Column: Shows aimed at kids teach about food culture

Last week, I found out what former First Lady Michelle Obama has been doing with her time.

When Obama first launched her “Let’s Move!” campaign aimed at solving the problem of childhood obesity, I had my doubts. I didn’t think the First Lady’s ideas had a chance. Changing nutrition policies in the schools would be hard enough, but the idea that kids would choose to eat healthy, cómo que no. Fruits and vegetables vs. soda and sweets? An hour out in the South Texas solazo instead of an hour in front of Netflix?

But it worked. In 2021, kids aren’t drinking as much soda as kids did in the 1980s. Carrot sticks and apple portions aren’t just cafeteria ammunition anymore. And check out how many cupcakes are thrown away or left untouched after the next kids birthday party you attend. Something started to change in America.

That’s where “Waffles and Mochi” comes in. The Netflix children’s puppet show is about two monitos — a snow creature with waffle ears and a bolita of Japanese rice dessert with eyes — who escape from a freezer and travel the world hoping to become chefs.

With the help of “Mrs. O.” and a handful of celebrities and special guest chefs, they learn how to make meals using fresh, unprocessed foods from different cultures. By introducing young viewers to gazpacho and kimchi, the show makes accepting new flavors and textures something that little kids should look forward to.

But the journey doesn’t end there.

Throughout their travels, Waffles and Mochi don’t treat any of the other food as weird or strange. It’s all good food, and that’s important.

By making global cuisine commonplace, the show tears down the barriers between the cultures from which those foods spring. Instead of an American character reacting to onigiri with a look of confusion, the rice dish is presented as a Japanese family’s dinner. This kind of approach is important when it comes to changing the minds of kids familiar with convenient freezer foods such as chicken nuggets and pizza bites.

In addition to the show, provides kid friendly recipes and activities to get young viewers involved with their own nutrition. The site also includes a link that allows viewers to contribute to Pass the Love, an initiative aimed at providing healthy meal kits to families who might have trouble creating nutritious meals. The goal, after all, is to help shift America toward healthier eating habits.

“Sesame Street” has been using puppets to teach kids for generations. “Waffles and Mochi” are just following in their furry footsteps. And, that’s important because changing the way America eats and lives starts when our habits are being formed.

And one way to change minds is to start with pansitas.

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