This article was written for the magazine Vivre le primaire from l'Association québécoise des enseignantes et des enseignants du primaire (French only).
Healthy eating is often considered a special topic, reserved for Nutrition Month in March. But what if there were more opportunities to talk about it throughout the year? Between the assessment of skills, the wide range of subjects to explore with students, and everyday life that clips along at full speed, why should you discuss healthy eating in the classroom and how should you go about it?
Healthy eating —a part of everyday life
Children live in an environment where the subject of food is everywhere. To find their way and make the right food choices, they need knowledge and skills. When you discuss healthy eating concepts in the classroom, such as foods that make a nutritious snack or listening to one’s hunger and fullness signals, you’re helping children develop tools that they will use throughout their lives. You’re helping them become competent eaters.
A competent eater
- Is not a nutrition specialist
- Enjoys eating a variety of foods and likes to learn to eat new ones
- Has a positive relationship with food and eats without feeling guilty
- Listens to their hunger and fullness signals
- Takes the time to eat
- Pays attention to what they eat
In addition, considering:
- that developing and maintaining healthy eating habits during childhood promotes health, growth and cognitive development, in addition to being associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease and obesity;
- that eating habits developed during this period continue into adolescence and adulthood;
- that healthy eating and regular physical activity have a positive impact on educational success and persistence in school;
- and that children spend a large part of their time in school,
the school environment appears to be a key player in the promotion of healthy eating. Moreover, the Framework Policy for healthy eating and a physically active lifestyle strongly encourages taking educational and promotional steps in this direction.
Promoting healthy eating—a shared responsibility
As teachers, you share in the responsibility of promoting healthy eating with the various influential adults in children’s lives, from parents and grandparents to early childhood educators and health professionals. All these people have an important role to play and complement one another. The main thing? Everyone needs to send consistent messages, based on validated data and recommendations, rather than sharing their own beliefs or what they read on social media.
Actions tailored to children
The goal of talking about healthy eating with students is not to turn them into junior nutritionists. Actions must be adapted to their stage of development and their pace of learning. Teaching general concepts such as where foods come from and hydration should therefore be prioritized. Conversely, it is better to avoid concepts that are highly specialized (e.g., calories, nutritional value) or that have negative connotations (e.g., categorizing foods as “good” or “bad”). Subjects related to children’s everyday lives or those that arise from their questions are typically good topics to discuss.
Moreover, with the knowledge that recurring activities are much more effective in promoting the acquisition of healthy eating habits in children, why limit them to March ? Spreading the activities throughout the school year is win-win for your students and you! It makes planning easier and ensures your work is more evenly divided.
What should you do in concrete terms?
Keep in mind that all efforts, even small ones, are part of a larger whole that will have a big impact on children.
Free resources, created by registered dietitians
The TeachNutrition.ca website offers a multitude of turnkey educational resources to help you easily discuss the topic of healthy eating in the classroom. In addition to being linked to the QEP, these resources were designed by registered dietitians specializing in healthy eating education, in collaboration with educational consultants. You’ll find videos, interactive quizzes, printable activities and so much more!
New! The site now includes a “Family” section that features a variety of family-friendly resources that build on what you’re doing in the classroom.
- Briggs M et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Society for Nutrition Education, and American School Food Service Association--Nutrition services: an essential component of comprehensive school health programs. J Am Diet Assoc 2003;103:505-514.
- Ellyn Satter Institute. 2019. The Satter Eating Competence Model. www.ellynsatterinstitute.org. Accessed May 20, 2020.
- Government of Canada. 2012. Healthy Eating After School. www.canada.ca. Accessed May 28, 2020.
- Government of Canada. 2019. Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers. food-guide.canada.ca. Accessed May 25, 2020.
- Government of Quebec. 2020. Healthy lifestyle habits in school. www.education.gouv.qc.ca. Accessed May 28, 2020.
- Roberge MC and Choinière C. 2009. Analyse des interventions de promotion de la santé et de prévention en contexte scolaire québécois : cohérence avec les meilleures pratiques selon l’approche École en santé. Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca. Accessed May 29, 2020.