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Fight world hunger with family dinner

SALT LAKE CITY — Amanda Mouttaki, a food writer living in Eau Claire, Wis., is raising boys who like to eat. Her sons, ages 8 and 5, typically enjoy meals that include well-seasoned meats, local vegetables and fruit for dessert.

Accustomed to the best of what is available, they were less than impressed when Mouttaki placed a recent meal on the table: rice and lentils. “This is ugly,” said her 5-year-old, who refused to even take a bite. “Why do we have to eat this?” her 8-year-old asked.

Mouttaki wasn’t trying to punish her kids, nor had a change in circumstances forced the family to alter their diet. Rather, this young mother was using a humble meal to engage her young boys in a conversation about food security.

“We talked about what was missing (from their plates) that normally is there,” Mouttaki said, and why some people only eat rice and lentils. The meal is a “good way to give kids a means to understand the situation of food insecure people around the world,” she said.

Tuesday, Oct. 16, is World Food Day. The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization encourage families around the world to mark the occasion by following the Mouttakis’ example by having a discussion about poverty and hunger over dinner.

The problem

Food insecurity occurs when households do not have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Stages of food security range from full-scale famine to undernourishment, to simply not knowing where the next meal will be coming from, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Worldwide, more than 925 million people are chronically hungry due to poverty. Up to two billion people have intermittent food insecurity due to varying degrees of poverty, according to the FAO. Six million children die of hunger every year. This works out to about 17,000 kids each day.

Mouttaki is careful when choosing which details she shares with her boys. “I don’t want to traumatize them,” she said, “or make them feel guilty. I just want them to be grateful,” and to be aware of things they can do to help others.

Dinner activities

Taking into account children’s varying ages and levels of awareness can help parents create an experience that best meets the needs of their family, Mouttaki said.

With young children, a simple conversation about what is being served can be illuminating. Oxfam America suggests discussing questions such as: What are some ways our family can waste less food? Where did this food come from? What do people in other countries eat? Would you like to eat what they are eating? Another suggestion is to read children books that deal with food insecurity, including Stone Soup, a folktale about hunger and poverty.

For older children, the World Food Programme has outlined numerous activities. In one activity, the family identifies the country of origin of each item of food on the table and then calculates the distance between that food and their place.

Another activity the World Food Programme suggests is called the Hunger Obstacle Course. In this game, the family must brainstorm a series of solutions for issues related to food insecurity both locally and globally. For example, one obstacle asks the family to come up with ways to get people in their community to care about food insecurity.

What to eat

Oxfam has created a Pintrest board to share a variety of recipes that families can experiment with. Some are ethnic dishes, others recipes that stress seasonal ingredients.

While an elaborate meal can be fun, for parents with limited time throwing some rice and lentils in a pot, like Mouttaki did, is a quick way to make a big impression at dinnertime.

Oxfam is also inviting families to share of picture of their meals on Instagram (with the tag #WFD2012)

Additional resources

Explaining food insecurity to kids

Activities for World Food Day

Dinner discussion guide

World Food Day recipes