Moving to a new country can be challenging. For newcomers to Canada, one of the challenges often faced is maintaining a healthy diet while surrounded by new and unfamiliar foods. Research shows that newcomers to Canada often experience declining overall health. This decline is caused by a change in lifestyle, including diet. Food Matters Manitoba offers programs that help newcomers to Winnipeg find traditional foods, learn to use local ingredients, and gain knowledge about nutrition.
A few times a month Amalia Santiago, a facilitator for Food Matters Manitoba’s Newcomer Nutrition Program, leads a group of newcomers to Winnipeg in lessons on nutrition, cooking, food shopping, and nutrition label reading. Amalia, a newcomer to Winnipeg herself, knows well the challenges of living in a new place. Amalia recently spoke about the Newcomer Nutrition Program at Food Matters Manitoba’s Annual General Meeting.
“I came from the Philippines, which is a tropical country and I didn’t experience winter for four decades. Then concerns just kept popping up, like where to buy Filipino foods, how will I stretch my budget, and transportation. If you are a parent you have bigger concerns because you have children to take care of. You need a job to support them, keep them healthy and provide a nutritionally balanced diet. For me this program addresses these needs,” said Amalia.
With her background in nutrition and personal experience as a newcomer to Canada, Amalia sees the value in programs that teach newcomers how to incorporate new ingredients into their traditional diets. Amalia sees the excitement that builds in program participants as they learn about new food. “Before we started each class, they were eager to ask what the topic will be and the recipes, excited to see if there are ingredients new to them. This program taught them how to embed themselves in a country, which is a bit new, through the goodness of foods without forgetting their roots. Their diets back home are already balanced, to begin with. Now, they have different dishes to prepare at home, a mixture of different cuisines, with a taste of varied culture, and most importantly, it is nutritionally-balanced,” said Amalia.
In each class, Amalia can see the impact the sessions have on participants. “They were all excited to learn new things,” said Amalia. “[They] raised a lot of questions about nutrition.” Many participants wondered whether they could find the ingredients to prepare cultural dishes, and how they could incorporate nutritious local ingredients.
For many participants, learning about nutrition was an eye-opening experience. “When we introduced to them topics like reading nutrition labels, sugar and lipids, they became engrossed,” said Amalia. “We saw them really check the labels, especially on sodas and cereals. They were a bit shocked when they learned that a can of this drink can provide this much sugar.”
Amalia notes that the while the classes are attended by individuals, the impacts are felt by their families too.
“You hear them say wonderful stories during the socialization part of the program. How their families love the recipes when they tried them at home. They were really glad that there are other ways of preparing a specific ingredient like salmon, turning it into a burger, or modifying pizzas to make it more nutritious.”
Amalia, a long-time volunteer and facilitator for Food Matters Manitoba added at the end of her speech, “I am really proud and grateful to be part of an organization, which truly understands a newcomer like myself.”
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