Cultural Exchange: American kids react to breakfasts from around the world

by cv harquail on February 17, 2015

Cultural Exchange always feels more concrete when it’s translated into food. Food preferences, food differences, food customs, and beyond.


With a hattip to Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing, here’s a video that reminded me of the first time I had fishpaste from a tube, on a business trip to Sweden.


I wonder how many of our Au Pairs secretly react the way the kid does at 1:18?


ProPair February 17, 2015 at 6:33 pm

Hilarious! I remember the first time my Dutch Host kids tried PB & J. They loved it, but their parents were kind of grossed out by the idea. But chocolate sprinkles on bread? Totally normal stuff. :D

AussiePair February 17, 2015 at 9:11 pm

I’m disappointed they didn’t give them some Vegemite on toast and Nutrigrain, maybe even some fairy bread (although that’s not really a breakfast food).. Loved seeing my host kids faces when I made them try Vegemite :)

Seattle Mom February 19, 2015 at 1:23 pm

I really wanted to like Vegemite… but could not.

AussiePair February 19, 2015 at 5:46 pm

It’s definitely an acquired taste.. I’ve found thy people who like dishes with lots of salt or soy sauce tend to like it more than others do

Taking a Computer Lunch February 17, 2015 at 10:15 pm

When I lived in Dublin, I rented a room from a family. I turned the kids on to grilled cheese sandwiches (so much better than toasted cheese in my book). One of the kids took it to the next level, and not only buttered the bread, but fried the whole thing in olive oil. I was like, “Wow, you just took something totally unhealthy, and made it downright lethal!”

The Camel eats ham quiche, spanakopita, and boca burgers for breakfast (her pediatrician asked use to reduce carbs – and heck, she’s severely retarded, she doesn’t know they’re not breakfast food). I think it freaks my au pairs out at first – especially since they’re primed to think of cold cereal as an American breakfast.

WarmStateMomma February 18, 2015 at 1:45 am

That video was great! I think our American breakfasts are pretty tame for my APs, although Mrs. Buttersworth’s is definitely an acquired taste.

Our AP has taken my daughter for dim sum with another Chinese AP and her host kid. My kid eats chicken feet now and probably some other body parts that would make me squirm. My husband can’t believe she won’t eat PB&Js, but she would happily eat matzo ball soup (“lotsa ball soup”) every day.

Our AP’s reaction to seeing aquatic life while snorkeling or visiting the aquarium: that one is so tasty! and that one!

My husband’s response to the AP: What?!?! You can eat that one?

Old China Hand February 18, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Our first AP was asked to fill out an application asking for her favorite sea creature. I didn’t know how to explain it to her other than to have her choose the one she likes to eat the best.

Our current AP was kind of confused that we eat eggs for breakfast most days (we eat low carb) but has gotten used to it.

WarmStateMomma February 19, 2015 at 5:07 pm

There is some steamed egg dish with a sauce (maybe soy?) our APs occasionally make for my daughter’s breakfast. It was soft enough to be one of the first foods she ate as a baby, something like a light custard, but my husband hates it. Chinese pancakes seem to be primarily egg based and we all like those.

Old China Hand February 18, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Our first AP was asked to fill out an application asking for her favorite sea creature. I didn’t know how to explain it to her other than to have her choose the one she likes to eat the best.

Our current AP was kind of confused that we eat eggs for breakfast most days (we eat low carb) but has gotten used to it.

(sorry for the double post – I typed in the wrong email after my browser cleared cookies)

NJHostDad February 18, 2015 at 11:57 am

My current au pair, from Germany, shared with me this weekend that on the second day she was with us, i made bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast. She had never eaten bacon before, and was totally grossed out by the amount of fat and grease thrown off during cooking, and tried hard to suppress her revulsion and try it for the sake of not rocking the boat so early. Of course, it was a happy ending, she loves bacon now, and wishes we had it more often than we do.

Stella February 18, 2015 at 1:41 pm

everyone wishes they had bacon more often than they do :)

Old China Hand February 18, 2015 at 2:00 pm

It was the first meat I ate after 23 years as a vegetarian. Amazing stuff.

German Au-Pair February 18, 2015 at 4:27 pm

I LOVE bacon and Bacon has become my all time American nostalgia food. Here we basically only have it on SOME burgers.
What I find repulsive are those tiny breakfast sausages. Hot sausage is dinner for us. What I missed most was real bread and Mett (some kind of tartar eaten raw on German brötchen-rolls) AMAZING!

Plus basically everything you can eat in the US is too sweet for breakfast. I got used to it pretty fast but got a kick out of seeing my visitors try IHOP’s stuffed french toast :D So sweet it makes your teeth hurt but amazing.

