This curriculum has outlined how to talk to families and individuals of varying cultural backgrounds about their food choices. This section presents examples of how these strategies have been put into action using case studies drawn from real-life examples.
You can use these examples as models for how to approach discussions about food with the families you serve.
Use the down arrows to read the examples. In each scenario, we describe a situation and present a conversation strategy, along with a corresponding follow-up action.
Situation: A 50-year-old nutritionist was asked to speak to a group of pregnant adolescents, most of whom were from an ethnic background different from her own. Having worked with pregnant women for a number of years, she felt comfortable with the assignment and the topic of nutrition during pregnancy. Thinking that these young women would be highly motivated to eat well because of the new life inside them, she was surprised to find them uncommunicative. No one would even look at her. She realized that the adolescents did not want to be there.
Strategy: The nutritionist decided to confront the situation. She thought that if she got the young women to start talking about food, she might be able to draw them out.
Action: The nutritionist told the adolescents that she understood that they didn’t want to be there. Then she asked a simple question: “What food do you really like? Just tell me. Name one food.” One girl finally asked the nutritionist if she would put these favorite foods into their diet plans. The nutritionist said she would try.
Result: The young women in the group knew that the nutritionist was on their side. Everyone started talking about food — the lines of communication had been opened.
Note: The nutritionist began by asking questions about favorite foods, but one girl’s response indicated that she expected the nutritionist to give her a diet plan. Use communication about food to encourage involvement, active participation, and joint planning
Situation: A fourth-grade teacher of a multicultural class realized that his students could learn a lot from each other. Many of the students brought traditional cultural foods for lunch, and he noticed several of them looking inquisitively at other students’ lunches.
Strategy: The teacher decided to take advantage of the diversity within his classroom to introduce his students to new foods. He felt that if the students were exposed to new foods, they would be more likely to choose them in the future.
Action: He began by telling his class that they were going to have a feast. Using an idea from the old story about “stone soup,” in which peasants from a village all contribute ingredients needed to make the soup, he asked the children to bring in food to share with each other. He offered to bring stuffed cabbage, a favorite recipe of his Greek grandfather. But, he said, it would not be a feast if they had only one dish. He said, “If only we had some rice and a vegetable, then it would be a feast.” He asked the children to check with their parents about bringing a favorite family food and suggested other alternatives (e.g., helping to make festive decorations) for children who were unable to bring in food.
Result: The children enjoyed trying new foods and sharing stories about some of their families’ favorite dishes.
Note: Teachers should be sensitive to the fact that some children would not be able to bring in food to share with a class because of economic or other family reasons. These children should be included in this type of activity in some other way.
Situation: In the Harlem community, there was concern about the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and obesity.
Strategy: To provide a comfortable and familiar setting for nutrition and health education for the entire family, enlist assistance from churches in the community.
Action: A health festival was planned, with the church setting the stage. For several weeks, the minister gave sermons leading up to the festival, which focused on mental and physical health, the family unit, and achievement.
Result: The church implemented several health-related measures: (1) Smoking was prohibited in the church; (2) Meals served at the church were planned to be low in fat and sodium; and (3) Walking clubs and exercise classes were started.
Situation: A nutritionist at a local health department tried to have nutrition classes for migrant farm workers at the health department, but nobody came. The health department tried extending its hours so that the clients could be seen after they came in from the fields, but that did not work either.
Strategy: Use a community-based approach. Let the client group determine the appropriate time and place for communicating food and nutrition information, and let them choose the content.
Action: Since the farm workers and their whole families gathered every Sunday afternoon in the city park to picnic, the nutritionist set up information booths in the town square and took the message to the people, who were already in an environment where food was the focal point.
Result: The nutritionist found that the people were relaxed and interested in talking about the foods they were eating, many of which were tied to their culture.
Situation: California is home to many recent immigrants who do not speak English and who do not read or write in their primary language. WIC nutrition educators there were unable to communicate effectively with these immigrants. The number of languages spoken by bilingual WIC staff members was limited, and the WIC participants were often not excited about the WIC classes on nutrition and health. The greatest perceived need among non-English-speaking WIC participants was learning English.
Strategy: To meet this need, the San Bernardino County WIC Program established a nutrition and English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Health and nutrition were the subject content, and ESL was the vehicle for content delivery. Nutrition education was provided in the same way as low-literacy adult education ESL, where recent immigrants are taught survival skills such as going to the doctor and applying for a job. In the WIC/ESL pilot project, the theme of the curriculum was making good choices at the grocery store.
Action: The pilot WIC/ESL classes were designed to accommodate a variety of students who spoke different languages and whose levels of English comprehension were not the same. Only English was spoken in these 25-minute classes. No translation was used. Cooperative learning was encouraged so that those who had a better understanding of English who could help those who had less.
The curriculum incorporated some of the most recent advances in ESL Teaching.
Result: The WIC participants received the nutrition education positively, because their perceived need to learn English was met. The curriculum was designed so that learning was active and fun. Additionally, all participants were referred to low-cost community ESL classes in their neighborhood so that they could continue to learn English.
Situation: A nutritionist was pleased that many of her African American clients ate greens, a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but she was concerned about the high-fat cooking method.
Strategy: The nutritionist decided to help her clients make a simple change in their usual cooking method.
Action: She taught them to cook collard greens in the following way: Instead of cooking the greens with neckbone or fatback, cook the meat the night before and let it stay in the pot in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, take the pot out and skim the fat off the top. Then heat the remaining liquid, add the greens, and cook until tender.
Result: The clients learned a new way to cook an old favorite and were able to lower their fat intake at the same time. The nutritionist helped them build on a positive cultural habit.
Situation: A Head Start nutritionist identified the need to teach parents the importance of sanitation and food safety.
Strategy: She decided to model safe food practices at a parent meeting set up for another purpose.
Action: She asked the parents to bring in food representing their culture. As they brought the food in, the nutritionist talked about not letting hot foods cool before serving them and the importance of keeping cold foods cold so that germs would not grow. Cold food was set in a large container of crushed ice to keep it cold. Hot food was kept above 140° F by heating it in the oven or on the range until right before serving. The nutritionist showed parents how to make sure their children’s hands were clean before they sat down to eat.
Result: The danger of foodborne illness was minimized, and the families learned the importance of food safety and sanitation.
Eliades, DC, & Suitor, CW. (1998). Celebrating Diversity: Approaching Families through Their Food (rev. ed.). Arlington: VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health.