Young children are highly influenced by the people and environments that surround them. When these people and environments do not provide the knowledge, support, and encouragement needed for healthy eating habits, it is easy for children to learn unhealthy habits that follow them throughout their lives. If we want to raise a healthy generation, we should start in our schools.
Eating behaviors and habits are formed from a young age, and by encouraging school children to embrace a healthy lifestyle, you set them on the right path for an overall healthy lifestyle in the future.
School Nutrition Education offers an environment that can positively shape how children think about food and promote healthy eating habits. Research has shown that a well designed and implemented school nutrition education program promotes physical activity, healthy eating and increased academic performance.
Schools play an important role in incorporating a well designed nutrition education program that is supported by the administration, integrates a number of subject areas, is easy for teachers to use, holds the students‘ attention, and involves the families of the students.
Working alongside parents and families, schools have the ability to positively impact future public health by fostering the knowledge and skills to help students relate to food and cooking in positive and healthy ways. It can also help to equip children with practical cooking techniques, supported by additional theory in food science, hygiene, packaging and safety, in addition to the basics about nutrition - all essential life skills.
Some tips that schools need to keep in mind when adopting a Nutrition Education Program are:
Just as we think about teaching children letters or colours, students must be taught healthy eating skills through a well planned curriculum, designed and developed by qualified personnel in the area of nutrition.
The lesson plans should be age appropriate as per the grade level of the students. It should be interesting and interactive. It should be easy for the teachers to implement and for the students to comprehend.
All schools need to provide its teachers with a training program on basic nutrition education. The program should also help teachers with guidelines on how to execute the nutrition lesson plans effectively, as per the grade level of the students.
Schools need to ensure that teachers are practising the guidelines themselves in their personal lives and being good role models. A teacher who makes healthy choices – including healthy eating and regular physical activity – can have a good influence on the health of students.
Many preschool children eat an unhealthy diet heavily reliant on white bread, chips, crisps and sweets. Therefore school food should be monitored for levels of fat, flour and sugar.
Ensure healthy foods are provided in school canteens. School cafeterias are learning labs where students can be exposed to new foods through the school meal program, see what balanced meals look like, and be encouraged to try new foods.
School cafeterias may also be decorated with nutrition promotion posters or student artwork promoting healthy eating.
Schools can add messages about nutrition and healthy eating into the morning announcement and school assemblies.
Ensure the use of non-food rewards (stationery, skipping ropes, puzzles) instead of chocolates and sweets.
School garden programs can increase students’ nutrition knowledge, willingness to try fruits and vegetables, and develop positive attitudes about fruits and vegetables. Schools may have window sill gardens, greenhouses, or planted fields.
Schools must ensure regular parent teacher meetings to provide parents with updates and feedback about their children. They can also give parents information about healthy food choices and learning through interactive sessions with the parents. This helps to extend nutrition lessons outside of school.
Lesson plans should include worksheets and activities for homework. This encourages the students and their families to be aligned with what is being taught at school and practise and complete them together.
The impact of teaching school children about nutrition while providing them healthy meals does not end within the four walls of the classroom. It aims to extend the knowledge children acquire into their homes where they engage in conversations about healthy food and are motivated to ensure their parents pack healthy snacks in their lunchboxes. It also extends into society, as they can talk to others about healthy eating and make healthy food choices in public. Over time, this helps them build a base of healthy lifestyle choices as they grow, whether inside or outside the school premises.