Nutrition Month: We need to change our food environment



While the furor over Weight Watchers offering free memberships to American teens continues, it has brought up a key issue about the growing incidence of overweight and obesity kids. Rather than having kids focus on the numbers on the scale, our food environment – one that promotes weight gain and ill health – needs to change.

Check out my thoughts in this CBC The National News segment.

And there’s no better time to start to a revamping of the food environment than Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month. With the theme of Unlock the Potential of Food, one of the elements is the

POTENTIAL TO DISCOVER: Foster healthy eating habits in children by teaching them to shop and cook.

Yes, many thought home economics classes at school were simply a waste of time and money. But, in fact, teaching basic food skills to youngsters is key for putting a foundation in place for a healthy life.

Developing these skills – how to shop, cook and prepare a balanced meal – should be part of our educational system. Learning these skills should not be thought of as frivolous or as an optional course at school to fill some class time. By the time youngsters have grown and are ready to leave home, they should have the ability to take care of themselves and that means nourishing their bodies for lifelong good health.

How is that not a basic part of learning to be an adult?

We’re now seeing the results of the flawed thinking that home ec is frivolous: many are growing up in homes where parents don’t know their way around the kitchen other than to microwave or heat up prepared foods. Others are extremely busy and while they may be able to navigate their kitchens, they don’t have the ability to do so when time is short. The system has failed far too many people as they have not been provided with these basic food skills.

As a result, ultra-processed foods have found their way into our pantries, freezers and fridges. When time is short, fast food and take-out are common solutions. Eating out often means fewer fruits and vegetables. And as a result of these issues, our kids are suffering. Overweight and obesity are partnering with high blood pressure and diabetes at younger ages than ever before.

That is why it’s time to unlock the potential of food and to teach kids to love good food.

But first here are some sobering stats provided by Dietitians of Canada:

• While 68 per cent of Canadians say they often prepare food for a meal or snack, most don’t get their children involved in the process.

• 16 per cent say they never let their child help in the kitchen, making it difficult for kids to learn how to cook.

• Kids see over 25 million food and beverage ads online each year and 90 per cent of them promote foods that are high in sugar, salt and fat.

• The good news is that 3 in 10 parents (29%) say they often allowed their child to prepare food over the past month, while another 34% say they let them do it sometimes.

Kids also need to develop food literacy skills. Where does our food come from? How is it grown? How do we keep food safe and how do our choices impact our environment?

As parents, we need to start somewhere. A garden is an amazing way to teach kids about food. And that doesn’t mean that you have to have a backyard. A balcony or even a few pots by a sunny window can be inspirational as watching a plant grow into something edible can be quite exciting for a small child. And what kids will eat if they’ve had a hand in growing the food is quite astonishing.

I remember eating stalks of unbelievably sour stalks of rhubarb that we washed off with the garden hose just because we had helped grow it. Rhubarb – no sugar – I think that says it all.

Take youngsters to farmers’ markets where they can sample new offerings. Then get them into the kitchen where they can unleash their creative juices. They can go online to find dishes that tempt. Watching the pride in a youngster as he or she presents their offerings to an appreciative audience is a sight to behold. Having others enjoy their creations (yes, sometimes you have to pretend) can inspire a child to do more. This process can start at any age. For a very young child, simply tossing a salad could be or them enough to draw rave reviews from the family and as kids get older, the possibilities are endless.

Our kids need this. For health’s sake, let’s do our part for the next generation.


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Categories: Children's Health, Nutrition Month

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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8 Comments on “Nutrition Month: We need to change our food environment”

  1. Barbara WHITE
    March 8, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    I learned about Food and Nutrition from Mrs Grant my Home Economics Teacher in Grade 7, 8, and 9. She did Home Economics and also an Education Degree at University. We learned ALL the BASICS…what’s a protein?, whats a carbohydrate?, what’s sugar?, the Canada Food Guide, and also how to cook basic things. We also learned basic kitchen economy and cleanliness. It has stood me in great stead all these years later.
    My Mom worked+++ and did not teach me anything really except a few baking things and jams, jellies and pickles. Somewhere along the line a foolish decision was made to remove Food and Nuts from the Curriculum. Now the Moms have to work and they don’t have time but there is no Mrs Grant to fill in the blanks for todays children. What a shame. School teaches lots of important things now, but I would say not the basic things to live life….not the survival tactics for things that really matter no matter what comes along to trip you up.

    • March 10, 2018 at 4:26 pm #

      Mrs. Carswell was my home ec teacher and someone, I too, remember well. It’s funny how much of an impression these teachers made. While my parents taught me about food- as they were in the food business-my home ec classes were the source of much delight! We made dishes like ravioli from scratch! But we also made the basics and the skills we learned are invaluable. Removing home ec from the curriculum has been a costly mistake in terms of health and it’s time for school boards to recognize this.

  2. Paul
    March 9, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

    Excellent article. Life is very busy now compared to the days my mom stayed home and made everything from scratch. We had a huge garden and enough potatoes for the winter. We walked or biked everywhere. I’m afraid those days are gone. But great memories

    • March 10, 2018 at 4:18 pm #

      Thanks for your feedback, Paula! Yes, life is busy but we need to get back to basics – for the sake of our younger generation. Cooking from scratch or even using some processed (healthy) convenience options doesn’t have to be time consuming. But skills to do this need to be taught!

      • Paula
        March 10, 2018 at 8:31 pm #

        Agreed Rosie
        I always enjoy your sound nutrition. Advice. Always simple and sensible
        Thank you

  3. Paula
    March 9, 2018 at 2:59 pm #

    Excellent article. Life is very busy now compared to the days my mom stayed home and made everything from scratch. We had a huge garden and enough potatoes for the winter. We walked or biked everywhere. I’m afraid those days are gone. But great memories

  4. March 10, 2018 at 10:04 am #

    I couldn’t agree more! It’s all too easy to skip involving kids in cooking and shopping, thinking it’ll go faster if you just do it yourself. It will, but you’ll have missed a great opportunity. Many will say home ec doesn’t belong in school because it should be taught at home. That’s pretty hard to accomplish when so many adults never learned these skills themselves. Thanks for a great article.

    • March 10, 2018 at 4:21 pm #

      Thanks for your feedback, Julie! You’re absolutely correct when you say many adults don’t have the skills. But we’re now learning just what the cost of not valuing home ec and the skills taught at school. It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity and one we can’t afford to do without!

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