Schools, an Important Part of the Nutrition Puzzle

Children enter the public education system at the tender age of 5 and stay there for 13 years. During that time, they learn to read, write, and hopefully to become contributing members of society.This is not something to be taken lightly, as free public education was something unheard of a few hundred years ago.

In many respects, the modern educational system takes what was once the responsibility of parents, on itself. Now there are some things parents are still in charge of passing on to their children. For example, religion.

And cooking.

Wait, scratch that. The world of yesteryear where moms and grandmoms would toil in the kitchen and pass down the art of housekeeping and cookery to their daughters is long gone. So what’s a daughter to do? And a son , of course too?

In Berkeley, California, the school district has taken upon itself to educate kids about food, nutrition, cooking, and even the environmental impacts of their food choices.

Science classes in Berkeley are taught weekly in campus gardens. English, history and math courses are held regularly in the kitchen. The cafeterias have been rid of processed food, and everything is made from scratch.

The experiment started five years ago to teach a generation reared on junk food about good nutrition, where their food comes from and the environment. read more…

The results, compared to a control group of students, were amazing:

The students in the [food] programs increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 1.5 servings a day, while the other students decreased their intake by nearly a quarter serving. The first group also scored higher on nutrition tests and actually requested “more leafy greens, such as chard, spinach and kale, with their meals,” said Suzanne Rauzon, the study’s research project director. Typically, kids that age couldn’t even identify those vegetables, let alone list them among their favorites, she said. read more…

And in Florida, educators may need to do a whole lot of explaining to children in elementary schools if the state board of education goes through with its plan to ban all sugary drinks from school, including soft drinks, but more controversially, chocolate milk:

“When you think about it, we probably have a million overweight or obese children in our schools,” a board member said. “I think the clock is ticking in terms of personal health.” read more…

Hopefully this change will be just a part of a much bigger overall program, similar to the one at Berkeley. Many schools across the country are taking measures of one kind or other to change this or that aspect of school lunches, remove unhealthy foods from vending machines, and even setting up vegetable patches in the yard.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a state level, or even federal level initiative, including funding, to create standards for kitchen and nutrition literacy for all children by the time they reach middle school? The government is now working on an update to the child nutrition bill (that deals mostly with funding school lunch). It would be wise to handle not just the lunch itself, but to take an integrative approach such as in Berkeley.

What’s your child’s school doing to improve her nutrition education? His ability to make healthier choices?

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  • Mike Lieberman

    Besides at home it starts in the schools as well. I think a real food education would be good for the teachers in addition to the kids.

  • Ed Bruske

    The gains in Berkeley were seen almost entirely among fourth and fifth graders in two of four elementary schools studied where there were programs centered around paid school gardeners, cooking instructors and nutrition curriculum. More troublesome was the finding that when these students moved on to middle school, the gains they had made not only hit a brick wall, but actually regressed. These findings have been largely glossed over, but we need to keep our eyes wide open. Alice Waters, as part of her pioneering work, has poured tons of resources into the Berkeley schools to achieve these results.

  • Gerome

    To Ed’s remarks – the findings of any small study should be put to scrutiny, but I tihnk what is without dispute is the fact that familiarity with real food and techniques for cooking MUST have an effect on a child’s and subsequently the adult’s dining choices. We lament that so many people buy prepared meals that are not nutritious. But until we teach kids about cooking, they’re not going to choose to do something they do not have familiarity with.

    In my town, the kids boys included, take “Chef’s Class”, what we would have called Home Ec. a generation ago, and they learn how to cook. The instructor also does a decent job of discussing nutrition.

    Perhaps the Berleley study is flawed, but I’d bet anything that there is a real benefit to the program.

  • WilliamB

    One key factor to lousy food in lunchrooms and vending machines in hallways is the dramatic drop in funding for school lunches over the past few decades. I am encouraged by the widespread recognition of the problem. The thing I find most heartening is the recent Defense Department-sponsored study on US youth population and military readiness. The title? “Too Fat to Fight.”

    Says it all, doesn’t it? Given the budget and influence of the Defense Department, I have fond hopes it’ll start actually working toward healthy youth as a national security measure. It could be a very powerful force for good in this country.

  • Melissa Wakefield

    I love hearing feedback on research into child nutrition, what astonishes me is when people are surprised about the positive responses the childs mind and body has to good whole rounded nutrition. To me it is just common sense, I wish it was to the rest of the world

  • Mendy Heaps

    From my experience, I can tell you that kids love learning about nutrition. As a topic, it’s been shown that nutrition can fit very well into any subject area. I think it would be awesome if every school would start the year with a school-wide unit on nutrition and then reinforce it the rest of the year.
    I’m not sure what to think of the study results at Berkley. I’m very surprised the kids actually regressed as they got older. Very disappointing…

  • Nicole

    My opinion all tests put aside, kids think simply and learn the same way they need to see, touch, taste, so i’ve found a simple vegie patch in your garden that includes the children in the planting of seedlings and picking the vegies is the best way to get kids eating vegies and keeping it simple they love eating them raw from the plant. The local primary school and kinder has a vegie patch that takes on the same philosophy as well as neighbors and it works.
    I’ts the way its meant to be simple not from a box in a supermarket with 100 ingredient’s that start with numbers and unfortunatly for most kids these foods are the first remembered experiences.

  • georgie

    My husband teaches cooking classes for kids aged 5 – 10 and he’s had parents come up to him and say that their kid who previously subsisted on cheese and white bread has come home happy to try fruits and vegetables after learning about them in a hands-on way. Once they get their hands onto (into?) the food, for at least some of the fussy eaters, the fear dissipates.