N U T R I T I O N   A C T I O N

Multicultural Foods in Storybooks

Cultural diversity is an important part of the foods and nutrition curriculum. Multicultural foods expose children to different flavors, tastes, sights, and smells. Foods from other cultures broaden children’s understanding of food and nutrition and help them begin to appreciate differences.

You have probably found many ways to integrate food into activities that honor the cultures of children and their families. Menus that incorporate multicultural foods, families who share recipes, food preparation activities in the early care and education setting, and field trips to grocery stores, markets, bakeries, restaurants, and delis are excellent ways to introduce children to the cultural aspects of food.

In some cases, however, it is difficult to offer “hands-on” multicultural food experiences in the childcare setting. You may not have access to authentic recipes, equipment, financial resources, or ingredients that are needed for an activity.

Your facility may not be near appropriate field trip sites. Health and safety regulations may make cooking activities and field trips difficult to manage. Or, it could be that you have the resources to do multicultural activities with food, but feel like something is missing from your curriculum.

Could it be storybooks?

What Books Can Do

There are a variety of multicultural children’s books available to enhance foods and nutrition education. To select appropriate titles, consider these guidelines for multicultural education from Teaching Children About Food, by Christine Berman and Jacki Fromer:

  • There is diversity within the same culture, so avoid stereotypes and generalizations. Recognize that families within the same cultural group may have very different food preferences and practices.
  • Explain to children that there are different foods for daily meals and for holidays and celebrations.
  • Avoid “mixing” or lumping cultures together. Families who have recently immigrated may have different food preferences than families who immigrated several generations ago. Families from neighboring countries and regions also may have different food traditions.

There are many books about multicultural foods, and the list is always growing. Some books concentrate on the foods of a single culture or a specific food, while others look at the food traditions of several cultures.

Depending on the goals of your curriculum, you may want to stick with books that reflect the food preferences of the children and families in your program. Or you may want to look for books that expand children’s knowledge about foods from other cultures. Both types of books can be useful.

For ideas, consider informally surveying the families in your childcare program. Inquire about their favorite foods, meals, and recipes. Ask about holidays as well as food-related customs and traditions.

Some families may be eager to share their culture with you while others may be more reticent. Emphasize that you want to incorporate the children’s individual cultures into your story times. Young children learn through their senses so books about food are a meaningful way to learn about each child’s family and individual culture.

Finding the Right Books

How do you choose from the many books available for children about multicultural foods? The books that work best depend on the age and cultures of the children, the goals of your foods and nutrition curriculum, and the resources available. Children’s librarians are excellent resources for locating books that will best suit your needs, so use their expertise to help you find appropriate titles.

Beatrice Hollyer’s Let’s Eat! What Children Eat Around the World and Ann Morris’s Bread Bread Bread are excellent introductions to the vast array of foods eaten by the world’s peoples. Both books are illustrated with colorful, fascinating photographs that show children eating with their families, going to the market, and helping with food preparation.

Another fine choice is Eating, by Gwenyth Swain, which shows children from around the world enjoying their favorite foods.

A series of board books by Amy Wilson Sanger introduces children to snacks from several cultures through rhyme and bright, mixed-media collage illustrations. Look for Yum Yum Dim Sum (Chinese), Let’s Nosh (Jewish), Hola Jalapeno (Mexican), First Book of Sushi (Japanese), A Little Bit of Soul Food (traditional African-American), and Mangia! Mangia (Italian).

Norah Dooley’s books follow a child named Carrie around her culturally diverse neighborhood as she visits friends’ kitchens, sampling their traditional foods. Look for Everybody Bakes Bread, Everybody Brings Noodles, Everybody Cooks Rice, and Everybody Serves Soup. The text of these titles is a little long for young children, but can easily be adapted to accommodate shorter attention spans.

Some authors, like Grace Lin, have written several books about a specific culture’s food. Lin’s books, including Dim Sum for Everyone, The Ugly Vegetables, and Fortune Cookie Fortunes encourage children to explore Chinese food and traditions.

Look for books about foods from other cultures that take an intergenerational approach and lend themselves to exploring the relationship between food and family. Examples include Ana Zamorano’s Let’s Eat (Spanish), Linda Sue Park’s Bee-bim Bop!

Marna Holland
Parent Educator, Asheville, NC, City Schools Preschool, and Instructor, Western Carolina University

Internet Resources

Children’s Books About Food, Eating and Health, North Dakota Nutrition Council and North Dakota State University Extension Service, www.ndsu.edu/ndnc/foodbooks

Michigan Team Nutrition Booklist, Michigan State University Extension, tn.fcs.msue.msu.edu/Booklist.pdf

Nourishing Children with Books, Virginia Cooperative Extension, www.ext.vt.edu/pubs/preschoolnutr/348-950/348-950.html

Nutrition Education Resources, Dairy Council of California,
www.dairycouncilofca.org/PDFs/nutrition_edu_resources_05_06.pdf

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