NBHostMom February 18, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Our French AP was picky eater, by her own admission. She was with us around the time the book “French Kids Eat Everything” came out, that was a good laugh as she quickly gave a good dose of reality to that myth. We eat a fairly diverse diet in our home and enjoy Indian, Thai and Caribbean etc take-out, with probably too high of a frequency. We had so much fun watching her reaction to all the “weird” things we ate. I’ve never seen someone gag on maple syrup before. She was a good sport for at least tasting all the things we fed her :) . It went both ways, she was constantly surprised by our kids’ rejection of typical kid-friendly dishes in France. This is the type of exchange we love the AP program for, good fun and new experiences. Her healthy ‘French breakfast” of fresh fruit and plain yogurt was also a good example for the rest of us.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 18, 2015 at 2:50 pm

We warn every AP that matches with us that they should expect to try a lot of different foods when they eat at our table. We cook from scratch and are adventurous eaters. Some have drawn the line at picking apart steamed crabs, while others have eaten them quite happily. We’re always pleased when an AP tries a new food, even if she never intends to eat it again.

The worst eaters were the two vegetarians. They preferred “white food” – potatoes, pasta, yogurt, cheese and bread. They did not want to hear me talk about balancing proteins.

However, the person who had the most difficulty was our Chinese AP. I don’t think she imagined how different the food would be. I think she ate a hotdog bun for breakfast the first morning she was with us. Eventually, she cooked 100% for herself at lunchtime. We were happy enough to eat her cooking, when she cooked for us. The flexibility of our tastes surprised her .

Stella February 18, 2015 at 3:06 pm

I want to hear more about her myth busting because that meme (French kids eat everything) really gets under my skin. Do share more!!

NbHostMom February 19, 2015 at 8:37 am

@Stella, based on what our AP shared with me this was typical for her family (she made it sound common)
Breakfast: baked good (croissants), Nutella, fruit
Lunch: Baguette sandwich, sandwich meats, cheese, fruits/veg. Schools often would also typically serve a hot lunch (which apparently vary greatly from school to school)
Dinner: in her family (typical?), kids were given dinner between 5-6, hearty soups, chicken, breaded fish… All sounded “kid friendly” to me. Adults when then sit down to a “fancier” dinner between 8-10, and kids were encouraged to taste some of the offerings

Au Pair in France February 19, 2015 at 3:54 pm

In my host family in France this would be a typical weekday:

Breakfast: toast spread with yoghurt and jam
Lunch: main meal of the day, the children come home for lunch, but as I’m not told what to make this is often something English, fortunately all the children eat shepherds pie or ‘toad in the hole’ as happily as gratin or boeuf bourguignon, though their grandparents examined their lunch very dubiously when they were staying!
Dinner: everyone eats together about 8pm, home made soups or omlette.

At the weekends:
Brunch: eggs, baguette and jam, occasionally croissants
Dinner: normally various creamy seafood dishes

Seattle Mom February 19, 2015 at 1:55 pm

I think that the meme that “french children eat everything” really means that French children eat everything that French adults eat.. there is no french kid food. French people, in my experience, are biased towards their own cuisine (and with good reason, in my opinion- they do have a fantastic cuisine).

We have had 3 french au pairs. Two were somewhat picky eaters- no remotely spicy food, one claimed to be allergic to rice (but nothing else). They both found some new American foods that they liked, but I would not call either of them adventurous eaters. Actually the American foods were mostly fine, it was the Mexican and Asian dishes that we like that posed problems- and not very spicy, because we’re talking about things my somewhat picky kids will eat.

Our last French au pair would eat *everything* we put on the table. It was impressive. She is half-Italian, though… and she spent some time with her Italian grandma. I wonder if that is part of the reason.

I was in the Peace Corps in Africa and I would say the same thing about the children there- they ate what the adults ate and never complained about it (partly because they were happy to have any food at all). But when I tried to introduce adults to western food they did not like it (Pizza! hello?!)… and when a friend from my village traveled with me to another part of the country she didn’t like their local food.

To be honest I don’t judge too much because while I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater I had a really hard time with the food where I lived in Africa. Like my french au pairs, I found things I liked and I made do with what was locally available, but there were a lot of things I couldn’t bring myself to eat. Unfortunately the dishes favored by most people were things I just couldn’t eat.

WarmStateMomma February 19, 2015 at 4:57 pm

I stayed with a French host family one summer during high school. Their kids ate whatever the parents did – which was typically delicious but not “adventurous.” It wasn’t hard to get with the program and eat “real food” in their home. We did eat a lot more than I ate with my own family. It wasn’t unusual for their teenage daughter and I to eat a dozen eggs between us for breakfast, plus baked goods, and we were both about 100 pounds….

