Creating a Culturally Friendly Menu

By: Janice Lai, Nutrition Intern

Recently at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, we’ve seen an increase in the number of Chinese-speaking clients in our Innovative Senior Center, and it’s a priority for us to better meet their needs. We’re facing two big challenges: one is language – how to better communicate with all of our members, and the other is how to meet their cultural and nutritional needs. One of our Nutrition Interns, Janice Lai, had some suggestions.  


As a nutrition student originally from Hong Kong, I am aware of the food culture differences between the U.S. and China that can make it difficult for some Chinese immigrants to enjoy American food.

Here are some ideas from Chinese food culture to make your menu friendlier to these clients:

·       Include ingredients such as bok choy, tofu, pork and rice.

·       Use miso, soy sauce and sesame paste to make a great marinade. You can also replace salt                  with ginger, scallions and garlic.

·       Serve cooked leafy vegetables, root vegetables and green beans. Raw salads are not common             in the Chinese culture


Here's a recipe we serve at our sites that's a hit. 

Baked Sesame Tofu

4 to 5 servings


16 ounces firm tofu, cut into ¾ inch slices

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tsp honey or maple syrup

1 clove garlic, minced


Preheat oven to 400 ˚F.  Spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or oil. Slice tofu.  Pat tofu dry with paper towel or clean dish cloth.  Combine all other ingredients in a bowl and whisk well.  Toss tofu in marinade to fully cover all pieces. Place on non-stick baking pan and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, turning each piece at 15 minutes to brown on other side.

Tofu can be used in a stir fry with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, etc. It also makes a great low calorie snack or can be used in a sandwich or wrap with lettuce, grated carrots, and sliced red pepper. 

Nutritional information:  Tofu is a good source of protein, calcium, iron, and minerals.  It also contains all eight amino acids.