Many early years settings across England have diverse populations, representing the multicultural, multi-ethnic society we live in. Children from minority communities may follow specific dietary habits and customs, and their families may exclude or prepare food in a particular way according to their religious or cultural beliefs. As such, it is hugely important to reflect cultural diversity and variation in the food supplied within nursery setting, and to value the contributions which different cultures and nationalities make to the variety of foods eaten in the UK today.
Exploring individual differences
By creating a learning environment which provides children with day-to-day experiences of positive diversity and allows them to explore or question individual differences, practitioners can help children to oppose discrimination and prejudice from a young age.
Children should be encouraged to acquire positive attitudes and behaviours towards those with different identities to their own and learn to embrace differences rather than fear them – thus growing up with understanding and respect.
By embracing the different cultural beliefs, practices and individual needs of all families, you are able to create a sense of belonging for everyone who attends the setting. This will help children to celebrate their own uniqueness and help instil the importance of being treated fairly in relation to their creed. Young children of every cultural or ethnic background need to develop a secure and positive sense of their own identity and it’s vital that nursery life helps reinforce this.
The UK has such a diverse population that it would not be feasible to cover all religious festivals in one setting. Instead, settings could demonstrate to staff members and families that they are inclusive and non-discriminatory by inviting them to share information about their own faiths and beliefs so that knowledge can be gained and shared.
Food around the world
Food is a wonderful way to introduce children to different cultures and develop positive perspectives. Try holding tasting days, where children bring in dishes from their country of origin – thus exploring and embracing the real lives of local families and their communities.
For fussy eaters who aren’t keen to try new foods, cookery demonstrations are a great way of getting all children involved. Parents and members of staff can be encouraged to share their knowledge and experience by bringing in recipes or ingredients for display tables. Even picky eaters will enjoy being involved in investigating new ingredients and unusual cooking equipment such as woks and chopsticks, and helping to create food they can later eat.
Festivals and celebrations
In settings with less cultural and ethnic diversity, you might include festivals and celebrations in your planning as a way of celebrating diversity – as many festivals and celebrations have traditional food associated with them. Events such as Diwali, Ramadan, Chinese New Year and Eid provide a valuable opportunity for children to learn about the specific foods associated with these events (as well as an opportunity for drawing related pictures, reading books, singing songs, learning dances and trying on traditional clothing). You may wish to place the emphasis on the cultural aspect of the celebration, rather than the religious element, to avoid imposing any religious beliefs onto children.
Be mindful of the fact that food connected with special occasions is often high in fat, sugar and/or salt, so this needs to be kept in mind when planning (especially if there are several celebrations in a row). Try to find a balance of food to explore.