Mimi February 18, 2015 at 3:10 pm

That was awesome! My food rule for my kids is that you have to taste everything (which means three bites). As a result, they will eat a lot of diverse dishes. (One of the twins will just drown in it ketchup if needed. This is the same one who eats PB/Nutella with cheese…) Although most of what I cook is traditional German-American fare, we eat a fair amount of other types of dishes, especially seafood other than fish. Most of our APs have tried whatever I’ve made but seafood has always been the most interesting for results. I think the only odd AP related food thing for us was that our Ukranian AP would feed the twins sandwiches with lunch meat for breakfast, although I did get a good laugh when my current AP (who is Colombian) came home very excited to have found a great restaurant where she could get real Hispanic meals…Taco Bell.

Stella February 18, 2015 at 4:26 pm

how do you accomplish this? My son will cry interminably before taking even one bite of something he doesn’t like (or thinks he doesn’t like). And if they hate the first bite, how on earth do you get them to eat a second and THIRD bite?

Taking a Computer Lunch February 18, 2015 at 8:17 pm

When my son was 2 I told him he had to eat two bites of everything because he was 2. I didn’t expect any more, but of course if he liked it he would eat more. When he turned 3 it became 3. By the time he was 5, he asked “What are you going to make me eat when I’m 17?!” The result? I’ve got a kid who eats raw oysters, will try turtle soup because he’s never had it, eats almost every vegetable, and will politely eat everything he’s served at a friend’s home. DH and I also let him opt out of one meal every week – but now that he’s a teenager, it rarely happens. He’s usually hungry enough to wolf down whatever is served.

TexasHM February 19, 2015 at 10:12 am

We do this too! We serve a plate, if there’s something they don’t like/want they eat the # of bites matching their age and we found too that they stop protesting. My 9 yr old just eats it all, he knows he will not win so he too eats everything everyday. 6 yr old is pretty good but occasionally will dig in about a particular veggie but she knows – 6 bites and after asking a couple times just chokes it down (they can’t leave table or have dessert or play until it’s eaten). We also focus on the healthier stuff – meaning I tell them eat the spinach before they leave the table but the rest they don’t have to finish (so they aren’t forced to overeat). Our 4 yr old is the worst right now, protests something almost daily so we are in the thick of it but just stick to it and they all come around and its so worth it in the end! She got sent to bed two nights ago because she wouldn’t try something. (I suspect she was tired as well anyway). You’d be amazed how quickly they will scarf down even the “worst!” foods the minute they see their siblings doing something fun or they remember they are running out of screen time for the day! :)

Seattle Mom February 19, 2015 at 2:02 pm


Long before I had kids, I knew a 4 year old whose loved the TV show “Fear Factor.” She would pretend she was playing fear factor when she ate her food, and she would eat just about anything.

Unfortunately I haven’t been as successful with my kids… we do the “one bite” rule, and sometimes we push for more bites when we know it’s a food the kid had liked in the past. But some kids really are just more picky by their nature. My older daughter is pretty bad and she will cry and whine even about taking one bite, but she will do it. And once in a blue moon she is surprised, and finds that she actually likes it! My younger daughter likes everything but she is going through a phase where she wants to assert her independence and control of what goes in her body, so she will reject foods just to reject them. In that case we don’t make a big deal about it, because fighting her only makes it worse. Some days she is very hungry and forgets that she is supposed to be fighting us on everythng.

Mimi February 18, 2015 at 10:28 pm

Consistency is what gets them to try things. I don’t let them have the good stuff until they try the others, even to the tune of repeat attempts at trying the same food over and over again. They know the drill by now. I’m also a burnt toast mom…if it’s not charred and smoking, you can still eat it. It also helps that they are voracious boys and like TACL, soon they will be inhaling it without asking what it is.

WarmStateMomma February 19, 2015 at 4:43 pm

We make our 2 year old take one bite of everything at each meal, but the coercion ends there. We don’t tie dessert into meals (or give it to her regularly) so she doesn’t have to eat the unwanted food to get dessert. (My sister plays this bargaining game with her son and mealtimes with them are miserable.)

If my daughter won’t eat dinner, she doesn’t get snacks or substitutes no matter how healthy they are. I just wrap up her plate and put it in the fridge. That’s what she gets if she is hungry later and I will put her to bed without dinner if she’s being stubborn. That said, we always offer something she likes with dinner or let her eat leftovers from another dinner so that she’s never stuck with only food she dislikes, but her only options are real food.

She loves edamame, curry, fried rice, sushi, hot salsa, tom kha gai, carrot sticks, steamed sweet potatoes (for breakfast!) and whole grain toast. Naturally, she also loves the junk she gets when her older cousin is visiting because he won’t eat real food.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 19, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Read “Is Your Toddler Jerking You Around the Table” – it’s a chapter in How to Get Your Kids to Eat – .

