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The Significance of Food and the Expat Child

speg ohs

Obviously, this depends on your circumstances, but in most cases, you have made a choice to move your family to another country, and even if you didn’t, you are likely to see the move as being a positive experience in your child’s life.

It’s enriching to let them experience the native culture, but what about keeping them aware of their roots too?

Food is a powerful tool in this area, take a look at the significance it can have on your child’s life at home, school, and at friend’s houses, Don’t forget the importance of food at parties and holidays.

With the July 4th holiday coming up, I have had the joy of food shopping in the USA! To many people,  I am sure this is not a fun event, but for someone living on Borneo, it is an emotional event.  I pour over the “Triscuit” isle.  Should I get the Original box or the Rosemary & Olive Oil: Inspired by Italy, shaped like Colorado since we just drove in from Colorado?  Or wait – should I try the new Triscuits-  Brown Rice baked with Sweet Potato and Roasted Sweet Onion? And this is only one of many purchases I must make today to fill up our pantry and refrigerator for the upcoming holiday. Imagine what happens when I hit the beer and wine department!

Food and Family Rituals

Baby fireworks and marshmallows

My family has a series of rituals that we love. Some are tied to holidays, birthdays, and special events, but some are just around because of their longevity and fun. When your children are expatriates, often parents look for things that might connect their child to their “home.”  Many rituals will be based around food.

We make S’mores on the July 4th holiday.  They are a favorite campsite treat for young and old. They are sticky and gooey and loaded with sugar and carbohydrates.

We always spend our summers in Lake Tahoe so during this prime campfire time we enjoy our S’mores ritual. But, we don’t limit our consumption of S’mores to the camp fire. We have them in fireplaces, the dashboards of hot cars, gas kitchen stoves, and microwaves.

We have spent far more 4th of July’s outside of the USA than in the USA. We have been lucky to spend some of our 4th at Lake Tahoe (they do it right). We get the traditional fireworks as well as a wine and cheese afternoon and a “Beer and Brats”  by BWG Barbecue and Brews from Mammoth Brewing Co., Wirz Brewing, New Belgium, and Sierra Nevada! Yum.

My children know more about South African freedoms, the red shirts in Thailand and the fall of the government in Indonesia then they do about the USA history.

But we have an American family ritual of making s’mores. Not a big deal in most places but imagine how you do it when you live in the remote area of Sumatra. When we were living in Indonesia, we got to plan our whole years worth of supplies to be shipped into the country. I would carefully plan what we might need for the year and have it packed up. I would wait until the ship left the USA, got to Indonesia, cleared customs and arrived at my home – this does not work with marshmallows or chocolate bars.

We could easily pack the graham crackers, and they would arrive in Sumatra, and the expiration date had not hit yet, so this was great. Sadly to say the marshmallows did not weather the heat on the docks, the long trip and the wait at customs. They were a block of melted mess that was not fluffy at all. I had packed chocolate bars in my purse, and after we had cleared customs, they went deep into the back of the refrigerator to get hard once again  – melted from the long trip.

The “Joy of Cooking” does tell you how to make marshmallows. So being a good expat mom, I made marshmallows!  It was an all day event, and almost every pot in my house was dirty, but I have mastered making marshmallows in the tropics.

Simens’ do not give up on their family rituals. One year we put the marshmallows and chocolate bars pre-wrapped into individual foil packages so they would go directly from our suitcases into the freezer after the long trip. This was OK but not ideal.

Those ‘long distance” s’mores were the best my children every had, and now we have mastered making s’mores in lots of non-traditional ways. One of my favorites is still in the USA BBQ in the summer heat!

Many USA families have spaghetti o’s or mac and cheese as their chid’s favorite easy to prepare foods. My children were growing up in Indonesia for seven of their early childhood years, lived on fish, noodles and stirred vegetables.  Today, when they are stressed or wanting comfort food, I want to serve them spaghetti or macaroni and cheese, staples from my childhood. But they want sushi and stir fried noodles. Food is a powerful tool. The significance of food and the expat child is an incredible bond well worth looking into with your global family.


As an expat family, what is your child’s ‘comfort food’?  Please comment, I’d love to see if you passed on your comfort food or if your location made an impact on your little global nomad!

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