December is here! This month focuses on foods from various cultures and traditions, and how they fit into healthy eating. Food culture has been defined by many as the connection, beliefs, and experiences we have with food. It incorporates cultural heritage and ethnicity, but is not limited to it. Explore food and cultures from around the world with these U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) traditional recipes from around the world.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025 (DGA) emphasizes making food choices that are enjoyed on cultural traditions and personal preference. Healthy eating at any age can encompass all cultures and preferences. The DGA also emphasizes making every bite count with nutrient-dense foods. These foods include lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, vegetables, and fruits. Early exposure to different types of food is important to better develop a child’s interest and willingness to eat and enjoy a variety of foods for a lifetime. Let’s get children started by offering a variety of diverse and culturally rich foods that are good for children’s health.
There are many ways to share food traditions throughout the year, especially in December. Celebrate cultural food diversity by encouraging children to share their family’s favorite meals and food traditions during circle time, playtime, or even mealtime.
Conversation starters during circle time can include:
What kind of activities do you like to do in December or throughout the year?
What special foods do you like to eat with your family or friends?
By embracing differences in food cultures and traditions, we create a sense of belonging for everyone. Positive food experiences help children of all cultures develop a secure sense of identity and acceptance.
We can build on last month’s theme of “Building Food Memories” with this month’s theme: “My Family Eats.” Check out USDA, Food and Nutrition Services (FNS)’s multicultural food recipes for culturally diverse recipes.
No matter what culture or tradition is celebrated, December can be a great time to introduce new foods to children and an excellent opportunity to get them involved in learning about all cultures.
December Food Themes
December 1 – Eat a Red Apple Day
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This phrase will never get old. Apples are a great source of carbohydrates, fiber, and other vitamins and minerals.There are many ways to enjoy apples. They can be eaten raw or made into a variety of dishes. Try this Aztec Grain SaladAztec that combines South American quinoa with aromatic roasted butternut squash, crisp apples, and dried cranberries for a delicious, colorful, and high protein side dish. Substitute a red apple variety for the Granny Smith apples in this recipe to fully celebrate Eat a Red Apple Day.
What way can apples be added into the “My Family Eats” theme? You can teach children about different cultures by using different colored apples to represent different cultures as you talk about various foods and how they offer nutrients for healthy bodies. You can also use ICN’s Steps to Planning a Nutrition Education activity sheet to help you plan.
December 6 – Gazpacho Day
Gazpacho is a nutrient-packed Spanish soup consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and breadcrumbs that is served cold. It is delicious, budget-friendly, and fits with our “My Family Eats” theme of exploring culturally diverse foods. Gazpacho Day is a great opportunity to create a delicious, multicultural soup recipe with commonly used ingredients. Get started by visiting USDA’s MyPlate for a gazpacho soup recipe.
December 8 – Pear Day & National Pear Month
Not only is there a special day dedicated to pears, but December is also National Pear Month! Have you ever heard the phrase “makes a great pair”? That applies to this fruit as it pairs well with sweet, salty, and tangy meals and snacks. Pears are an excellent source of fiber and a good source of vitamin C. Fiber is great for good digestion, and vitamin C helps build a strong immune system. Find recipes with pears, learn about pears, and teach all about pears with USDA, FNS’s seasonal produce nutrition education.
December 19 – National Oatmeal Muffin Day
Oatmeal has a long history in Scottish traditions because their weather is ideal for growing oats. Oatmeal adds nutritional value to the muffin and is a source of whole grain. To increase the amount of whole grain in the muffin, use whole wheat flour. To celebrate this day, check out these oatmeal muffin squares from ICN’s Child Nutrition Recipe Box (CNRB). Add children’s favorite fruit like blueberry, strawberry, or raspberry.
Pears are a close relative to apples, like a cousin.
Almost all of the pears grown in the United States come from Washington and Oregon.
Pears pair perfectly with any meal, and they can be eaten raw or cooked.
What’s in Season for December?
During the winter season, fresh produce will vary depending on where you live. No matter where you live, there can still be some delicious options. Fruits and vegetables can easily be added to soups, salads, or incorporated into smoothies. Keep in mind that many children like to eat produce separate from other foods. With limitless possibilities, it is still possible to enjoy produce during the winter. All this produce fits well into a healthy December!
Food Art and Activity Ideas for December
In your circle time discussions about food culture and traditions, highlight a variety of different foods to teach children about healthy eating. Discuss how lean proteins can help them grow strong; fruits and vegetables give them fiber, vitamins, and minerals; whole grains give them energy to play; and milk keeps their bones and teeth healthy. Check out these fun art projects for a great way to get children excited about common winter activities while exposing them to a variety of healthy foods.
This simple project only requires a few ingredients: eggs, carrots, pomegranate seeds (arils), and parsley. Hard-boiled eggs serve as the head and body of the snowman. Slice a small section from the bottom of a hard-boiled egg to help it stand up. Use a straw or pretzel stick to hold the eggs together. Carrots are used for the top hat, pomegranate seeds for the eyes, and parsley sprigs for the arms. The top hat, eyes, and arms can be pushed directly into the hard-boiled egg. Children will enjoy making (and eating) these cute snowmen.
Kiwi Fruit Tree:
The kiwi fruit tree is another fun way to incorporate fruits into children’s diet. Cut kiwis and assemble them in the shape of a tree, as shown in the picture. Use other fruits to decorate the tree, and voila! Consider making as a small group or class. Children will love eating from the tree and get some great nutrition along the way. Kiwi is loaded with vitamin C!
Using a clear, plastic cup, encourage your children to decorate with a snowman face. Decorate using markers or embellish with a pair of googly eyes, orange triangles for the nose, and red ribbon as a scarf. Fill with popcorn and enjoy! Consider these three ways that popped popcorn can credit in a reimbursable CACFP meal or snack.
¾ cup [0.25 ounces (7 grams)] popcorn as ¼ ounce equivalent of whole grains
1 ½ cups [0.5 ounces (14 grams)] popcorn as ½ ounce equivalent of whole grains
3 cups [1.0 ounce (28 grams)] popcorn
as 1 ounce equivalent of whole grains
Fruit Candy Cane:
Make a fruit candy cane using two simple ingredients—bananas and strawberries. Slice the bananas and strawberries horizontally and let children assemble their candy cane.
Mealtime Memo (MTM) is focused on nutrition and wellness in child care settings and is specifically intended for use by child care professionals who participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The objective is to provide research-based best practices for planning, preparing, and/or serving nutritious, safe, and child-friendly meals in child care settings operating the CACFP.
Beginning in January 2021, the MTM moved to an electronic, blog-style newsletter. To ensure you automatically receive the latest issue, click “Subscribe” below!
Subscribe to Mealtime Memo
Please note: To ensure MTMs provide the most accurate, up-to-date information, any references to Federal regulations, nutritional standards, and other best practices are considered current at the time of publication. Please be advised that this information is NOT updated to reflect any changes/revisions beyond the publication date. In addition, all MTMs published prior to 2017 have been archived and are no longer available on our website. If you need access to an archived MTM or for questions on the latest regulations and standards, please contact ICN’s Help Desk at email@example.com or 1-800-321-3054.