Good Nutrition is important throughout one's lifespan. However, it is very important that children get optimum nutrition in the initial years to ensure they get all the nutrients needed for proper growth, healthy development and lifelong health. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to significant and severe consequences. It develops into problems of malnutrition, both over nutrition as well as under nutrition. Food habits learnt in early childhood can last a lifetime.
The concept of nutrition education therefore has become a vital from play schools to high school. Nutrition education builds on children’s natural curiosity to learn about the world they live in, through age appropriate lesson plans and activities. They learn and develop various skills in the process. As they grow, nutrition education can continue to build on the acquired skills thereby enhancing them further more.
Some important skills children can acquire through Early Childhood Nutrition Education are:
Sensory Skills:To learn about food children need to see, touch, smell and taste food, as well as hear about them. They learn to use all their senses efficiently in this learning process.
Comprehension Skills: As children learn to observe and identify food groups and a variety of foods commonly eaten, it improves their memory and knowledge about these foods and their sources.
Critical Thinking and Reasoning Skills: Learning about portion sizes, whole foods, refined foods, etc. improves their understanding and also puts into practise their critical thinking skills.
Language Skills: As children communicate and share their learning they improve on their language and speaking skills.
Dexterity and Motor Skills: Being involved in the food making process(washing hands properly, washing fruits and veggies, scooping, holding, stirring, mixing, picking and serving etc.) helps improve their hand eye coordination and various fine motor skills.
Social Skills: Following instructions, participating in group activities, learning about table manners, etc, improves social development in children.
Hygiene Skills: Children learn about the importance of personal hygiene as well as food hygiene. They learn about proper hand washing technique before handling or eating food, washing fruits and vegetables well before use, etc. All this builds awareness of the same encouraging them to follow good hygiene habits, which are essential in today's world.
As children progress to higher grades Nutrition Education also promotes many interdisciplinary learning of other subjects. A curriculum that is interdisciplinary presents content, skills and analytical thinking processes that help in exploring connections among the disciplines. It fosters the acquisition of foundational knowledge and promotes integration of ideas from multiple disciplines such as English, Arithmetic, Science, History, Geography and Life Skills. For example:
Vocabulary improves as children learn about new foods and nutrients in foods using local, regional, national and international languages. All this works on their Linguistic Skills simultaneously.
Learning to read food labels and the nutritional values per serving size involves numbers. Reading ingredient lists of recipes and understanding their quantities needed to cook the dish involves Arithmetic and Problem Solving skills.
Making a list of items needed when going food shopping can teach children about Budgeting and how to work around an available budget. Children also thus understand the skill of Handling Finances.
How some foods can be grown and learning about the kitchen garden involves the use of Agricultural Science.
History is involved in understanding food cultures and traditions followed by the people of different regions across the world. They also learn about the changes in eating patterns over the generations. It deepens their understanding of social studies and culture.
Geography is involved in learning about the sources of foods and understanding what foods are grown in the different regions of the country and the world.
Beyond academics, nutrition education offers meaningful Life skills such as learning how to plan and prepare meals and snacks for one's self or a group of people. Sharing meals with family and friends while practising good table manners and having meaningful conversations all contributes to improving on Social skills.
Thus Nutrition Education involves a variety of perspectives which promotes engagement and interdisciplinary learning. It thereby enhances and empowers children's Cognitive development, Language and Communication, Motor development and Social and Emotional development.
Thus to have a 'FIT' country, Nutrition Education, as a subject, needs to be implemented in preschools & schools to provide children with a complete perspective of health and well being, as productive citizens of the country and the world.