Exploring the world in your very own kitchen

Using cooking and international recipes to engage your kids in thinking about the world and people of other cultures.

“Fika” is a Swedish social institution of a break during the day, often for coffee.
“Fika” is a Swedish social institution of a break during the day, often for coffee.

With the ever growing interconnectedness of the world and employers need for “global citizens,” it's important for children to have experiences with perspectives other than their own. We each have an individual, unique worldview that is shaped by our family, values, knowledge and experiences. These varied worldviews contribute to the diversity of our society, and can be invaluable when it comes to problem solving and overcoming wicked problems (those problems with no linear solution). That said, our worldviews also contribute to the assumptions we make about others; assumptions that can often be very wrong and build walls between peoples.

At the foundation of all our worldviews are two commonalities. We are all human beings, and we have a core of basic needs. One of those needs is food. Meals and eating patterns/traditions are – like worldviews – unique to different cultures and traditions of people around the world. It is because of this that food can be a great first step to learning more about others, growing our worldviews and challenging the assumptions we have about others.

If you have the opportunity and means to travel with your children, that's great! Michigan State University Extension 4-H educator Darren Bagley gave the following response when asked about advice he'd given to Michigan you were are preparing to travel: “Eat the food – if you see something you don't recognize on the menu, try it.” Eating traditional cuisines and dishes from places around the world can provide you with some great insights into that culture and geographic area.

Traveling is a great experience, but isn't always accessible because of time and fiscal restraints. An alternative is to do some international cooking in your own kitchen! All you need is a map or a globe. Pick a regular day each month or week and sit down with you kids to pick a location on the map. After you selected your “food destination,” use the Internet, library or local community members to research recipes from that location. Simple searches such as “traditional Swedish recipes” will yield results from foods like Rosenmunnar (Swedish thumbprint cookies), Jule Kaga (Christmas bread with candied fruit) and Svenska Kottbullar (Swedish Meatballs). Most recipes you find will have ingredients at your local grocery.

Working together in the kitchen with your children creates great bonding, exercises critical thinking and instills the importance of cooking your own meals. While you're cooking (or eating) your dish, use the same sources used to find your recipe to learn more about the country or culture of its origin.

An international grocer is a great option for having these conversations as well. Take a walk through the aisles and select new ingredients to try. Usually the employees at these grocers are friendly, so asking for recommendations from them is also an avenue for new relationships and new foods.

Food is a great connector of people. After all, who doesn't enjoy eating? Eating together usually fuels great conversation and happy relationships. Taking the time to eat new foods with your children creates a "both/and" opportunity. You're cooking and eating together, which is great, and you're helping expand your child's worldview, something that can only help them as they grow into engaged global citizens. For more information on Michigan 4-H global and cultural programs, visit the MSU Extension Global and Cultural Education website.

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