Understanding healthy habits in immigrant households
By Dimas Syuardi
October 23, 2020
Image Credit: Coco Li for The Campus Trainer
As we grow older, we find ways to improve our eating and cooking habits. We are able to influence or reinforce healthy habits in our households as we understand the importance of a nutritionally balanced diet.
When you’re a child, you grow up eating whatever your parent or guardian made for you. These could have been home-cooked meals that were well-prepared or maybe it was anything that could be done quickly.
Iliana Zepeda De Leon is a first year higher education master’s student. She said that it was around college when, “I realized a lot of the food that my mom makes for us is too greasy and it is very meat-heavy.” De Leon grew up in a Mexican household and has made efforts to progressively improve her family’s meals.
De Leon and her sister are the driving forces in that shift. She said they have worked to “incorporate healthier alternatives, to add more vegetables, to eat more fruit, to eat less meat, or at least have a meatless day.”
“Overall, consuming all food groups within moderation is the best plan for a balanced diet,” said Monica Whent, dietitian and lecturer in the department of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland.
Balance is key in these situations and Whent acknowledged the challenges. “Culture could be an important factor because their parents may have different cultural views about diet and health,” she said.
“There is a plethora of contradictory information from American nutritionists and Korean adages and tales of what is and isn’t healthy,” said junior computer science major Josh Choi.
Whent emphasizes that these types of households should discuss ways to avoid adding excessive amounts of ingredients in traditional foods. This can be discussing how to limit sugar, sodium or saturated fat intake in these recipes.
De Leon has been working to find that balance. “The balance has really come from decreasing red meats and greasy foods and adding more vegetables and fruits to our diet,” said De Leon. “We have added more salads into our diet, more nuts, more vegetables, more fruits.”
Some traditional or ethnic cuisines are naturally healthy. Choi, who grew up in a Korean household, said he ate rice, vegetables and meats that covered a lot of nutritional bases. “Many of the foods I ate naturally covered a lot of food groups,” he said.
Korean cuisine has a lot of healthy aspects, but it is also important to recognize the pitfalls of it as well. Choi said one of his most common breakfasts growing up was egg mixed with rice, soy sauce and a little sesame oil. “I grew to realize that soy sauce is not particularly healthy and is high in salt,” he said. Choi also stated that even though the breakfast was filling, it wasn’t particularly nutrient rich.
Choi says that he is, “very conscious of the nutritional content of my [his] food and try to eat a well versed diet in order to meet nutritional needs.” He continues to enjoy the Korean food he grew up with, but keeps in mind the value of balancing it with other foods. “Instead of eating kimchi stew every meal for four days straight, I know I should mix in a sandwich with meat and leafy greens every once in a while,” he said.
Every culture and household will have quirks as to how they navigate healthy options. Whether you have grown up eating healthy meals or are currently incorporating healthier alternatives, there are many ways to educate yourself on meeting nutritional needs.
Whent provided the ‘ChooseMyPlate’ tool offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a place to start educating yourself on nutritional balance. “Everyone can learn about the major food groups and how to incorporate those into most meals,” she said. Regardless of what your food background was growing up, everyone can still apply healthy practices to better their diets.