Dietary habits of young Chinese students

Each year more and more Chinese students are traveling abroad to improve on their English language skills. Realizing the importance of English language, local governments within China are setting higher English proficiency standards and young people are trying to keep up with the trend. Therefore, there have been hundreds of Chinese students applying and participating in Education First (EF) Language Programs. China is EF’s largest market and so it is extremely important for American host families to be introduced and aware of Chinese students’ dietary and lifestyle habits.

Even though Chinese cuisine and history of consumption of certain items differ from province to province and even from village to village, there are still some common dietary habits that host families should know about.

chinese food market

First thing host families should know is that Chinese food in the United States is not like Chinese food in China. Year after year, EF students from China are telling us how their host families took them to a Chinese restaurants to make them feel more “at home”. Even though the students appreciated the effort and a kind gesture, often times, they did not feel at home eating Americanized Chinese meals.

Secondly, the primary eating utensils in Chinese culture are chopsticks. Before the student arrives, it is encouraged that host families purchase chopsticks as a sign of welcome and cultural awareness.


Most Chinese are used to having a meal consisting of two general components: starch (a main dish)- rice, noodles or steamed buns, which is accompanied with vegetables, meat or fish. For ideas on how to make a Chinese dish and surprise the student in your home, visit

However, do not be surprised if your student expresses a wish to eat a traditional American meal or to go to a fast food restaurant. Many of EF Chinese students come from large cities and prosperous villages and are used to controlling their own diet. Most of them are the only child in their family, which often times gives them more freedom in choice making and being opinionated.

Chinese students who travel with EF are between 10-18 years old and are curious of new foods and “westernized” lifestyle. The goal of their visit is to get as much as experience as possible and to be exposed to various cultural influences.’s_Little_Emperors.pdf


Body image and weight control

In 2005, a study from the United Kingdom was made on comparing of how young men and women portray their bodies and overall looks. A total of 18 512 university students from 22 countries were a part of this study and were grouped by regions: North-Western Europe and the USA, Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Pacific Asia and South America. The study was started on the idea that more and more young people are being overweight and average body mass index (BMI) is getting higher and higher.


Firstly, this study showed that more women than men felt overweight. There was a pattern of women overestimating their weight while men would underestimate it. Women would also more likely report that they are trying to lose weight while men did not express a need for it as much. This gender difference is rather consistent across all of the countries, which points out worldwide cultural pressure among women and under-concern among men.

Secondly, perceptions of being overweight and attempting to lose weight were highest in the group of Asian countries. That might be the case because in that region of the world body weights are generally low and local culture and standards could moderate attitudes to weight. On the other hand, women from Mediterranean countries were feeling consistently less overweight because they had a more relaxed relationship between eating and weight.

It is important to note that among women, the proportion trying to lose weight exceeded the proportion perceiving themselves overweight.  It seems like trying to lose weight is like the norm for women and promoting weight control could increase weight loss efforts in women who do not need to lose weight. Of course, the process of losing weight means different things in different regions of the world. As long as they are making healthy food choices and excersising then their health is not as compromised as with the ones who are skipping meals and not eating nutritious food.


Hosting an international student can be a delicate experience if the student is in the process of trying to lose weight. Most EF students are still young and are trying to identify themselves and their image in the society. Traveling and seeing how other people look like and how they are handling their weight might often be different from what they are used to being around. In order to keep the student healthy and striving during his/her stay at their new temporary home, it is asked of the host family members to keep this topic in mind and to observe student’s eating habits. During their short stay it might be difficult to get through their personal thoughts and feelings about their own body image but it is very important to make them feel positive and confident about themselves.

More details on the study can be found here:

Food neophobia

unhappy-eaterFood neophobia accounts for human’s reluctance to consume new foods. Often times, it occurs at young age, which limits children’s dietary variety. Some people confuse those children as picky eaters but the latter means the children do consume a variety of foods while rejecting a significant amount of food that are both familiar and unfamiliar (mostly fruits and vegetables). During researches, children scoring above the median on the Child Food Neophobia Scale (CFNS) ate less fruit and vegetables at a meal than did children scoring below the median. They also consumed just as many sweet, fatty, and starchy foods. Since eating fruits and vegetables is so important to overall health in any age, more studies would be helpful in understanding and assisting the individuals with this type of behavior.


Different variables, such as age, gender, personality or social influences, influence the development of those reactions to food and is important to understand them before assisting a child in coping with these behaviors. Also, our own personality factors, parenting styles and cultural impacts have a large impact on how children behave regarding the food they eat. All these factors also have an effect on duration of these behaviors as well as on immensity of it.

