here are a few tastes from around the world:
If your kids love Biscoff biscuits, try swapping those out for Dutch Speculaas, a crispy spiced cookie. This cookie, made from butter, brown sugar and spices, can be traced back to 1650. Give the Dutch version of Biscoff biscuits a try in your child’s lunchbox.
School lunches consist of four courses, which include a vegetable starter, a main course served with veggies, cheese, and finally dessert, typically fruit. One of France’s most notable cheeses is Camembert, a soft and creamy milk cheese most comparable to Brie. If your kids love Brie, try Camembert as an alternative.
Cookies are a must in every kid’s lunchbox. Swap out Oreos for traditional Spanish sandwich cookies that have a soft chocolate-flavored filling. One brand that makes these types of cookies is Marinela, which produces Principe.
If your kids have a sweet tooth (and what kid doesn’t?) try out Kinder Chocolate. Kinder is German for “children,” and the milk chocolate is filled with a creamy milky filling. Kinder eggs are a popular treat in the U.S., in which one half of the egg shape is filled with the Kinder Chocolate, and the other half contains a toy.
Salads are one of the most versatile foods to prepare and a great, healthy option for your child’s lunch. Spice up your child’s lunchbox by including a traditional horiatiki Greek salad, including tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives, féta cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil.
Bánh mì sandwiches are crusty baguettes filled with pickled veggies, grilled meat and fresh herbs. Chả lụa is Vietnamese pork sausage, the typical meat used in this sandwich. Give chả lụa a try at your local Vietnamese shop or restaurant.
Swap out a PB&J for a vegemite sandwich. Vegemite is a dark brown Australian spread that goes on toast, biscuits and other foods. Made from yeast extract, vegetables and spices, vegemite has a slight umami flavor and is a saltier option than sweet jam on toast.
Bento boxes are a single-portion, home-packed meal that often includes rice, noodles, fish or meat, and vegetables. In Japan, mothers often prepare a bento box for their children for school. Having a divided lunchbox with small compartments for each food is not only easy to assemble, but also a great way to introduce your child to Japanese culture.
What foods around the world have you introduced to your kids? Submit your ideas to [email protected]