Saint Louis University

BLOG: Teaching Kids about Food

Author: Erin Szopiak
Published: Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The idea of prevention is finally gaining momentum, especially in schools. The established obesity epidemic and the increasing health care cost our country is experiencing have been the rousing forces in bringing nutrition education in schools. As a SLU dietetic intern, I have planned and taught several nutrition educations at local schools. I love being able to share what I know about nutrition with children in fun and exciting ways, however one question that always comes to mind as I am planning lessons is what is the most effective way to teach nutrition to children. When I teach nutrition to kids, I want it to impact them in a way that encourages them to change their behavior.

At my recent rotation, I had the opportunity to see and experience the teaching techniques used in the Seed to Table class. The Seed to Tables class is designed to teach kindergarten and first grade students about where food comes from through gardening, cooking activities, and exposure to chickens and other farm animals. I learned very quickly that effective nutrition education is more about letting children, specifically young children, explore food and be exposed to where food comes from, rather than expecting them to memorize specific nutrients found in food.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns Teaching Kids

During my rotation, one of the first grade Seed to Table classes had a salad party using the microgreens the class had grown during the winter months. I was impressed that the class was involved in the full process of growing the plants from seed, harvesting the microgreens, preparing the salad, and sampling the final product. I was even more surprised at the children’s acceptance of the high-class mircogreens, which generally tend have a rather robust flavor. We hadn’t added globs of ranch dressing, just a drizzle of olive oil and the first graders were eating it! It was a dietitians dream. Some students liked it more than others, but everyone tried the simple salad they had made. The students might not get a chance to choose microgreens for lunch, however their positive experience with the new food may encourage them to try other new foods, especially ones they have seen grow. My experience with the Seed to Table class demonstrates that garden based nutrition education can be extremely valuable in encouraging fruit and vegetable intake among students.

Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns Teaching Kids

There are three main tips on how to provided effective nutrition education to young children that I took away from my experience.

  1. Focus on food, not nutrients. Exposing children to a variety of fruits and vegetables and providing hands on involvement can have bigger impact on behavior change than requiring the memorization of nutrition facts.
  2. Focus on food, not nutrients. Exposing children to a variety of fruits and vegetables and providing hands on involvement can have bigger impact on behavior change than requiring the memorization of nutrition facts.
  3. Infiltrate the students’ world and make it fun. It is important to make sure the nutrition education is a positive experience that can be integrated into the child’s life. This integration can be through nutrition related recess games, the school lunch program, the involvement of parents, or engaging the child’s imagination during meal times.
  4. Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns Teaching Kids

    My time at my recent rotation has sparked my interest in learning more about being an effective nutrition educator in the school setting. If you are interested in learning more, Connie Evers, M.S., R.D., provides many creative ideas of how to engage students in nutrition education in her recently published book, How to Teach Nutrition to Kids.

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