Neophobia can occur during an adult life as well. It is also a rather natural behavior that humans developed to protect themselves from getting poisoned by unfamiliar and “strange” looking and smelling foods. By providing nutritional information and descriptive sensory information, these individuals might be more willing to try new foods.

However, the studies have shown that neophobia appears to be a heritable trait but there are many variations that are accounted for by environmental factors as well.

More information on the survey:

Religion effects on food choices

food-guide-pyramid-2126There are many personal factors that affect the food choices and selections of different ingredients. International students come to the United States from all over the world, bringing a variety of cultures, religions and habits that need to be respected and if possible, accepted in most cases. Often times, EF students are as young as 10 years old and have never left the comfort of their home for a 2-3 week period of time. Their family members have been cooking for them in a way that they are used to cook in their country, city or a neighborhood. Their ways of cooking and implementing the ingredients are largely affected by their religion and ethnicity. Even though many EF student come to the United States to experience new foods, languages, eating styles, etc. some have their culture and religion so deeply embedded in them that they prefer sticking to what they know. It is necessary to appreciate and acknowledge the large impact culture and ethnicity have on food choices, food habits and outlook on nutrition.

photo_4441Culture and traditional practices are the foundation on which food choices decisions are built. Religion is one cultural aspect that plays a very influential role in the choices of foods consumed in cultures all around the world. Religions put certain boundaries that determine people’s food values and how people make their own food choices. Depending on a religion, there might be strict diets involved and if a student is raised to follow these guidelines there might be a lot of adjusting and patience involved while being at the host family’s house. Even if the host family does its best to follow student’s religious food  guidelines, the new community and the lifestyle in the United States’ cities might not provide a support in the way student is used to in his/her home country. For example, if a student is Buddhist, he/she might follow a macrobiotic diet where certain vegetables are the main focus. Many Buddhists are vegetarians although some of them include fish in their diet. Hindus are strict vegetarians as well and do not beef under any circumstances because cows are considered sacred. Muslims do not eat pork and birds of prey, while Jewish dietary laws do not allow eating pigs, rabbits and sea creatures. There are many more religions and dietary laws a host family can get familiar with when the students arrives, and EF staff is here to provide resources and recommendations in that area if a host family needs assistance.vegan

It is recommended that the student and his/her parents do a thorough research of a place the student is going to in order to see if certain foods are available at that time of a year (or available at all). These cases are rare but are important to keep in mind and be aware of. Food has a special place in one’s religion; it is a way of communicating with God, to show that one is grateful and disciplined and to demonstrate faith through different eating habits. There is a variety of food in every religion and living in the United States gives us the advantage of having most of the food necessary to practice almost every religion.

For more information and resource please visit:$File/Food_culture_and_religion.pdf

The importance of breakfast

By the EF regulations, host families are required to provide three meals a day to the student who is staying at their home. Breakfast before going to school, packed lunch, and dinner after coming home from school are meals each student should have while being a part of the EF Language Program. Some students will bring their favorite foods from their home country and some will ask the host family to take them to the store to buy certain foods they are used to eat every day (in case the family does not already have it). The most important meal of the day is breakfast and for a student to be able to strive in a new surroundings and successfully learn a foreign language and a foreign culture, he/she needs to be well nourished and be provided with healthy foods. Usually, students do not mind eat eating “typical” American breakfast and are not overly picky about it. However, host families need to be observant and make sure the student does really eat and like the food.


Since EF Language Program students are between 9-15 years old, they are at the sensitive age when it comes to body development and eating a healthy breakfast is one of the way to make sure their body gets important ingredients. Many studies have been done about the importance of having a breakfast. One study has been done on comparing teens in Spain and the United States and it showed that they do not get a desired amount of calcium needed for their age. The teen years are very important for building bone density and teens with low calcium intakes might cause health issues later on in life. Nutritional breakfast usually consists of eating dairy products, which provide calcium. Many teenage girls are too self conscious and are worried about their body weight so they are refusing to eat dairy and breakfast altogether.  Because common breakfast food is rich with nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus and vitamins such as vitamin A, E and D, it is very difficult to make up for those nutrients later in the day.

-1Other than getting right nutrients for their body to develop properly, eating breakfast helps keeping their weight under control because it reduces the need for snacks throughout the day. Balanced breakfast consists of some protein, fiber and carbohydrates. They are good for boosting up the energy, for feeling of fullness and for keeping the cholesterol down. Some proteins that host families can serve to the student for breakfast are dairy products, eggs, and nuts. Food that consists of fiber are grains, fruits, vegetables, cereal, etc. To make sure student is receiving enough of carbohydrates, host family can serve whole-grain items or brown rice.

