As concerns about childhood obesity increase, teachers must find strategies to encourage healthy nutrition, a balanced diet and physical activity in the classroom. Teachers need to get creative when it comes to learning about nutrition because it is a vital part of providing a healthy foundation for future generations.
While the goal of nutrition education is helping children make sound decisions about foods they eat, teachers must keep the lessons as simple as possible to avoid confusing students. The United States Department of Agriculture suggests focusing on only one lesson at a time.
By focusing the lesson plans on a single area of nutrition, teachers are gradually helping children learn the basics of a balanced diet. The single lessons are the foundation of the nutrition concepts. After students understand the basics, it is easier to focus on concepts like portion sizes and balancing food groups.
Lessons need to focus on simple concepts and the use of visuals to provide an example to students. The USDA suggests the use of posters, nutrition charts and other visual tools to help students understand the basic food groups, concepts of nutrition and goals of healthy eating habits.
The best visuals will depend on the age group of students. Younger students are served best with visuals that focus on pictures and limited words. As students grow older, visual charts should include nutritional vocabulary as well as charts or food pyramids.
When it is time to learn about nutrition, teachers should add some creative or interesting projects to help improve understanding and provide student engagement. Cooking projects can make the lesson interesting and exciting for children.
Encouraging students to take an active role in the kitchen and nutritional decisions can start in the classroom. Teachers can set up one or two class projects that focus on cooking a vegetable or following a recipe that uses whole grains and vegetables to stress the importance of selecting nutritious foods. The project will keep the class engaged and will encourage students to get more active in the kitchen at home.
The balance of energy via calories eaten and calories burned can seem complicated, but it is an important part of a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight. According to the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, teachers should always take time in the lesson plan to explain the importance of balancing energy needs with food intake.
While teachers will not want to encourage dieting, they should encourage students to select low-calorie snacks that maintain a high level of nutrients. By explaining the importance of eating nutrient-rich foods, teachers are encouraging better choices to maintain a healthier weight.
Incorporating nutrition education with a science project of growing fresh fruits and vegetables can provide the hands-on experience students need to stay engaged in the lesson. The lesson in growing fruits and vegetables encourages students to try foods that might otherwise be avoided at home.
Gardening not only encourages students to try fruits and vegetables, it provides the opportunity for teachers to explain about different nutrients, selecting a variety of colors and the differences between fruits and vegetables.
Learning about nutrition is an important part of education. While the age-group will require some limitations, teachers can get students involved in learning about nutrition by providing an environment that encourages questions, promotes balanced choices and engages students with interesting projects.