Help Get Food Education Into Every American School!

by Bettina Elias Siegel on July 10, 2013

The longer I blog on The Lunch Tray, the more I become convinced that the keys to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and improving kids’ health rest with kids themselves.

That is to say, we absolutely must do what we can to improve our children’s food environment — school food reform, improved competitive food, reining in children’s junk food advertising and more — but unless kids also understand why healthy eating is important and what healthy eating looks like, those efforts may not be effective.   Junk food and fast food will always be available, tasty and cheap and, absent sufficient motivation to avoid them, they unfortunately represent the path of of least resistance for many Americans — children and adults alike.

That’s why I’m so excited about the new partnership between Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Food Day to bring food education and cooking classes into schools across America.  I briefly told you about the Get Food Education in Every School initiative when it was announced in May, but now you can read more about it in this week’s Huffington Post editorial by Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (the folks behind Food day).  Jacobson writes:

The anti-hunger group Feeding America estimates that elementary school students receive just 3.4 hours of nutrition education — actual education and not marketing — each year. Fewer than 25 percent of high school students take any family and consumer science classes, formerly known as home economics, and those classes are often the first to go when school budgets are trimmed. And parents have to shoulder some of the blame, when, in all too many harried households, “cooking” actually means “microwaving” or otherwise heating some well-preserved, factory-extruded, combination of flour, fat, salt, sugar, dyes, and other chemicals.

But just as we expect our schools to do the heavy lifting when it comes to teaching geography, algebra, physical education, and history, we should expect schools to teach children about food — where it comes from and how it affects our bodies and our health

In the campaign’s first year, organizers hope to raise awareness about the lack of food education and to build a broad coalition that will build support for food education at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

I’m proud to be one of the early supporters of this effort (you can read my thoughts on Jamie Oliver’s blog here), along with The American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, American College of Lifestyle Medicine, American Medical Students Association, Edible Schoolyard Project, Center for Ecoliteracy, The Food Trust, National Association of Nutrition Professionals, Wellness in the Schools, and Nourish.

I hope you’ll join me by signing this petition to show your support as well.  You can also promote the campaign on social media using the #FoodEd hashtag and you can follow the effort on Pinterest.

I’ll be participating in periodic conference calls with the campaign organizers and will share more information about Get Food Education in Every School throughout the coming year.  And when school starts up again, I’ll also be sharing an interview with Michael Jacobson about the effort.  If you have particular questions you’d like me to ask him, feel free to leave them in a comment below.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Grace @eatdinner July 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

I agree education is key, for parents and the kids themselves. School age children make many food choices during the school day, and tweens and teens obviously have a lot of freedom to choose — so we want them to have the skills and knowledge to choose wisely! Even better if they learn cooking and shopping skills when old enough.
Palate education, i.e, knowing and appreciating what real food tastes like is also important and another reason for family dinners!

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Maggie July 11, 2013 at 1:44 pm

But,what about…funding, time in the school day, facilities…just to start.

I think a bigger question will be – what food beliefs do we teach? Just sticking to the science of cooking isn’t really going to fix the problem we want to fix.

Recently saw an illustration in a publication about the 2010 DGA (Dietary Guidelines for Americans) showing “a social ecological framework for nutrition and Physical activity decisions” – Google that phrase and you should find the link to the PDF – the illustration is at the bottom of page 2.

There are so many factors that influence how we look at food and what food and customs mean to a family or individual.

I do agree 100% that “something” needs to be done. I don’t have any better ideas, I’m really not sure that things will change until the views of society in general change, and I understand that the hope is that these proposed lessons will start to spark that change.

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Janet @Rainbow Plate July 17, 2013 at 6:33 am

I couldn’t agree more! Teaching our children to feed themselves well is just as important as teaching them to read and write. “Food literacy” should be placed high on the agenda of educators everywhere.

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Renee Reyes August 8, 2013 at 8:35 am

I am a fourth grade teacher and recently I decided to pursue my passion for overall health and wellness by enrolling in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I am saddened by the health of my students. There are too many children over weight and too many children that are unfit. I watch in dismay as children consume the horrible school lunches and ridiculously processed “lunchables” on a daily basis, nevermind the huge portions of chips and cookies the eat for snacks. I want to introduce some sort of health progam to my school but am completely overwhelmed at where to begin. I have mentioned my concern to the principal, she is on board, and will be meeting with her in the fall about what steps can be taken. Do you have any advice on how I should begin implementing nutrition education?
Thank you for you time

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Bettina Elias Siegel August 10, 2013 at 10:56 pm

Hi Renee: Sorry for the delay in responding – I’m on a bit of a summer hiatus. First of all, do you happen to know if your district already has an approved health/nutrition curriculum? Here in Houston ISD, for example, we use CATCH but not all schools are teaching nutrition, even if they’re supposed to. So you might want to look into that first. I also don’t know, of course, what your district’s procedures are if a school wishes to implement its own curriculum. But assuming you’re free to go out and obtain whatever materials you want, one really great place to start is Nourish, which is an excellent curriculum with lots of support materials for teachers. You can find that here. There are also free materials from the USDA for teachers – here’s that link. I hope this at least gets you started and I hope other readers chime in with their thoughts.

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