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The Culture of Eating

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Much of our eating corresponds to our biological and social needs as it provides an opportunity to share values and beliefs of the family and culture (Bonsall, 2014). Beliefs and values include nutrition, cultural traditions, how foods are presented, kinds of foods we ate, and how we eat the food (Morris & Klein, 2000). Some families like to sit at the table to have a meal, as it symbolizes the unity of the family or friendship. While other families are too busy to have structured dinner times, forgoing connection and unity. Depending on the culture, food portions can be large, children may be fed separately, feeding independence might be highly encouraged, women may be the main person to feed the children, messy play is possibly not accepted, or special food might only be offered to older children. Some cultures have different values as to how they treat the child, some having the child being dependent on their family member for feedings, giving the child overdependence which leads to how the child develops eating and feeding skills. Culture and values with meals can be a great influencer on how a child develops their eating habits.

As each family has unique beliefs and values, the family’s budget may impact how a child eats. A family budget might only include processed and microwavable foods, or it might include fresh produce and homemade cooked meals. The budget can impact how a family eats and creates traditions. The budget can also determine if the family has time to eat together at the dinner table every night, eat separately due to parents needing to work, or impact the intake of essential ingredients. As you can see, eating and feeding may look different depending on who is being treated in feeding therapy. As professionals, it is important to consider the patient’s culture and background. Here are some examples of things to consider when working with different cultures:

Latinx Culture:

  • Big family gatherings are surrounded by food

  • Cooking and eating are a way for families to bond

  • Creating food takes a team

  • The females tend to do all the cooking

  • Portion sizes do not exist; you eat what you are presented

  • As children, heavier children are perceived as healthier

African Culture:

  • Learn recipes and traditions from grandma

  • Sharing meals at home, cookouts, reunions and church provides a sense of comfort and builds community strength

  • Passing down old and new recipes from one generation to another strengthens the family bond

Jewish Culture:

  • Being kosher is an important way of showing obedience to God (Kosher includes: any animal that has a split in the middle of their hooves, any animal that is ruminant meaning they chew cud a ball of food that is chewed and brought back from the stomach to be chewed again)

  • Any food that is meat is never eaten at the same meal as dairy (from a kosher animal). Typically the foods are eaten 1-6 hours apart.

  • Utensils used for the meat and dairy are separated during the preparation process

  • Holiday foods enhance and elevate festival celebration.

  • Certain foods are reserved for special holidays.

  • Hanukkah is celebrated by eating foods cooked in oil

Egyptian Culture:

  • “Food played an essential role in performing religious rites, mummification, coronation and wedding banquets, burial ceremonies, and particularly in preparation for entering eternal life in the afterlife” (Halawa, 2023).

  • Most commonly consumed foods included plant-based foods such as eggplants, pears, lentils, garlic, and wheat.

  • Following a vegetarian diet is common

  • Meat dishes are uncommon due to the availability

  • Food supply is used to sustain a person’s spirit in afterlife

Indian Culture:

  • Eating with hands since eating is supposed to be a sensory experience

  • Food is offered to Hindu before it is consumed

  • Thali (large) plates are used to give the ability to try everything that is offered

  • Left hand is always off the plate while eating as it is used for taking of shoes or cleaning

  • Sharing food goes for all parties involved (e.g., everyone brings a dish to the party)

  • Leaving food on your plate is considered disrespectful

Middle East:

  • Solids and semi-solid foods are introduced much later than those from Chile

  • Families from Chile eat their largest meal at noon and serve a very light meal in the evening

  • Coffee is used to help people stay awake for evening worships

  • Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, only eating after a prayer at sunset. This meal brings everyone together for a social event.

  • If you empty your plate, your plate will be filled again. A sign that you are full is when a little food is left on your plate.

  • Arab countries avoid using their left hand when eating as it is used for cleaning or work tasks.

Korea and North African Countries:

  • Food is medicine

  • Eating is communal

  • Food presentation is important - the more colors and variation, the better!

  • Repeating refilling plate, double-dipping, and eating directly from serving plates is considered rude

  • Eating with mouth open and smacking the lips meals the meal is enjoyable

  • Bowls are not lifted off the table

  • Use both hands when passing food

  • Spoons are placed on the left hand side where chopsticks are placed on the right hand side

If children are disrupting or interfering with the ability to sit at the table, this can disrupt the family dynamic and decrease the ability to share thoughts, beliefs, and feelings with each other (Morris & Klein, 2000).


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