Food is FUN. Food is LOVE. Food is JOY.
When I began teaching nutrition over a decade ago, the program I taught incorporated cooking in the classroom with each nutrition lesson. At the end of each lesson, students would get to prepare a dish and eat together. This was where I saw magic happen. I watched kids learn how to use measuring cups, mix, cut, chop, stir and flip, and then enjoy the smells, sounds, sights and tastes of the food they created. We talked about whether they liked the food or not, what would they change in the recipe to make it more to their liking, and they left with some basic cooking skills to take with them into the future. I saw the JOY that food brought to students.
These experiences cooking with students shaped how I approach teaching nutrition. I start from a place of JOY. Food is not just fuel for our bodies, it connects us socially, it supports our mental and emotional health, it connects us to memories and nostalgia, it ties us to our cultural heritage and our family traditions, and it can help build community. Food is one of the great joys in life that we can all share. I want students to walk away from health class with excitement and curiosity about eating, and the skills to build a healthy relationship with food. Much of what we teach in health class is knowledge and skills to foster and maintain healthy relationships with intimate partners, friends, and family. In the same vein, nutrition education can build students’ skills to foster a healthy relationship with food.
So, how do we help students find the joy in eating and build a healthy relationship with food? This is a tough question that is even more complex with the rise in eating disorders since the start of the pandemic, inequity in food access, and the need for many of us to do our own work around food and weight biases. This is ongoing work for me, as I am sure it is for many. Through my years of teaching nutrition and doing my own learning and growing, this is what I have found to be impactful with students:
- Start from a place of joy. Be positive and excited about food and eating. Give students a space to talk about their favorite foods, their cultural foods, their family traditions around food without judgment or critique.
- Foster curiosity. Focus on eating a variety of different foods and allowing students to explore new foods. Many states have Harvest of the Month educational materials that highlight seasonal produce. Spread nutrition throughout the semester with ‘Farm Fridays’, ‘Food Fridays’, or ‘Harvest Mondays’. If your school has a garden, visit it to see what is in season and do taste tests.
- Focus on eating enough and eating regularly. Emphasize that students are growing and it is normal to gain weight. It is important to eat enough and eat regularly throughout the day. Frame goal setting with this in mind.
- Focus on what to INCLUDE in your diet, instead of what to EXCLUDE.
- Bring the FUN. Incorporate fun competitions like a Master Chef Challenge where students can practice building nutrient dense meals that they would be excited to eat.
- Provide resources. Curate a list of local food banks, school pantries, and other sources of food help in your community that students can access. Have students research food resources in the community as part of an advocacy project.
This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including Nadia Moya, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of slowchathealth.com
Pair this post with the following:
Rethinking the Way We Talk About Nutrition, Body Size, and Health by Drew Miller
Three Foodie Books to Read in 2023 by Andy Milne
Also check out Flavor + Us: Cooking for Everyone, the latest cook book to catch my eye. Written by Top Chef Junior finalist Rahanna Bisseret Martinez this gorgeous book is filled with more than 70 recipes from around the world.
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