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How Food Can Teach Kids About World Culture

How food can teach kids world culture

I grew up in a family that traveled the world. My parents moved their ten children (three of whom were born outside the US) to sixteen different homes in seven countries. Today, my siblings live in five states in three countries, on three continents. My upbringing was the perfect way for kids to learn about world culture.

Then there is my family. We live in a quiet town in Massachusetts, and while my daughter Emma was born in Scotland and also lived in England, she was too young when we left to remember either country. My kids know that they have relatives who live in Ukraine and China, as well as across the United States, but – having never been to most of their homes – they don’t really understand what this means. They do have very fond memories of our road trip to Montreal, and that helps – as does making friends whose families come from other countries.

Food helps fill in the gaps. Every time we make a dish from a different country, my kids want to learn more about that country – and, so far at least, they even like the dishes I’ve tried!

Want to try this approach with your kids? Here’s our Swedish pancake recipe to get you started! My parents learned how to make these while they were living in Sweden:

Swedish Pancakes Recipe

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1.25-1.5 cups flour
  • .5 tsp salt

Some recipes call for butter. We just put butter on the pan every other pancake. A spoonful of batter in the pan, thinly spread, makes about an eight-inch-diameter pancake that looks a lot like a French crepe, but tastes a bit different (the main difference for me is that most sweet crepe recipes call for sugar; this doesn’t). We cook ours in a cast-iron pan that looks a lot like this, only a little smaller (purchased in Sweden by my mom, while they were living there). But a regular pan works, and you can even do it on a grill, with a little practice spreading out the (thin) batter – the pancakes may be slightly less circular, but they will taste just as good!

Fill with jam, sugar, cream, ice cream – whatever you would like! You can roll them, but for kids we find it to easier to fold it in fourths. You can also fill these with dinner ingredients (I like ham and cheese), but I have heard that some people then consider this a crepe.

After eating your Swedish pancakes, check out this post about Sweden by Petra, the Swedish friend of one of my in-real-life friends, written for my Exploring Geography series and get a copy of Pippi Longstocking (or any of Astrid Lindgren’s other books) to read to your kids!

What is your favorite way to bring world culture into your home?

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

25 thoughts on “How Food Can Teach Kids About World Culture”

  1. Valerie @Glittering Muffins

    Great post and it looks yummy too! Thanks for including our cooking series, very nice of you :)

  2. Love this post and this recipe. I’ve often talked about food and things people eat in different countries. Obviously traveling and living in different places has helped but I love the idea using it more pro-actively. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Varya @ littleartists

    I loved reading Pipi Longstockings when I was growing up! I have this book with me here in China, translated to Russian.
    Thank you for sharing!

  4. 10 kids, 16 homes, 7 countries – wow – what an amazing childhood! Food is definitely a wonderful way to share culture. We’ll have to try this recipe!

  5. I am always amazed with your international upbringing. We are a trilingual family living in the Silicon Valley, so cultural awareness is more or less a norm here. We do lots of international cooking as well and read a lot of books that are set outside of US. Tune in tomorrow for our little book trip to India :)

  6. I think food is such a great way to introduce kids to other cultures and places. We also love using maps and books. I have a sibling living in Thailand, so I can relate, though I envy traveling so much when you were a child. I was bit by the travel bug in college and squeezed in as much travel as I could before life slowed that down (mainly because of financial reasons). I look forward to being able to travel the world with our children someday! (Also – cannot believe you had such a big family — wow!!)

  7. I should really get our kids to send you a letter and send along an Austrian recipe. I would send a recipe for “Palatschinken” (that must sound funny for your kids!) but it’s about the same as the Swedish pancakes, similar to crepes but also without sugar in the dough and usually filled with jam, ice cream or Nutella; sometimes savory.

    Apple strudel (Apfelstrudel) or Sacher Torte would be absolute classics. Austria is famous for sweet meals and pastries and they really ARE delicious!

  8. Elisa | blissfulE

    We eat all sorts of international food, but I had never thought of using it to spark discussion of different cultures. Great idea!

  9. We like to read books and fairy tales from around the world. We’ve also been cooking our way around the world too, and that’s led to some fun dishes.

  10. These look and sound a lot like the German pancakes my mom makes that we all love! My son especially loves geography and has a long list of places he wants to visit including Australia to see a platypus!

  11. I love experiencing culture through food too! My kids are Chinese, Japanese and Korean so we will often have a weird combo of Asian food at dinner but it feels normal to us. Food is also such a positive way to build memories as well as recall them!

  12. While nothing beats actually traveling to different countries, I would agree that food is a great way to get the discussion going. Same with music, books and language, and of course, if you or your family have roots in other countries, that is a great way for them to witness culture in action, even at home. I would also suggest going to cultural festivals if you have them near your home.

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