Teaching Healthy Eating: Tips and Tricks for Educators

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Include cross-curricular connections in the classroom

When teaching the Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, make connections to healthy eating ‘across the curriculum’. This will help the students have a deeper understanding of the information. Studies show that this approach to teaching nutrition can help increase fruit and vegetable intake, and decrease intake of sugar and sugar-sweetened beverages. For example, students can strengthen their research and writing skills while highlighting an exotic vegetable or fruit, or they can sharpen their math skills while learning about foods labels and serving sizes. For more ideas on cross-curricular connections, visit Bright Bites, a resource written and maintained by Ontario Dietitians in Public Health (ODPH) members.

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Use hands-on learning strategies to engage students in the learning process

Healthy eating behaviour is affected more by active involvement than by lectures, generic worksheets, and textbooks. Use experiential (hands-on) learning whenever possible to focus on the positive aspects of healthy eating. Let students experience healthy food choices using the five senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. For example, imagine the reaction you would get from showing students a picture of a kiwi fruit compared to their response if you brought in a kiwi and allowed them to see it, feel the fuzzy skin, see how the seeds are arranged inside the kiwi, and enjoy the texture and taste of the actual fruit. Then you could explore where kiwis are grown, how they are used in cooking, and their nutritional value. Use every situation where food is available in the school as an opportunity to expose children to healthy options. Consider starting a school garden or cooking club to give students practical hands-on experiences to learn about food and nutrition.

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Spread healthy eating lessons throughout the year

To keep healthy eating on the minds of students and help them to practice healthy eating behaviours, spread healthy eating education throughout the year, instead of covering the expectations in one short unit. Match it to different seasons, themes, holidays, or events. Examples include:

  • In September, focus on returning-to-school themes such as packing lunches, or eating breakfast;
  • In the fall explore local crops and harvesting;
  • March is a great time to focus on healthy eating, as it is National Nutrition Month. Check out Bright Bites - A Taste of Nutrition for more information;
  • During the warmer months, think about the effect of seasonal changes on food and beverage intake. Take advantage of teachable moments. Whether the teachable moment is related to a healthy eating school event, or something about nutrition in the news, use these opportunities to discuss, debate, and explore the topic thoroughly. For example, investigate and chat about a unique food offered for the school breakfast or snack program.

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Explain the facts about healthy eating using current and credible information

Help students understand balanced eating patterns by teaching them about Canada’s Food Guide and eating a variety of healthy foods each day. Canada’s Food Guide is designed to promote the nutritional health of Canadians and aim to reduce chronic disease. Visit: Canada's Food Guide

Keep the focus of your healthy eating discussion on the importance of food to give us energy to learn, play, and grow, as well as to provide nutrients to help our bodies working well. The curriculum promotes the importance of paying more attention to food instead of calories. The number of calories in a food only tells you the energy you get from that food and does not tell you about the other qualities of the food.

The 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide encourages healthy eating being more than the foods we eat. Eating well is also about where, when, why and how we eat.

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Make healthy eating education culturally relevant

Because students understand what is relevant in their lives, explore the eating patterns, food preferences, behaviours, and unique health concerns of various cultural groups:

  • Use food examples that children will know from their culture;
  • Use culturally representative materials or food in the classroom (e.g. cultural dishes, utensils, and cookware);
  • Ask students to talk about meal customs; cultural cooking and preparation methods; traditional meaning of specific foods and the importance of foods during religious events or holidays.

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Be a role model for students

School staff, especially teachers, can influence students through their own behaviour. Model healthy, active living every day to help students see the value of the healthy eating lessons they receive in the classroom. Being a positive role model is about words and actions. It involves eating and enjoying a variety of foods in the presence of students, and making only positive eating related comments. Experts recommend that adults model a flexible approach to eating and exercise, and not comment on a student’s weight, to help create a positive eating environment. Positive role models do not talk about their own appearance, body weight, or shape, their latest diet, or someone else’s body weight (e.g. “I feel so fat after that weekend barbeque.”). They don’t offer directions, suggestions, or advice that would cause a student to want to diet or lose weight. Positive role models only intervene if weight-related teasing occurs at school. If you witness weight-related teasing, don’t ignore it, and instead, intervene to stop the behaviour.

It is important for all school staff to understand and have insight into their own personal beliefs, values, and practices about food, weight, dieting, and body image, as well as the impact that their own beliefs may have on their students. For example, an adult who was teased as a child for being overweight may have a prejudice against children who are naturally thin. Or, an adult who values healthy eating may look down on a student who is overweight or doesn’t eat a healthy diet. Studies show that when teachers are unaware of their own biases, they may unknowingly display prejudice to some and favouritism to others. Positive role models will be aware of and monitor their effect on students in their classroom. They will support their students so that their personal biases and beliefs do not influence what they teach.

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Promote healthy eating in a positive way

When teaching about healthy eating, food is better classified as ‘everyday’ and ‘sometimes’ food, versus ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Food which is high in nutrients and belongs to a food group is considered an ‘everyday’ food; food which is low in nutrients (and has added fat, sugar, or salt) is a ‘sometimes’ food. Teach about balanced eating using Canada’s Food Guide. Show students which food fits into the four food groups and teach them that sometimes foods can be enjoyed in moderation.

Eating is an experience to be enjoyed and celebrated by all! Activities or initiatives that promote healthy eating include messages on the positive and beneficial aspects of healthy eating, rather than the negative aspects of unhealthy eating and the risks to health.

Please review the answers to the following commonly asked questions to help you support a school environment that is free from weight bias, weight-based teasing, rigid rules about healthy eating, and other practices that may create a negative eating environment.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Teaching and Promoting Healthy Eating

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    For Further Information

    Contact the Northern Fruit & Vegetable Program Coordinator at (807) 625-5900

    Last Updated: 21/02/2019