Whether making the leap overseas means sacrificing Cheddar, Veggiemite or Peanut Butter, leaving behind those edible home comforts can be a difficult reality for any child to digest. But does moving abroad always leave little stomachs rumbling with nostalgia? We explore how discovering new food cultures and developing an ingrained curiosity for cooking and eating food should be recognised as an enriching part of growing up.
With terrifying statistics of childhood diabetes, obesity epidemics and poor nutritional awareness being hurled onto the parental radar, the need to remodel our kids’ attitudes to food is more pressing than ever. Jamie Oliver’s pioneering campaigns have catapulted the issue into the public eye, particularly his Food Revolution Day (which falls this year on May 15th). The Naked Chef’s global aim is to take up arms (and wooden spoons) against diet related diseases, admirably ‘fighting to put compulsory practical food education on the school curriculum’ in all G20 countries. Parents, schools and politicians seem to be taking him seriously, with visible results and legal reform from the UK to South America.
Although we haven’t afforded his campaign the credence it deserves, not when we consider the serious implications of his message, realistically, we are still a long way from achieving wholesome, rosy-cheeked, fresh-veg-crunching kiddy nirvana. But why?
One of the many factors in play, apart from the obvious socio-economic ones, is a lack of open-mindedness at the supermarket. Moving countries can be a perfect opportunity for getting kids into experimenting with diverse foods, as expat parents are thrust into new realms of grocery shopping. Whilst initially many will be tentative, and understandably so, the transition should be embraced with gusto. Surrounded by Aladdin’s caves of unusual fruits, curious cuts of meat and different local herbs and spices, international kids could be at a real advantage here. Participation in the growing, purchasing, preparation and cooking of food is increasingly becoming recognised as a way to encourage healthy habits; throw foreign flavours into the trolley and you provide your tot with a powerful cultural tool.
Studies have shown that introducing new flavours to a young palate comes with a wealth of benefits. Children equipped with a fearless approach to food tend to feel fewer boundaries in travelling abroad as young adults. Needless to say, food is a necessity, but it’s also a social vehicle, a common denominator and cultural currency connecting countries and continents. Giada De Laurentiiis, a famous Italian-American chef, contends that ‘food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love’ and nothing aids a child’s development more than love.
An open-minded approach to food breaks down a number of other barriers too. Those children willing to embrace other food and cultures will be more open to the prospect of foreign travel and perhaps even living and working abroad. Want your child to chase their dreams? What if their dream job is in London, or Paris or Rome yet they’ve not embraced other cultures growing up? It is going to be much harder for them to make the decision to go, and even more difficult to make the transition once there. And that all starts with food.
Exploring food in general should be compulsory part of any kid’s education. Following a recipe not only enhances comprehension and numerical skills or practising fractions by slicing their pizza fiorentina, or being able to open a can of tuna when they leave home (you’d be amazed how many university students can’t do this!) but also incites a culture for which we have more need than ever before: a culture of progression and harmony. With Britain now building up to an in/out referendum on Europe, the Grexit ‘threat’, worrying growth in support for French nationalism and every other political worry from Baltimore to Moscow, there are threats to our global communities. Understanding foreign cultures is crucial to preventing this threat, and again, this starts with food. Learn about the fuel that feeds a culture and you take huge steps towards understanding that culture.
What’s more, on a purely educational level, a nutritional liberalism gives your tykes the opportunity to engage in learning about different cultures. Food tells stories, and stories stimulate the imagination. What your child can learn about a country through the food they eat is fascinating. We tested the theory while living in Sicily and found that tales of the Spanish domination of the island’s east coast were brought to life while eating the very foods that were a product of these stories. From blood oranges, to almonds and granita – a refreshing, crushed ice alternative to gelato originally made with the snow from Mount Etna – it’s easy to see the link between engaging kids with food and inspiring imaginations. Whether it is stories of Eastern Invasion and spicy fish stews, or quests to collect the snow from Mount Etna to make gelato, or even on the west coast Moorish seafood couscous showing the ingenuity and craftsmanship of a people. Young minds need feeding, so give them the vivid stimulation they crave.
Trying new food certainly comes hand in hand with promoting a go-getting zest for life abroad. So to finish, we suggest these simple ideas to help them say cheerio to Cheerio’s and hello to jalapenos!
- Try a new dish once a fortnight (one meal in 14 days, you’ll have tried 26 new dishes in a year)
- Make it interactive: teach your kids where the food you’re cooking is from and how to make it.
- Make it educational: get them to write a creative story about the dish afterwards or give them recipes scattered with sums.
Read more at foodrevolutionday.com