How do you unlock the potential of discovering food for kids?

The subject of home economics is certainly one that has inspired passion in many people as my post on the topic certainly brought a lot of voices forth. The good news is that there were none that disagreed with the importance of young people learning about food-from shopping, cooking and decreasing food waste to basic food literacy and food insecurity.

Some people, though, disagreed with the names used for these courses while others pointed to the availability in various school systems. In Ontario, for example, while many courses are offered, there is a push to make these courses mandatory-something it should be for all students. If you live in Ontario, consider signing the petition to make it mandatory.

But learning about food and nutrition should start at a much earlier time. A perfect age to teach kids about healthy eating and nutrition is when they are in elementary school. Up until about the age of nine or 10, kids tend to think that their teachers are all knowing – sometimes parents not so much. That can take another decade!

When my daughters were young, they used to love when I came into their classes to give nutrition presentations. Sometimes, after talking about healthy snacking, we would make some offerings to nibble on. What was always interesting to me was that after these presentations, when I would come to the school to pick my daughters up, some of the parents would ask me what I had done in the classroom. In the beginning, I was always baffled by this but then I found out that the kids were coming home and talking about choosing healthier options. The parents wanted to know how I had done this.

But the kicker is that even my kids paid more attention to what I said if I said it in the classroom than if I had said it at home. For example, one day after going out with my in-laws, my daughter brought home a type of candy that I remembered from when I was a kid. I remembered this candy so well because when I bit into it, it was so sticky that I couldn’t get my tooth out and finally after giving a very big yank on it, my tooth came out with the candy. It was not a loose tooth as evidenced by the aftermath. It wasn’t pretty.

So when I saw this candy in my daughter’s hand, my first impulse was to throw it in the garbage. But being diplomatic-since she had bought it with my in-laws- I cautioned her about how to eat it. She was eating at slowly over a few days and would wrap it up after each session. Then on the day that I had come to her class to talk about the energizing snacks, when we came home, she immediately walked into the kitchen , got the candy and threw it in the garbage can.

Needless to say I was stunned but I had to know why she had done this. She told me that she could choose something better instead of the candy. I asked her why she suddenly was saying this after I had suggested this a few times. She told me, “I know you told me this before but since you came to school and told me in school, it must mean that you really know what you’re talking about.”

Needless to say I was shocked.

I realized why the other kids were telling their parents the same thing. At that age, teachers often have an aura about them and so it’s a perfect time to teach kids about food.

But herein lies a problem.  If the teachers are basing their information on their own opinions and possibly nutrition misinformation, then kids will be in trouble. I still remember when a few teachers told my daughters that they were surprised that I, a dietitian, would allow them to eat cheese – as they saw this in their lunch.

For kids to learn about healthy eating in school, there needs to be a curriculum that not only provides kids with an education about nutritious eats but also about healthy attitudes about foods, lifestyles and body image. They don’t need to hear about good food and bad food. Instead they need to hear about food choices that give them energy for activities and growth and makes them feel good.

This also incorporates that food is much more than nutrients it’s also about pleasure, celebrations, traditions and togetherness.

Check out this program  (NSTEP – Nutrition, Students, Teachers, Exercising with Parents) being offered to various schools in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. NSTEP EAT WALK LIVE is put on by a not-for-profit registered charity and while it teaches important concepts, it’s a great example of how learning about food and activity can be fun.

While Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month is coming to an end, let’s get the next generation on the road to unlocking the potential of food.

Tags: , , , ,

Categories: Children's Health, Nutrition Month

Author:Rosie Schwartz

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

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