A common question I get as a dietetic student is what drew me into the field and why I wanted to be a dietitian. I give the same answer each time. When I went into my first year of university, I was jokingly afraid of gaining the “freshmen 15.” I thought that taking a nutrition course would teach me about food and how to eat healthily, so I could avoid the looming weight gain. To my surprise, I enjoyed this class for many other reasons and soon after it became my major.
Upon going to university, it was clear I felt a lack of nutrition knowledge, and I realized I also lacked food skills. My previous school experience with Canada’s Food Guide and Home Economics classes did not prepare me for living on my own and many of my friends felt the same. Attributing it to a transition period in leaving home, I didn’t give my lack of knowledge and skills much thought.
When school nutrition programs were discussed in my university dietetic courses, I thought it was great! School nutrition programs would provide at least one meal or snack a day regardless of food related barriers, such as family income or physical access. It took additional time for me to see the added long term benefits these programs could provide, including the food knowledge and skills that I didn’t get from my own education experiences.
Best practices for a standard universal school nutrition program include students being actively involved in the program. This could include helping to prepare and serve meals, tending and growing a school garden and talking about food systems. These activities have the potential to:
- Be integrated within the curriculum in subjects such as math, science and art;
- Provide knowledge and skills children need to develop food skills for their future;
- Provide positive food environments to cultivate a healthy relationship with food; and
- Build confidence in students around the topic of food.
These programs also have the capacity to provide a level playing field in at least one aspect of health for all children. While I grew up in home with multiple resources and supports, I still did not feel adequate in food and knowledge related skills when I left. While every child has different food experiences that impact their health, it is clear that everyone can benefit from school nutrition programs that incorporate food knowledge and skills. School nutrition programs can provide all children with essential life skills in food related knowledge, which can have a positive impact on various aspects of their lives and extend beyond their school years.
In June 2018, Senator Art Eggleton tabled a motion to support a universal nutrition program that would educate children in issues related to nutrition and be provided with a nutritious meal daily. Adapting programs or activities that include building food knowledge and skills are not cemented in this motion and should not be blind sighted by the short-term benefits. For more information on this motion or to find out how you can get involved, visit the Coalition for Healthy School Food.
Guest Blog written by: Karli Ochitwa, Dietetic Intern, Our Food Project, Ecology Action Centre.
Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program at https://www.ecologyaction.ca/ourfood