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With the busy schedules today's families face, learning about nutrition and food skills can get lost in the shuffle.
A recent Winnipeg Regional Health Authority/Food Matters Manitoba report, entitled Improving Food Skills and Food Literacy of Manitoba's Children and Youth: A Population Health Approach points to the challenges today's students and families face in learning these important life skills.
"There is evidence suggesting that there is a global decline in basic food skills and that these essential skills are no longer being passed on to children. Additionally, it is reported that children are growing up in complex food environments that normalize the use of pre-prepared, convenience foods, making it increasingly difficult for them to make informed choices around food," Amy Dyterneski writes in the report.
Ms. Dyterneski adds that the school system is an excellent arena for children and youth to learn food literacy and essential food skills.
"The school system is an ideal place to reach all children, regardless of social background or life circumstance, and teach them these essential skills in order to support healthy, food secure populations into adulthood."
March is Nutrition Month across Manitoba, offering further opportunity for schools to promote and explore nutrition and food skills. Classroom Nutrition education can lay a foundation and develop knowledge and skills for a lifetime. In Manitoba, there are nutrition outcomes in the curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade 6, as well as Grades 8, 10 and 12. WSD schools also promote nutrition and provide exposure to food through a wide variety of opportunities including breakfast and snack programs, cooking clubs, food tasting events, planting and harvesting a garden.
"Many of these food skills programs end up teaching students important life skills. Ultimately we want students to be able to choose and enjoy a wide variety of foods, have a positive attitude toward eating and food and an understanding of the relationship between food and health," said WSD Health Education Consultant Nori Korsunsky.
A recent pilot program, Cooking with Class, was held in conjunction with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and the Diary Farmers of Manitoba. In WSD, Grade 4-6 students at Dufferin, Norquay and Weston schools took part in monthly food skills and food literacy lessons in their classrooms.
"One interesting finding from the pilot project was the students' well-being was enhanced," Ms. Korsunsky said. "They felt increased confidence about their ability to prepare food. They felt empowered, that they could go home and encourage their families to shop and prepare food in certain ways. There were many positive mental health and wellness benefits in learning how to prepare food and share a meal."
Whether students are shopping for foods with their parents, or following recipe instructions and measurements to make a dish, there are many cross-curricular skills associated with food literacy.
"Students are using literacy skills when they are reading the recipe, numeracy skills to measure the ingredients as well as interpersonal and social skills as they work together. Sharing a meal creates a positive and pleasurable experience and creates connection," Ms. Korsunsky said.
Along with learning food skills, there are numerous benefits to promoting open, positive attitudes towards food while children are in their formative years.
"Kids and adults are exposed to all kinds of restrictive and regimented diets. We don't want to give the message that there is 'good' food and 'bad' food. Rather, we talk about food being for nourishment and good health. We want students to have a positive attitude and relationship with food."
When students learn about how good food nourishes the body and mind, and makes one feel more energetic and engaged, it helps to inform better food choices. Helping children to understand what your body feels like when it is hungry or full also helps them to better understand their relationship with food.
"We want children and youth to become 'competent' eaters which includes knowing how to listen to those hunger and fullness cues," Ms. Korsunsky said.
Schools help to develop competent eaters through classroom nutrition education, role modelling and providing exposure to food through classroom based and school wide initiatives.
As for getting children and youth more open to trying new foods, there are many opportunities throughout the year at home or school to try new foods. The more healthy food is available, the more students will be willing to try those foods.
"Schools may have tasting events or celebrations which provide an opportunity to introduce students to culturally diverse foods and to learn more about other people's cultures while enjoying a wider variety of foods" Ms. Korsunsky said.
When it comes to the lunchbox, students are more open to food choices when they help prepare their lunches.
"If a child helps to choose what's going in their lunch, they're more likely to eat it," Ms. Korsunsky said. "They're taking some ownership."
For more information about Nutrition Month, visit http://www.nutritionmonth2018.ca/ .