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Find Your Healthy with Traditional Cuisines – Week 3

A pre-teen girl from an African cultural background learning to cook from her mother and grandmother

A pre-teen girl from an African cultural background, learning to cook from her mother and grandmother


**To celebrate National Nutrition Month, we have a 5-week series of guest posts written by Deepanshi Salwan, MPH candidate and a dietetic graduate student at the University of Toronto.**

Welcome back to the Nutrition Month 2021 blog series!

This year Nutrition Month centres on the idea that healthy eating looks different for everyone. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and your healthy eating will look different from someone else’s healthy eating based on culture, food traditions, personal circumstances, and nutritional needs.

To honour  Nutrition Month, I have teamed up with Registered Dietitians and Dietetic Graduate Students from diverse cultural backgrounds to put together a Nutrition Month 2021 blog series! Each week for the month of March, different dietitians and dietetic students will share their food traditions, cultural recipes, and the importance of culture in healthy eating.

Fostering our children’s cultural connection to food

In Week 1, we talked about how cultural foods should be a part of your healthy meals. Read the post here. And in Week 2, we talked about the importance of forming social connections through cultural food. You can find the post here.

Today we are touching on the significance of passing down your cultural traditions and recipes to future generations. Helping your kiddos develop a relationship with their culture is a priceless gift. Your culture is a part of your identity and your children’s identity. There is evidence that kids exposed to their cultural heritage have a better sense of self and are emotionally healthier (1,2).

Traditional foods are a great way to transfer and preserve our culture! My colleague Suhani Darji and I will share with you our culture and the importance of instilling our food heritage in our children.

headshot of Deepanshi Salwal

Deepanshi Salwal, dietetic grad student

Deepanshi Salwan, Dietetic Graduate Student

Instagram @deeconstructing_nutrition

1. What’s your cultural background?

I am a South Asian. I was born in Punjab, India, and I moved to Canada at the age of 14.

2. What is the meaning of food in your culture? / How is food used in celebrations or traditions?

Food is an intrinsic part of Indian culture. One of the most defining characteristics of Indian culture is hospitality. In Sanskrit, we say “Atithi Devo Bhava” meaning the guest is god. Whether we invite somebody over or they show up uninvited to our house, we treat our guests with the utmost respect. We never let a guest go away unfed or unhappy from our homes. Indians are also great cooks and can scurry up a meal in no time!

Our festivities also center around food – mithai (Indian sweets), pakoras (fritters) and samosas are always present at all our celebrations. Each festival also has a distinct set of delicacies. For me, Indian food represents the bond I have with my sibling and cousins. As kids, every month, we would dine in an Indian restaurant and always order the same dishes – dal makhani, shahi paneer, and naan. While this changed when I moved to Canada, my cousins and I still uphold our little tradition when I visit back home. Being a Punjabi, weekend breakfast always includes stuffed parathas – haha!

3. What is your favourite cultural ingredient or food or recipe?

Coming from the land of spices, my must-have ingredient is Garam Masala, which is an Indian spice blend added to curries and stews near the end of the cooking process. The fragrance and flavour of it bring even the simplest dishes to life! I have seen my mother and aunts make it fresh from toasted ground spices, and it is how I make it now! You can find a recipe for Garam Masala here.

Punjabi Onion Tomato Masala

Punjabi Onion Tomato Masala

4. What would you like to say to Canadians during National Nutrition Month?

Children mirror what they see in their parents. So, embrace your culture and infuse your cultural food traditions in your children. Share stories and memories associated with your favourite cultural foods, designate days where you enjoy your cultural foods as a family and make a favourite family recipe together! Take time to reflect on your cultural recipes and traditions and focus on the values you want to pass along. Your kids will cherish these food traditions for life!

headshot of Suhani Darji

Suhani Darji, dietetic intern

Suhani Darji, Dietetic Intern

Instagram @womanofmeals

1. What’s your cultural background?

I am a South Asian. Specifically, I am from Gujarat, India.

2. What is the meaning of food in your culture? / How is food used in celebrations or traditions?

My culture emphasizes preparing the meal from scratch, highlighting the importance of using fresh ingredients. I see my family invest their time to put together a meal each day with love and patience. I value this cultural practice and will bring it forward to my children.

Our celebrations also center around food. One of my favourite festivals is Uttarayan, which in the Indian calendar marks the end of winter. Uttarayan is also associated with the kite festival. My family celebrates this festival by eating Chikki, an Indian sweet made from puffed rice and jaggery, flying kites, and just bonding with each other! In the Indian culture, eating dahi-cheeni (yogurt and sugar mixture) is a must before stepping out of home for an auspicious event! So, my mother offers me a spoonful of dahi-cheeni before I leave the house for an exam or an interview – haha. Finally, I would say that food is everywhere in India and if you ever visit India know that you will never go hungry.

3. What is your favourite cultural ingredient or food or recipe?

My favourite recipe is Khichdi, a one-pot rice and lentil dish. It is comfort food for most Indians, including myself! As a child, my grandma made it for me, and I have fond memories of my childhood through this recipe. On coming to Canada, my mother started making this dish. Now that I moved away from home for my dietetic internship, Khichdi remains my go-to food after a long tiring day! The recipe helps me feel closer to my family despite living in a different city. You can find a recipe for Khichdi here.

A pot of Indian Khichdi

Indian Khichdi

4. What would you like to say to Canadians during National Nutrition Month?

Children learn about their family’s food traditions from their parents. Take the opportunity to explain the significance of the ingredients and dedicated days for cultural meals. My parents added the Indian spices and flavours to Western dishes that helped me as a child, get familiar with my cultural food flavours.

Try to add your cultural flavours or ingredients to recipes your kids currently enjoy. Involving your children in cooking cultural foods will also make them more likely to try them. I remember making meals with my mother at a young age and it gave me a sense of accomplishment. I always wanted to try what I had helped make!

Another trick, which my parents unknowingly might have done, was seat me beside my grandfather during mealtimes. He ate various foods from my culture and just watching him enjoy the food made my mouth water. Thinking about it now, that was genius! If your child sits beside a certain family member who enjoys and tries all foods like my grandfather, that might just do the trick. To this day, I enjoy eating a variety of food and love trying new ones.

Bottom Line

Sharing your cultural food practices with your children not only keeps your culture alive but provides a foundation to your child’s identity and sense of belonging. Incorporating traditional foods in your family meals definitely plays a role in raising healthy eaters. So, pull out the family recipe binder and help your child find their healthy!

Come back next week to learn more about traditional cuisines and healthy eating in our Nutrition Month 2021 blog series.

Click here to learn more about the Nutrition Month 2021 campaign.

I thank Suhani for her time and contribution to this post.

Let’s Talk

What is a cultural recipe that you would like to pass on to your children?

headshot of Deepanshi Salwan

Deepanshi Salwan


Written by:

Deepanshi Salwan, MPH candidate – Deepanshi is a dietetic graduate student at the University of Toronto. Her nutrition philosophy embraces moderation without deprivation. She believes that healthy eating does not have to be complicated and hopes to inspire her audience to live more happy and healthy lives! You can find her on Instagram @deeconstructing_nutrition.


  1. Kaiser, B., Rasminsky, J.S. Valuing diversity: developing a deeper understanding of all young children’s behavior. Teaching Young Children. 2019. 13(2). Available from:
  2. CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange). Culture influences young people’s self-esteem: Fulfillment of value priorities of other individuals important to youth. ScienceDaily [Internet]. 2014 Dec 24 [cited 2021 Feb 26]. [about 3 screens]. Available from:



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