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Helping newcomers discover healthy nutrition

June 1, 2017 — 

Imagine arriving in a new country, surrounded by a different culture, a foreign language, and new and strange foods. Walking into a grocery store or preparing a meal for your family would no longer be an ordinary everyday experience as you labour with unfamiliar ingredients and recipes.

Many newcomers to Canada struggle with food insecurity and the health impacts of dietary acculturation – that is, the shift to a more ‘Western’ diet of processed and convenience foods – which may include increased risk for chronic disease. Few culturally appropriate programs exist for newcomers to help them adapt to the Canadian food environment.

That’s why Amy Henderson, M.Sc. student in Human Nutritional Sciences and Food Matters Manitoba’s newcomer program co-ordinator, helped design a research project to document the development, implementation and impacts of the Growing Roots newcomer nutrition program. This unique program, created to help immigrants and refugees adapt to healthy eating in Canada, was run in the North End of Winnipeg, an area with a large newcomer population, as well as high rates of poverty and food insecurity.

In a two-hour class that runs for eight weeks, participants learn about food safety, the importance of healthy eating, label reading, and healthy school lunches. They go on a grocery store tour. Classes also include an opportunity to cook a healthy recipe and eat it together.

“The focus is on whole foods and cooking from scratch, and also highlights the benefits of the traditional diets they are familiar with,” said Henderson. “Not only do our participants gain increased nutrition knowledge, they are able to find a healthy balance between Canadian and traditional foods, and create a social connection at the same time.”

The project does not end there. Several students from the Human Nutritional Sciences graduate program who are also newcomers themselves received training to teach nutrition education and can now run the program for other newcomers. In fact, these mentors completed their first self-run program out of Knox Centre Winnipeg in March, and are now a valuable resource for community organizations wishing to run nutrition education programs in the future.

The project was funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance and the Winnipeg Foundation.

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