We did this with child #2 – a spoonful of dessert on the plate – but never in a bigger proportion than anything else he or she will eat. If the child eats it first, so be it, but that’s it – no negotiating. Also for toddlers, it helps to put a spoonful of one or two healthy foods you know they will like on the plate (Freezing soups in ice cube trays and then double bagging helps with this!)

I’m the mistress of many tips. The trick is not to whine when your kids do, be firm. (And then, one night, when you make something you know they dislike, they’ll surprise you by asking you to divide your portion, devouring it, and asking for more!)

Seattle Mom February 23, 2015 at 3:36 pm

“The trick is not to whine when your kids do”

I need to teach this one to DH. He doesn’t understand the difference between being firm and whining. It’s really annoying!!!

And I’ve heard great things about Ellyn Satter and have read excerpts in the past, I think it is time to get the book.

We are definitely in the “food as negotiation” trap currently. My kids see dinner as something they have to take a few bites of in order to earn dessert. I never intended for it to get to this point. We don’t even usually have real desserts, they consider crackers after dinner to be dessert. Even apples and bananas (which they can eat freely all day long) with peanut butter. Although now that we have been through the month of cake due to multiple birthdays we might have more trouble getting on track.

hOstCDmom February 23, 2015 at 3:44 pm

we switched to “dessert after lunch” to get out of this trap! Everyone in my family loves lunch/lunch foods – no battles there. So everyone gets their small dessert (think 1 cookie, or scoop of Italian ice – goal is less than 100 cal, so less than 5% of overall caloric intake of elem school kid/day) after lunch. you get one every day, because small treats are fine and part of our moderation philosophy. Then dinner is just dinner – you are expected to eat it, but there is no reward for eating it, no battle, and no negotiating. For us this improved the dessert battle/quid pro quo dynamic — didn’t solve everything, but MARKEDLY improved it!

Dorsi February 19, 2015 at 6:38 pm

I think the answer is that the crying only feels interminable, it isn’t really. My kids have all gone through a protest phase with the “take a bite of everything rule”, but we wait patiently, don’t plead, and don’t give attention until they cooperate. In general, there are no more protests about this. In our house, you must take a bit of everything offered, and then you can eat as much of anything as you like. If you don’t like anything, you may have bread and butter, after everyone is finished eating (they end up eating a surprising amount of food while they are waiting). If they won’t take a bite, they are expected to sit respectfully until everyone finishes and there is no more food until morning.

German Au-Pair February 18, 2015 at 4:39 pm

I find that the definition of what goes with breakfast and what goes with lunch is pretty flexible. While we would never eat sausages for breakfast, we do eat pepper (well, actually real Salami) and ham and all that for breakfast.

WestMom February 18, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Our French APs were all sort of disgusted by our savory breakfasts. All they basically ate was… bread, nutella and some chocolate milk to top it off. Our brunches with bacon, eggs and bagel with cream cheese were not very popular.

Seattle Mom February 19, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I remember the 2 weeks I spent in France with a homestay family I was always so hungry after breakfast… I couldn’t understand how someone could have enough fuel to get through the morning on just toast and tea!

We had amazing dinners though, and dessert every evening, and I still lost weight while I was there! (It helped that I was biking around everywhere I went in this hilly town).

Old China Hand February 18, 2015 at 7:30 pm

I think that breakfast is one of the most cultural things. Much easier to eat different foods for lunch or dinner. But definitely you can get used to different things too if you try. …when we started eating low carb I had a very hard time giving up sweet breakfasts. I think that was harder than not being vegetarian anymore. I have a very hard time with breakfast in China. Congee or savory spicy noodles don’t cut it for me, though I will do it.

Seattle Mom February 19, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Agreed.. though I really liked the breakfast in Africa. Where I lived they did a lot of porridge-type things, and I developed an affinity for this corn-mush infused with a lot of ginger, but I had to add milk and sugar and eat it piping hot!

used2bap February 19, 2015 at 2:41 pm

I tried everything my HF ate when I was au pairing. I figured if they can eat it, it won’t kill me to try. Fortunately I’m not a very picky eater since their delicacies of choice included pickled ram testicles, rotten shark and singed sheep head :D One of the more “common” everyday foods I learned to like a lot was finely chopped liver cooked in a pouch made of stomach. Kind of like a viking haggis ;)

The food I missed the most was (believe it or not!) McDonald’s! I eat McD maybe once every two months, so not even that often… But knowing you’d have to cross the ocean to get to the closest one – ugggh. The Icelandic cure to hangovers was Domino’s or a chili-filled footlong (also good) but boy, was I happy when I got my first burger after I came home!

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