Infusing education into meetings by introducing ethnic cuisine

Visiting a restaurant that specializes in ethnic cuisine can provide an educational experience to spice up group meetings.

A recent monthly meeting for the Washtenaw 4-H ambassadors was held at a Cuban restaurant, learning about Cuban street cuisine including fritas and plantains. Beyond the unique menu items, youth developed important life skills and a greater appreciation of diversity. Consider the following tips from Michigan State University Extension to make a cultural dining experience with youth meaningful.

  • Let youth order. Walking into a new place where menu items may be unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce and then ordering those items from a person whose primary language may not be English can build confidence. Youth that can successfully navigate the ordering can build skills that prepare them for future travel experiences. If it’s possible, encourage youth to take the conversation past ordering – ask the server if they can share insights from the region highlighted in the cuisine.
  • Try something different. Encourage youth to at least sample something new during the meal, even if they don’t order it as their entrée. The meeting planner may consider ordering a unique appetizer for this purpose. This encourages vulnerability and may introduce youth to their new favorite dish. The shared unique experience can also help develop the group’s sense of team and cohesion.
  • Talk about it. The experiential learning process (page C-1) encourages youth to do an activity, reflect on their experience and apply what’s important. Don’t end the experience with the meal itself. Ask youth what they learned, then take it one step further and ask them why it matters. Their insights often exceed the expectations of the facilitator.
  • Link it to the broader community. A cultural dining experience can help youth understand the diversity that exists within their own community. Remind youth that these restauranteurs are not just running restaurants, they live in and contribute to our communities. Build on the conversation to help youth identify other cultures that are represented in their communities.

Sharing a meal with youth during a meeting can increase enthusiasm and bring new energy to a meeting. Moving past the crowd pleasing pizza can add additional educational value, team building and fun to meetings. Remember, exposure to new things can build understanding, which plants seeds of tolerance and acceptance of differences. For more information on global and cultural education for youth, please visit Michigan 4-H Youth Development’s website on Global and Cultural Education.

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