Passport Dinners: how our family travels the world from our dinner table

Updated Jul 22 2017
Guest post by Veronica Johns Ferreira
World map plate by HBworkshop

It was very important to my husband and I that our children learned about other ways of living than our own. As they get older (there are four of them that range in age from 9 to 14 years old), we also wanted to create time and space to be with each other, to do things as a family. We decided to establish a monthly ritual: The Passport Dinner.

Once a month, we select a country (with input from the kids). I research cuisine that is common for that area. We put on a pretty elaborate feast; we reason it is cheaper to splurge on a big meal at home than it is to go to a restaurant with four kids. This is our "restaurant" meal. For Ghana, we had drinks, two main courses, a side dish, and dessert.

The kids get involved as well. We made "passports" by folding paper into booklets — my son's idea. The kids decorated their booklets to look like passports using an example they found on the web. For each country, they look up the flag and draw a picture of the flag for that month's country in their passport booklet. This gives them a little creative outlet, and they all seem to like it.

Then, they research the country. I use this as an opportunity to help them develop better research skills. I give advice, or give suggestions about which aspects to research. They look up tourist information, famous natives, and common crops. They each develop mini presentations to share at dinner.

The children also help prepare the meal. Some are more eager helpers than others — my youngest is quite the little chef and is often an active participant in the actual meal preparation. Others, like our oldest, are more interested in the eating than anything and only helps out if pressed. Some of my fondest memories are of our times in the kitchen preparing these dinners. We play music (from the country we are "traveling" to if we can find it!), we tease each other, and we work our way through the recipes.

So far, we've been to Iceland, The U.K., the Czech Republic, Russia, Jamaica, Argentina, Cuba, Ghana, Malaysia, and Turkey. We do not always love the meals: the kids are not eager to visit Iceland any time soon. Others are delicious, and become part of our regular diet. There was a salad, kisir, from Turkey that my husband and me now eat for lunch almost daily during the summer months.

Beyond diversifying our dinner repertoire, the Passport Dinners have meant a lot to our family. The kids get excited about them, and usually, these are some of the most peaceful days in our house. With all of the puberty we have going on at once, peaceful days are rare and precious.

The kids have developed stronger research skills — the youngest is learning how to modify her search terms if the original search results are not exactly satisfying. Some of the earlier presentations were real snoozers (sorry kiddos). They would take turns dryly listing facts about the country of the day, including the population, the square mileage, and the GNP. Now, they look up historical facts, must-see landmarks, and what people do in that country.

I like to think that our experiences with the Passport Dinners have helped them develop their curiosity towards the world around them. We talk about why people eat different things in different parts of the world. They know that hearty stews with root vegetables were common in Russian and Czech dishes because of the climate, and that bananas and plantains feature more prominently in Cuba and Jamaica for the same reason. They know that lychee jelly — an ingredient that was strange and unpleasant for them — is as common for natives of Malaysia as grape jelly is for Americans.

For my husband and I, this lesson was the goal: we wanted them to get a sense of relativism, to get the notion that what seems "normal" to them sometimes only seems that way because of where they are in the world. The delicious meals and peaceful family time are just bonuses.

  1. This is awesome! Idea stolen. My kids are a little younger, so I'll probably skip the research component, but do a map thing instead. Thanks for the great idea!

  2. I love this! Storing this idea for the future 🙂 My dad had "Experimental Thursday" when we were growing up- my mom (who tastes are about as adventurous as your average toddler) worked late that night, so my Dad would cook up something exotic for us. I think the most unique thing we ever had were pig's tails…maybe why I still can't eat pork to this day. However, I loves the concept of getting your children involved in the research and cooking process- such a way to prepare them for potential future travels 😉

  3. We used to do something like this when I was a kid! Not much research was done about the country in question, but it was still fun. I remember eating Chinese noodles while wearing an outfit my dad got from China Town. I still have it somewhere.

  4. I love this! Seems like it might not be a bad idea for adults without children, too! There's always so much more to learn, even for well traveled, well educated adults .

  5. omg, I've TOTALLY had this exact same idea saved up for ages for when my baby gets older! Same thinking — I want her to get a sense of geography, and be able to research and talk about other cultures/food/music/etc, and I also thought it would be a really fun thing to do together as a family. Thanks for posting, now I finally have a name to call it! 😉

  6. This is an awesome idea. I might just do this to hold over my desire to travel without having funds for it minus the presentations since still not a mother.

    As someone who went to Iceland and is a very picky eater, I am fairly positive the meal you should have had was not found in your research.

    My hubs and I had this from a random hot dog cart while on the Snaefellas Peninsula:
    Take hot dog, put crushes up nachos on bun and add cheese and a garlic sauce. Best damn hot dog EVAR!!! This is inspiring me to finally go write up the trip to give to offbeat home as I keep saying that and well I have written well…yea nothing.

  7. This is so cool. I would love to steal this idea for when my son's much older (six months old might be a tad too early to start).

    Just a suggestion… You could have a globe or map on which you mark off your dinner travels.

    When I was younger, my parents drew up a timeline on the longest wall of the first house they ever bought. Whenever we learnt something historically significant, we'd record it on the timeline. It was an awesome wall, and such a novelty being allowed to write on it. Visitors were encouraged to add to it, too.

  8. I just read parts of this to my geography-NUT husband and have never seen him so excited about something I've shared from online! Totally remembering this for when we have a kiddo or two, and we might even start doing something similar now with just the two of us, being foodies and loving to travel but also being graduate students with limited funds. We prioritize quality food in our budget so there's probably room for something like that…

  9. Idea totally stolen. And I'm going to start this soon for myself and hubby, even though LJ is not yet on solids 🙂
    Am also going to put a world map up on LJs wall once he starts joining us, and putting stickers on to show the countries we have done. Might end up doing some twice, once early, and once again when he is older and able to participate in the planning.

  10. This is great! I've always been inspired by your facebook stories along these lines, Veronica, and when I saw the headline, I thought, "Veronica does that!" — and then the byline was "Veronica Johns Ferreira." Glad you shared your family ritual here!

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