Module 5: Engaging Communities

5.4 Food Concerns of Immigrants

CommunityAddressing Immigrants’ Food-Related Concerns

Be alert for food-related concerns of recent immigrants. Find out what kind of information they want and where they are getting that information.

MCH professionals around the country say that the best way to reach people with nutrition education is to take it to them where they are. Don’t wait for people to come to you.

New members of a community may feel uncomfortable coming into a health department or similar setting, so investigate places where people already gather for other reasons.

  • Use local media, such as a local radio station, to spread nutrition messages.
  • Advise new employees not to go into the community with the idea of making a lot of changes right away. Unless they were recruited from the community, they need to take their time, become acquainted with people, and let people become familiar with their presence and personality.
  • Identify additional resources within the community. As you gain an understanding of the community and its needs, you can begin to decide what part you can play in meeting those needs.
  • As appropriate, connect families with social service programs and other programs in the community.
Concern Possible Solution
Difficulty obtaining familiar foods and spices in the U.S. Take a field trip to stores that carry familiar foods and spices to help attendees learn how to get them. List the bus route for clients’ future trips to the store.
High cost of familiar foods, compared with cost in homeland. Fill in chart at supermarket showing differences in cost and possible substitutions.
Complexities of shopping in U.S. supermarkets. Have class plan ahead for a field trip to the supermarket. Go by twos to practice. Set up a mock grocery store within your WIC clinic or educational center.
Limited knowledge of English words for identifying foods and spices, and inability to read labels. Prepare a chart showing English words for a list of foreign foods and spices. Collect food labels and match them with labels brought in by immigrants. (Warning: Use very simple words and many pictures. Check with a local teacher of English as a Second Language [ESL].) Volunteer to teach a nutrition lesson at a local ESL program.
Lack of knowledge of how to use kitchen appliances such as refrigerators, garbage disposals, dishwashers, and ovens. Demonstrate at sites (including appliance stores) where the real thing is available.
Lack of knowledge of proper ways to store perishable foods, including which foods should be stored in the refrigerator and which should not. Prepare handouts using pictures to show each kind of food and the way to store it safely.