Celebrate Food and Culture

I have talked before about how “food is fuel” and how we can choose foods that make our bodies “Go!”.  We need to eat food to grow, to heal, and to sustain our energy levels for our favorite activities.  But we also eat to taste (because food is one of the wonderful pleasures of life), to celebrate, and to carry on family traditions and customs.  This past month, I had the opportunity to work with kids in both Elementary and Middle School grades to explore the concept of Food and Culture.  We watched a 5-minute news segment called “What’s for dinner around the world” and discussed the various traditions around food that make different cultures unique.  We tried different utensils and experimented with ingredients and recipes that make ethnic cuisine unique.  We focused on a few countries and their unique habits around food.  We discussed how meal traditions might vary from those we follow in the United States.  In this month’s newsletter, I will share with you the findings, recipes and insights from these explorations with kids around the topic of Food and Culture.  I hope you enjoy reading!

What’s for Dinner Across the World?

We watched a brief but fun ABC news segment called “What’s for Dinner Across the World”.  It showed the differences in food customs across China, Pakistan, Israel, Kenya, South Korea, and France.  When I talked to the kids about this news segment, we discussed the different factors that influence the types of food people eat:

– Geography: Agriculture and access to markets, clean water, and marine life all dictate the types of food available.

– Climate: A region’s diet is based on the weather—e.g., tropical regions must consume different foods as compared to cold regions.

– Economics: Different countries have different socio-economic profiles;  what people eat is often based on what people can afford.

– Religion: Some religions have special rules about food (e.g., Kosher diets and consumption of certain animal foods like pork or beef/cow, etc.)

Some of the things the kids pointed out as surprising and/or interesting as related to the customs around the world included:

Shopping habits.  The kids got a kick out of the fact that the MEN in Pakistan do all the grocery shopping!  We see men shopping as well in the segment on Israel.

Meal location.  The kids loved to see the segment about China where the food comes right from the farm and is eaten outside, abig contrast to Korea where most meals are eaten in restaurants (a fact most kids were surprised to learn!).

Who’s the guest of honor.  Of course the kids loved to hear about the fact that dinners in Kenya are “all about the children”.  How fun for the kids to be served first and also to lead the blessing (which contrasted to the adults leading the blessing in the segment on Israel).

Table manners.  Most kids love to see different ways to eat food (chopsticks in China vs. eating with the hands –right hand only!– in Pakistan).  Kids think it might be fun to sit on the floor as was shown for Pakistan.  As for the custom of twisting the torso to the side to sip alcohol (in Korea)…interesting!

We then discussed how different dinner time looks here in the United States.  As the broadcaster mentioned…TV dinners? Fast food? Are these U.S. customs good or bad for our health? Most kids agree that this is part of the “SAD” in the Standard American Diet.  I asked each child to fill out a form for their favorite recipe and also include their favorite dinner-time custom.  I compiled these into a book for the entire class to share. Use this form if you’d like to try this exercise with your own child’s class!

We agreed that it is important to understand and appreciate other cultures.  Why?  Because other cultures introduce you to new foods, help you to better understand peoples’ habits and lifestyles, and promote respect and appreciation for people that are different than you.  We are all unique and have varying preferences in not just food, but also books, music, art, and fashion.  It is important to appreciate our differences and respect others’ opinions and culture.

We concluded with a discussion of some of the types of ethnic cuisine that the kids might like to try.  Here are some ethnic-based mini-cookbooks!


Thanks so much for reading!


Resources:  Juliette Britton, RD. Nurture Curriculum Committee.  www.nurtureyourfamily.org
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This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.


  1. kelly quinn says:

    Hi Kathyrn-
    I love this idea! I am an RD working for the Elmhurst IL Park District. I am involved with the children’s programming, especially the camps and am borrowing this idea for our spring break camp. We are going to watch the news clip, discuss and then the kids will break into small groups making some ethnic dishes. Our staff is very ethnically diverse, but sadly, our community is not, so this will be a great opportunity to teach the kids on many levels!

    Thanks again for all the amazing ideas and work you do with the communities! Nuture and Healthy kids ideas are great inspirations for community RD’s like me!

    Kelly Quinn

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