With Thanksgiving just around the corner, there’s at least one thing that’s on both yours and your students’ minds: food. Food and family meals are the cornerstone of American culture, and home-cooked meals are synonymous with the holidays. Now, assuming that your November lesson plans are already set to focus on Thanksgiving, it’s history, and traditions, take this time to use the holiday as a teachable moment about food and nutrition.
The importance of good nutrition is no stranger to the American public school system. First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative addresses the importance of the physical and emotional health of our students, combating issues of childhood obesity and poor nutrition from inside the classrooms and cafeterias. While these issues are most definitely of national concern, education initiatives addressing school nutrition are also important because of the connection between students’ physical and mental health. Tom Segal addresses this important connection in his article The Role of Health and Wellness in the Classroom, explaining that students’ “social wellness” (physical, social, and emotional health) is “…as pertinent to a child’s education and potential for success as access to computers and team sports.”
Not only is teaching nutrition important in combating childhood obesity, but helping your students understand good nutrition builds a foundation for healthy learning. Colloquially referred to as “brain food,” imposing proper nutrition on your children and students promotes healthy brain function and overall development. There’s truth to your parents annoying you to eat your breakfast; starting off your morning with healthy food promotes increased brain activity, and in turn, academic success. But healthy learning doesn’t have to only be in the cafeteria. Healthy Brain for Life offers resources and suggestions for how teachers can promote healthy learning in the classroom:
Stay hydrated. Have students keep a water bottle at their desk or take water breaks throughout the day
Healthy snacks. Encourage students to bring healthy treats for classroom celebrations, including fruit, whole-grain cracks, and veggies/dip
Healthy choices. Teach students how to choose the healthiest available foods on restaurant and fast-food menus.
Advocate change. Be aware of your district’s wellness policy, and contribute/obtain for change within your school and/or classroom
Teach change. Be sure to incorporate nutrition education into your curriculum across content areas.
Health and Nutrition Information for Children Over 5 – Interactive classroom activity from USDA’s Choose My Plate program to teach students about the importance of nutrition and exercise
Serving Up MyPlate: A Yummy Curriculum – Also put forth by USDA, Serving Up MyPlate offers teachers a number of resources for implementing nutrition education across content areas
Health and Nutrition Resources – TeacherVision provide teachers with cross-curricula resources teaching healthy eating, living, and learning for grades K-12. Classroom activities include Science and Writing: Food Poetry, How Has Disease Affected Us Over Time?, and What is a Balanced Diet?
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer – Though more appropriate for high school and post-secondary classrooms, Foer’s non-fiction novel explores issues of factory farming, slaughterhouses, and American diet trends in relation to our personal and cultural social wellness.