Focus on Food
Look for teaching moments to encourage healthier eating among students
In a perfect world, schools would dedicate as much time to teaching nutrition as they do to math, science or reading. But the reality is that nutrition often gets only a fraction of the attention it deserves. And that’s a shame, because the food choices students make can have far-reaching effects.
Good nutrition helps stave off childhood obesity and, later on, chronic health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma. More immediately, eating a well-balanced diet can help promote better academic performance—a number of studies have shown that good nutrition promotes concentration.
In honor of National Nutrition Month, we’ve assembled a variety of easy, effective ways to teach nutrition throughout the school day.
Incorporate nutrition in your curriculum: Whether it’s math, science, reading, writing or social studies, think of clever ways to sneak in facts about nutrition. “In math class, talk about what you had for breakfast or lunch and count up the servings of fruits and vegetables,” says Deborah Beauvais, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Then, take the time to discuss healthier-for-you alternatives. An idea for science class: Cook a variety of fruits and veggies to observe how they change when heat is applied.
Be a good role model: Students look to you (and their parents) to see how they should act. Whether you bring food from home or you eat in the cafeteria, make sure your choices are the same ones you’re encouraging them to make.
Get hands-on with food: Planting a school vegetable garden, even a small one, can provide a number of teachable moments as your students watch their food grow and figure out ways to use what they harvest. Another idea: Accompany students to the cafeteria and walk through the lunch line with them, discussing the choices available and what makes one food better or worse than others. Beauvais says the lunch line is also a good time to discuss portion sizes, as school meal programs model current portion size guidelines.
Don’t use food as a reward—or punishment: If your students have earned a prize or finished a big project, avoid commemorating the moment with food. Beauvais explains the danger: “The emotional response to eating should be a pleasurable one. When you start to use food as a reward, it sends the wrong message and starts to distort what food should mean.” Along the same lines, food shouldn’t be the enemy, either, as in, “If you don’t finish your lunch, you can’t play outside.”
Play a game: Whole-grain cook-off, anyone? Have students create recipes using a certain ingredient and hold a taste test; let the class vote on the winning recipe.
Other teaching moments:
Check out HealthTeacher’s K-12 lesson plans on nutrition.
The goal of all these tips is greater exposure: You’re making a difference every time you take a minute—or an entire class period—to get students to think about the food they eat.