For the past year, my family has volunteered with Bridge Refugee Services in Knoxville, Tennessee. Throughout this time, we have had the privilege of getting to know people from all over the world. My husband is a chef and enjoys preparing creative entree’s for his 2 places of employment (a church and a synagogue). I have 6 children at home and we are always learning about new cultures or reading about different countries and what happened in those countries throughout history. When you combine all of these scenarios, what’s the result? A weekly menu plan that is more International in flavor than most American households.
Once a week, I make a menu plan based on 1) What sounds good and 2) What’s on sale at the store. I have found that while most American dishes highlight meat as a main course, many other countries have lighter fare such as beans, lentils, rice, potatoes, or vegetables as ‘the star of the show’. Not only does this save money on the food budget, but I believe it’s healthier to include a wider variety of foods.
When we first started eating more ethnic foods for dinner, some of my kids did question what was being served. It’s understandable for any child who is accustomed to the same, safe dinners to balk when things are mixed-up a bit at home. There’s nothing wrong with allowing a child to voice their opinion on what they like to eat and what they don’t like to eat, but when a child has never tasted what is being served and they are already adamant that they don’t like the dish, well, I’m sorry, but at my house, you’ve got to try new things. Most of the time, I find that my kids will enjoy the things that at first they thought looked ‘gross’. Trying new, exotic or unfamiliar things at home on a weekly basis is also good practice for when we visit other folks at their house and we are served something out-of-the-ordinary.
Over the past year, we have prepared dinners from these countries (besides American food): Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Congo, Ghana, Haiti, Afghanistan, Romania, Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, Sweden, Iran, Iraq, China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and France. We prepared food in honor of some of the refugees we had over to our house, wanting to surprise them with traditional, familiar foods that they would enjoy.
If you would like to try incorporating new foods into your menus, where should you begin? There are many ways to become more internationally-focused when planning your meals. You can get your children excited about the country you will be preparing the foods from. Look at photos online of the people from that particular country, read about their history and their culture, research their traditional foods, then include your children in planning and preparing the dinner. You could focus on one country for a full month, preparing a dish every Saturday night. By the end of the year, you will have tasted 12 new countries. Another option is to highlight a new country once a week. Each month, you’ll have tasted 4 different countries. If you can find someone who is originally from the country you are preparing the food from, there’s a perfect opportunity to show hospitality by inviting them over; You may even receive some firsthand advice as to whether you cooked the foods properly or not (which can be a little intimidating, but I’m sure the person would be thankful just to know you are interested in learning about their country).
I have been preparing foods from other countries for a long enough time period that when I make my menu plan for the week, I will automatically include selections that my family has enjoyed from other countries. There have been times, I admit, when I’ve looked back over my 7-day menu plan and think, ‘I should probably add something American’. 😉
I encourage you to take a break from the traditional dinners you have been preparing (whether you are from America or from a different country) and embrace the excitement of widening your cultural horizons through international foods.