American abinci

If you are new to the USA, you may want to learn about American food. You have probably noticed that there are many choices! Find out about American food and food at your children’s school. Learn how to introduce Americans to foods from your home country. See ways to handle cultural differences about food.

Group of neighbors around food table at block party
Photo: iStock/monkeybusinessimages

Adjusting to American food

You may be surprised to see how many choices there are for food in the USA. There are many brands of food in all kinds of packages. Fruits and vegetables can be bought even when they are not in season. You will notice that restaurants serve food from many different cultures. Fast food is popular in the United States. It is easy to get a cheap meal quickly, and even to buy it without getting out of your car.

Unhealthy American food

Many American foods, especially fast foods, in the United States contain sugar or preservatives (ingredients put in food to make it last longer). Many fruits and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides, which are chemicals used on farms that keep insects away. Your body may not be used to these types of foods so you may feel sick at first or may start to gain weight. Consuming unhealthful foods is a problem for many Americans, who get overweight and experience health issues. Although you might be excited to try new foods, you may choose to do so gradually, in order to let your body adjust.

Restaurant food

If you are trying to eat healthfully and cheaply, you will want to avoid eating at restaurants often. The food served in restaurants tends to be less healthy and contains many more calories, which are units that measure how much energy a food has. Ice cream, misali, has many calories. Fruits and vegetables have fewer calories.

American views of immigrant food

Some Americans may not have tried the food you eat in your native country. In big cities, there are many ethnic restaurants and so people have more experience of foreign foods. In smaller towns, with less cultural variety, people may not be as experienced.

Introduce new dishes

Most Americans are open to trying new types of cooking and will be curious to try new dishes. Many Americans participate in “potlucks,” which are social gatherings where everyone brings a dish to share. Potlucks happen at big gatherings or at casual dinners. This may be a good opportunity to introduce others to your food, both in school and social situations. You can also invite people over for dinner and serve dishes from your culture. Some people may not be open to trying new food, duk da haka, and it is important to respect that.

Food at your children’s school

Students in American schools do not receive breakfast except in some preschools for young children. Children eat before they go to school, although in some schools children can buy a small breakfast at the school cafeteria.

Lunch and snacks

At lunchtime, children can either buy their food or bring food from home. Packing lunches for your children is the best way to make sure that your children have healthy food, since many schools serve unhealthy foods and sugary drinks. Children in the USA also bring “snacks” to school. These are small amounts of food that they eat during breaks between classes. Examples include fruits, nuts, granola bars, or crackers.

Help with food costs

If your family does not have a lot of money, sometimes the school will provide free (or cheaper) meals, including breakfast, for your child. Every school is different, so it is best to talk to your child’s teacher or the school secretary you have any questions.

Other children

There is a possibility that children may make fun of your child for eating unfamiliar food. Younger children are sometimes afraid of new things and think that teasing others is the right way to deal with their feelings. You should talk to your child about this, so they are not surprised or very upset if this happens. Your child may choose to explain what the food is made out of, as some ethnic dishes contain similar ingredients to those eaten in the USA. If the children are not interested, your child may choose to walk away from the situation. They may want to choose a different group of companions.

If children continue to make fun of your child’s choices of food, you or your child should talk to the teacher about the situation. Another strategy would be to talk to the teacher about organizing an activity in which food can become a teaching opportunity about culture. You could make a larger amount of the food for the class, and it would be discussed and shared

Polite ways to decline American food

If you are invited to someone’s home for a meal and cannot eat a certain food because of your religion or culture, you should feel comfortable explaining that to your host and hostess. It is appropriate to do this before you go to the event. Most Americans are very respectful of others diets and may even ask you questions to learn more about your lifestyle. If you have eaten enough and do not want any more food, it is not impolite to say, “No thank you, I am full,” even if the host offers it many times.

Taboo or hard-to-find foods

Some foods that you are used to eating in your home country are either not available or are taboo. Taboo means inappropriate or forbidden within a culture. Some types of meat, such as horse meat and some organs of animals, are not sold or eaten. Many Americans think eating baby or fetal animals is wrong. Insects also are not part of the traditional diet, but you can occasionally find them at some ethnic markets.

a Amirka, dairy products are pasteurized (heated) to kill bacteria, and fresh milk and cheese that do not go through this process cannot be sold. Some fruits, such as mangosteen and askee, are not sold in the United States because they are considered unsafe.

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