Toddlers learn about the world through their sense of taste. One of their first questions on encountering something new is, "Can I eat it?"
While this trait may be a pain if you haven't swept the floors recently, you can actually use this curiosity to encourage an early interest in multicultural experiences.
My husband and I want to expose our children to many cultures (on a limited budget), try new foods, go out to nice restaurants with our children, and support local businesses instead of just national chains. For our family, eating out at so-called "ethnic restaurants" meets all these needs!
We've found that our local Indian, Thai, Mexican, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, and other diverse restaurants offer delicious food, a nice ambiance, and great service at a fraction of the price of other restaurants of similar quality. Plus, there is a great atmosphere for children as many other cultures welcome children as part of public life. While we still (of course) need to remove any child who throws a tantrum, we are not met with icy glares just for our mere presence.
Here are some tips for making the most of the experience:
- Learn a little about the culture beforehand: Listening to music or reading legends from the traditional culture gets your little one excited about the visit.
- With older kids, find the country on the map: If you have a map at home, put a pin or sticker on each new place you try. You can even create a passport and put an appropriate stamp or sticker in the passport for each country your child "visits" through a restaurant.
- Enjoy the atmosphere: As you walk in, point out the decorations to your child, using age-appropriate vocabulary. If you do a little research in advance, you can share some information with your child about what you are seeing. On festival days, some restaurants may even feature traditional entertainment.
- Go slow with picky eaters: Start with more familiar dishes with just a touch of new flavor. Almost every restaurant serves some form of bread, rice or pasta, and chicken. My kids love naan, pad thai, and chicken satay. We also find that eating "family style" and allowing our children to eat off our plates encourages them to be a little more adventurous.
- Order child-friendly sweets: We've found that new fruits are also a great way to introduce our children to different styles of cuisine. Mangoes in sticky rice at a Thai restaurant or in a lassi at an Indian restaurant are a big hit with my kids. Also, try the desserts to expand your child's taste buds.
- Make the dishes at home: Continue the learning by making some of your new favorite dishes at home. If possible, shop at an ethnic market to really explore the new produce, spices, and more.
We have found food to be a child-friendly (and budget-friendly) way to explore new cultures!