My ESL class has been studying the Canadian Food Guide. So, we’ve been learning that there are four food groups: Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, Milk & Alternatives, and Meat & Alternatives. Tricky situations do emerge. Why are nuts meat? Why are eggs meat? Why are lentils meat? Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Aren’t potatoes a grain? What are chickpeas? What’s a date? Would you like to go on a date? Fortunately, we were able to wade through these questions.

Bread and grains became our focus (yes, I am student centred, but, I am also me-centred; and I grew up on a farm). I brought small baggies of a bunch of grains from bulk barn and we assigned one to each student.


An African student brought Cassava, and a Pakistani student brought chickpea flour. We ended up having 15 grains. We analyzed each grain according to four categories: nutrients, country of origin, food that we make with this grain, and the name in other languages. We tried a bread recipe out in my bread machine at the beginning of class, as well. Our lone Asian student complained that we should be analyzing rice, but the rest of the class was more used to bread.

Students go nuts when you study this kind of thing. They get very excited. Why is that? I think for students who grew up in agrarian societies—planting, watering, tending, smelling, harvesting, threshing, hulling, grinding, kneading, baking, then finally… EATING. This is a big part of their lives. Students not only miss back home, but they miss how food was grown and prepared. They have had a more intimate relationship with their food than most North Americans.

Students have some beefs with Canadian food, I`ve found. A common complaint from students is that Canadian food has too many chemicals (scroll down for a longer list of student complaints about Canadian food; a list you can try to create with your own class). Students like the organic, unprocessed discussion and this can lead the way for Canadians to learn to adapt to healthy eating habits, like not liking canned food—though my wife insists canned corn/peas/beans are fine.

For the icing on the cake, we invited another class to join us for this activity and pulled up some African bongo music from YouTube. I had to immediately quell a dance form breaking out, and we had a hoot explaining our 15 grains—one for each of us—to our enthusiastic guests. Just as class ended, ding-ding-ding, my wholesome whole-wheat bread we’d started at the beginning of the day was ready to come out of my bread machine. Even our Asian student from Vietnam tried a piece, much to her chagrin. In fact, we made her try first!

Some things I learned in this nutrition unit:

  • Some students either were very lazy in their food journals, or they really do eat hardly anything at all.
    A western African student never drinks milk but only mixes powdered milk into things.
  • Many of my African students from Congo and area love Fufu, which is Cassava flour made
    into a kind of bread.
  • A lot of students love plantains and I’ve never had one in my house.

List of common complaints from ESL students about Canadian Food:

  • too sugary
  • too salty
  • too many cans
  • too much fast food
  • too many chemicals
  • too long expiration dates
  • too expensive
  • not enough fish
  • too expensive fish
  • too many apples

James-EdelJames has taught ESL/ELL for many years and was on the CESLM board.