For more information and suggestions on this topic please visit:

Food sensitivities and allergies

Students traveling with EF on different programs are all required to make a note about any health difficulties that might have – including food allergies and sensitivities. Since students coming to the Monterey area are all underage, the concern about their health and well being is even bigger. Each host family gets the student’s profile before the student’s arrival and can easily find out information on student’s sensitivities and allergies. Usually students with large health concerns are not even applying for longer programs since their parents and themselves know how difficult it can be to treat allergies and similar health issues, but there still have been students who needed to attend the doctors office during the Summer 2014.

There is often a health related stigma in the society about the children with allergies. Teenagers are especially in a sensitive age where they want to be accepted anFood-Allergy-Awarenessd blend in with their peers; having food sensitivities makes them different. Both the parents and their food sensitive child might hide the fact that there is a health related issue in the family and therefore avoid gatherings, eating out and making new friends. Social and family life can be affected by the insecurities and feeling misunderstood. On the other hand, some people do continue with their social life but they avoid eating during those times or they decide not to carry the medication necessary for emergency situations.

Being a teenager, being an international student in the foreign country, meeting new friends and having a food allergy on top of it all might be a difficult thing to handle on day to day basis. Living in a stranger’s house for weeks at a time and letting them know you are not being rude or picky about the food but are having food allergies, can be even more difficult for the international student. Being patient, understandable and respectful of student’s food needs and habits is something a host family should be ready for when hosting a student with special food requirements. Trying to have an open conversation about it might be a good solution in some cases, but depending on a culture the student comes from, food sensitivities might be an inappropriate topic and overly private thing to touch upon.

If the student does get an allergic reaction these are the most common symptoms the host family can expect and react to immediately:  swelling of the lips, eyes and tongue, sudden rash/eczema on their face and body, vomiting, abdominal pain, nausea, irregular heart beat, asthma attack.

All student are covered by Erica health insurance and will be at no cost for the host family to take the student to the hospital or the nearest medical center.

For more detailed information on food sensitivities and allergies please visit:

Physical activity

Nutrition during childhood and adolescence is essential for growth, development and overall well being. Young people are eating more food away from home, consuming more soft drinks and taking in more sugar than ever before. On topkid_blocks of that, young people are moving, playing and exercising less than earlier years. Young people in teenage years have a lot going on between attending school, attending after school activities, making new friends, having part-time jobs, but there should always be some time for physical activities in their busy schedules. Depending on where they live and what kind of opportunities are in their community, young people can join various activities to keep their body in shape and feel energized. Physical activity can consist of playing sports with friends, skateboarding, riding a bike, running, swimming and sometimes even doing chores and helping around the house and the yard; not everyone can afford paying for sport classes and gym sessions and a many times they are not even available in the community.

EF students come from various communities around the world that offer different opportunities for children, teenagers and students. Most of EF students are born and raised in large cities and capitols of their home countchildren-walking-forestry. Their life pace is fast and does not offer a lot of free time for play and exercise. They do, however, have parents and guardians who can often afford paying for private sports and workout classes in order for their son/daughter to lead a healthy life. Some EF students come from rural areas and large family farms where they are a part of helping out around the house and animals, which is a hard work and an effective physical activity as well. Wherever they might come from and whatever their lifestyle might be, it is expected of a host family to make some time for physical activities while their student is staying at their house. Keeping the students in shape and energized helps EF teachers and activity leaders as well because healthy body and mind can learn better, think and make decisions and be ready for long walks and fun activities in the area.

In need of ideas of places to go to and activities to be a part of in Monterey area: how about the beach! Monterey area is fortunate to have beautiful sandy beaches that are ideal for jogging, playing frisbee, playing with the ball or just taking brisk walks to get the heart rate up. There are many parks in the area that are ideal for hiking and walking (as well as enjoying nature’s beauties and rich flora and fauna): Jack’s Peak County Park, Point Lobos State Reserve, Andrew Molera State Park, Toro Park, Pinnacles National Park, Big Sur State Park, etc. Monterey is also famous for kayaking in uppaddle-boarding and there are plenty of guided tours that are fun and active at the same time. For more adventurous families and students, surfing is an ideal activity to keep the heart rate up and enjoy the ocean as well. Marina State Beach, Andrew Molera State Park and Moss Landing are the most popular beaches for surfing.