If you’re looking to spice up your dinners, try exploring the world through food. It can inspire your family to rally around the table and open the door to learning about other cultures.
Cooking and eating international meals together is a wonderful opportunity for families to bond together over new recipes and traditions, says Lynn Barendsen, executive director of The Family Dinner Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“It’s a great way to learn something about other cultures or about your family’s culture,” Barendsen says.
The Family That Eats Together
Even though the foods we eat differ throughout the world, one thing that is universal across cultures is the importance of family dinners.
In some cases, eating meals together as a family can be as effective as family therapy, says Anne Fishel, co-founder of The Family Dinner Project and author of Home for Dinner.
Fishel says the discussions that help families bond in a formal therapy setting often mirror the connections that form naturally at the dinner table. This time spent together, talking and bonding, has positive impacts on children down the line.
“Lower rates of substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, depression, anxiety and stress are all correlated with kids feeling more connected with their parents,” Fishel says.
Make a weekly, or even monthly, plan to host theme nights with your family that include music, movies and food from different countries, Barendsen says. Experiment and have fun by wearing native clothing or learning a few words or phrases from another language.
“For a family already comfortable in the kitchen, it’s a great way to drop the routine,” Barendsen says. “Families could also exchange recipes with friends and neighbors of different backgrounds to learn.”
International family dinner nights are also a great way to get teenagers involved and blend their schoolwork with family time. Find a recipe from a country they’re studying and let them help whip it up, Fishel says.
If your French onion soup turns out gloopy or your rice is too dry, don’t sweat it, Barendsen says. It’s not about perfect cooking—it’s about bonding over a new experience.