Years ago my friend April shared a creative idea which she used to help her young daughter try new foods. I just loved the idea and began using it in our cooking classes and at home with my own kids. Her concept for “Food Explorer Passports” became a popular component of the earliest Dr. Yum Project after school cooking camps. Many of the dishes we made used local ingredients but the recipes were inspired from cuisine around the world. When kids enrolled, their parents would send a picture of them and we would make them a passport which we would stamp every day with the name of the dish and the country they “visited” when they prepared and tried the recipes. The kids loved having a record of all their food accomplishments and could then use them to keep tracking the foods they try after the camp was over.
Getting kids to eat new foods is tough. Getting them to eat new foods from different cultures, with unfamiliar ingredients, tastes, and textures may seem impossible. However, exposing kids to the cuisine of different cultures is a great exercise for so many reasons:
- Being a food explorer exposes kids to new and different tastes, laying the groundwork for a lifetime of adventurous eating.
- Trying different foods gives kids a chance to learn about different cultures and the food they eat.
- Exploring new foods allows families a chance to try recipes and dishes from different cultures both at home and outside of the home and journal their tasting experiences.
- Food Explorer Passports help families enjoy eating ethnic foods while traveling to different countries, making traveling even more memorable.
- Trying different foods exposes children to the profile of nutrients that are not in their everyday diet.
In the current pandemic when traveling and eating out may still not be safe, Food Explorer Passports are a great way to “travel” without having to leave home. Find recipes online or your favorite cookbooks that feature cultural recipes that you may not normally prepare. Ask friends if they have family recipes from their own culture that they could share with you. Have fun learning about the traditions of that culture before you prepare the foods for a more immersive experience. Finally, when serving your recipes find music or decor that may also celebrate the culture. Here’s how you make your food explorer passport:
- FIND A NOTEBOOK: Find a small passport-sized notebook ( about 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches). I found mine at Target, and they came in packs of three with graph paper on the inside.
- OUTSIDE COVER: You can also download the front cover and print out on regular or sticker paper (prints two covers). Stick it on the outside cover. Decorate the outside with even more stickers!
- INSIDE JACKET: Click HERE to download a copy of the inside jacket of the passport in Microsoft word format. You can type the name, birth date, and “date of issue” when you make your passport. Cut and glue it into the inside front cover. Glue a photo in the empty space. An extra wallet-sized school picture words great.
- START TRAVELING: Find a special ink stamp or stickers to use when they try new ethnic food at home, at a restaurant or on vacation. Reward each try with a stamp or sticker, record the name of the country, type of food, and date. If you are at a restaurant, you may even ask the chef or server to sign your passport. For very hesitant eaters who may still have trouble tasting unfamiliar foods, reward them for other ways of experiencing the dish, like smelling, touching, or helping to prepare it. As they collect more stamps they may be willing to taste!
When unfamiliar ingredients are challenging to find, don’t stress. When you can’t find totally authentic recipes or ingredients, shoot for recipes that are inspired by the cuisine of other cultures and make easy substitutions with foods you can find. The point is to try new flavors and have fun! Here are some of our own recipes that you can try at home, including the countries whose cuisine inspired those dishes:
Shakshuka (Northern Africa)
Pad Thai (Thailand)
Lentils with Spinach (Sri Lanka)
Chickpea Curry (India)
Tropical Tomato Pico de Gallo (Mexico)