Why You Should Take Your Kids on a Food Quest

My preschooler bit into the scoop of pistachio ice cream perched on his waffle cone and looked thoughtful. “It has pieces in it,” he said. “The other one was smooth.” Sitting on a bench overlooking a piazza in northern Italy, our family swapped flavors, critiqued textures and compared the frozen treats to the dozens that we’d eaten in the past couple of weeks.

Our family was on a food quest—the kind of hunt you’ve seen on television or read about in magazines, where experts search for the best version of a dish or uncover the origins of a special recipe. Needless to say, we’re not chefs or celebrities. There was no camera crew. We’re just people who love travel and food—and want our kids to, too.

On a family food quest, everyone gets to be a judge.

Going on a food quest is like embarking on a treasure hunt, but with edible bounty. Choose a dish or ingredient, then go in search of the best or most interesting version. You ask around, you do online research, you try to discern the subtle marks of a great (let’s just say) gelato shop. It adds an extra dimension to any trip—but you don’t have to go on an international journey. You might just want to try a different local pancake house every weekend for a couple of months.

Pick a dish, pick a place, and go. It just might teach your kids …

… How to Be More Observant
Asking kids to give their opinions on food encourages them to pay closer attention to what goes into their mouths. Push them beyond just “like” and “dislike” judgments—talk about what they taste, and ask children specific questions to get them to tune into colors, textures, flavors, and aromas. Ask how flavors are different or similar. See if they can identify clues that something is carefully made. (Our kids noticed the crates of fresh apricots stacked next to the counter of our favorite gelateria.) 

… How to Express Their Opinions
On a family food quest, everyone gets to be a judge. Ask children what aspects of a food they like and why. If they get stuck, offer up some ideas and help expand their thinking and vocabulary. Is it the crunch of fried chicken? The saltiness? The contrast of tender and crispy?

… About History
Everything comes from somewhere, and when you delve into the origins of a food, you also learn about history, culture, geography, demographics, and much more. Be sure to talk to the people who serve and prepare your food, whether you’re at a street stall or fancy restaurant. What ingredients are in a dish? Where does it come from? What makes this version special?

… How to Cook
All this adds up to a greater appreciation of food, which will make them more adept in the kitchen. Who knew you could get so much out of ice cream?

Sara Clemence is a parent, freelance journalist, and author of the book Away & Aware: A Field Guide to Mindful Travel.

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