No Picky Eaters
Are you tired of your children turning up their noses at the dinner table?
Embarrassed when they curl a lip at the family potluck?
Frustrated by their single-minded loyalty to a white-bread existence?
It’s time to give the kid’s culture shock.
Enter Ethnic Night
One of the most valuable activities we do in our family is our epic ethnic night dinners.
A couple of times a year we pick a country and cook up a feast; all 6 of us in the kitchen, 8-12 recipes, ordered chaos all day, capped off by a huge meal and culture fest. (Leftovers are a bonus)
The Return on Investment = Priceless
- Break down a multi-step, multi-track project
- Timing, order, and neatness count
- Follow detailed directions…
- Or troubleshoot, problem solve and iterate
- Recover from mistakes
- Math, vocabulary, logic
- Health and safety
- Event planning
- Cooking techniques
All this from one dinner!
If you want to raise adventurous eaters, expose your children to a wide variety of foods.
Practically, eating outside the comfort of the safe and familiar is the fastest way to encounter the most diversity in taste, texture and cooking methods.
Every country features a flavor profile. Getting friendly with the spices, staples, and locally produced foods that define a culture will multiply your family’s food experience.
It also teaches empathy for others.
Ethnic food revolves around people. Most kids love learning about people – especially other children.
Throw in some interesting geography, history and cultural identity and, yeah, I’ll eat something wrapped in a leaf.
How To Plan an Ethnic Night
Select a country and set a date.
I suggest checking out a few library cookbooks.
They give a visual overview, background information and tested recipes.
The internet is also a rich source.
Here’s a great website to get you started: Food and Cooking Page at the Canton Public Library
And Sasha Martin from Global Table Adventures is the go-to source on cooking your way through the countries of the world.
Make a shopping list.
Surprisingly, food is very similar the world over.
If you want to keep costs low, stick with recipes that use foods you regularly cook with and focus on different cooking methods. You will find the majority of your food at the grocery store.
I do encourage you to select at least one recipe out of your comfort zone – that is the point.
Will you need to source a specialty item? Tap the internet. Amazon usually comes through for me.
Check out some books.
Again, the library. Get a wide variety of books on the country you are targeting. Coffee table books with large, colorful pictures are great.
I like to keep a few on hand:
Set the mood with music.
In the old days, this was a trick. Most of the time we had to go without music.
Now you can stream any genre of music, any time of day, anywhere in the world.
Search You Tube.
We prefer a well-produced travel video.
With the millions of hours of video available on the internet, I imagine you can find something on the most obscure country.
Pre-screen before subjecting your kids. There’s no rating watchdog on publicly available video.
Do you want to invite a helper to cook with you?
My grandma joined us once. We wore her out, but she was very proud of her great-grandchildren.
I don’t recommend it your first time, but inviting guests to join you for dinner can be a significant motivation boost.
If you know someone from another country – or someone that spent a significant time living in another country – would they be interested in directing a dinner at your house?
Simple table decorations add to the festivities.
Just be careful to not turn the evening into a caricature of the country.
When we had Australia night, we didn’t talk like Crocodile Dundee and drink out of miniature didgeridoo. Germans don’t run around town in Lederhosen. You get the idea…
Some simple ideas:
Make flag placemats
Display a centerpiece of the books you checked out
Display fruits and vegetables native to the country
The ethnic grocery stores you visit will have paper tableware and decorations
Over time I collected a box of inexpensive items at thrift stores to add a little flair
Bonus Activity: Take a field trip to an ethnic grocery store.
We love this so much; it’s become part of our regular travel routine. I search them out.
Often we pick our next country based on the grocery store we most recently visited.
We have found everything from a Norwegian grocery in a tiny coastal town in Washington State to a Uwajimaya in Seattle, which is the size of a large suburban supermarket.
The trip to the store is as much a part of the experience as the meal itself.
Let me know if you have an ethnic night. What country did you explore? What did you eat?
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