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Teaching Nutrition: Background information about nutrition, the nutrients, and healthy eating habits
 
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Teaching Nutrition
 
Photo of teacher and students.

Subjects surrounding nutrition, healthy eating and physical activity habits can be challenging to teach in a sufficiently sensitive manner. Many students and teachers bring to the classroom their own personal insecurities, histories, and points of view. Teachers should strive to present factual information in a nurturing environment and inclusive manner. It is very important that the teacher acknowledge the differences in individuals and their health needs to help reduce self-consciousness during the nutrition lessons.

Teachers should focus on the health and well-being of the student. Emphasize living activity, eating healthfully, and recognizing one’s own worth as an individual. Nutrition education specialists have identified some sensitive issues and actions that should be avoided when teaching nutrition education. Read through this list to learn more about the do’s and don’ts for teaching nutrition:

Be aware that:
Do’s
Don’ts
Children see teachers and other adults as role models and tend to copy their behavior.   Encourage new experiences; ask students to taste before they decide whether or not they will like something.   Avoid making comments about personal likes and dislikes in reference to foods. Avoid using terminology such as “junk food”.
         
Children will develop healthy attitudes about eating if they are taught that all foods can fit into a healthy diet when eaten in moderation, as part of a balanced and diverse diet.   Advocate balance, variety, and moderation in all discussions.   Avoid classifying foods as “good” or “bad”. Avoid using terminology such as “junk food”.
         
Teachers and students should not be encouraged to share personal stories relating to weight loss programs, fad diets, and eating disorders. Discussions should involve factual nutrition information and developing valuable life skills.   Discussions should involve factual nutrition information and developing valuable life skills.   Avoid engaging in teacher self-disclosure. Do not promote commercial products, diets (especially fad diets), or diet aids.
         
Avoid presenting information about dangerous eating habits so technically specific that it actually provides instructions to students on how to practice those very habits.   Provide general instruction and guidance. Inspire positive and healthy behavior in students.   Avoid discussing technical (“how to”) details related to potentially dangerous diets and eating disorders. Do not glamorize disordered eating by providing examples of celebrities or athletes who have struggled with their weight.
         
Recognize that certain religious, ethnic, and cultural communities and individuals hold important beliefs or moral opinions related to food, and may avoid certain groups and types of food. Furthermore, some individuals have food allergies or aversions; being forced or coerced into consuming some foods may cause serious psychological or physiological harm.   Reassure students that their personal beliefs and traditions will be respected, and that no one will be penalized for refusing to taste or eat any demonstration food. Practice sensitive and compassionate teaching methods.   Avoid strongly encouraging or discouraging the eating of certain foods or food groups. Never denigrate any religious group or moral stance, especially as it relates to food habits.

         
School breakfast and lunch programs provide valuable nutrition to millions of students within Texas.   Mealtime is a significant part of every person’s day. Allow children to view meals eaten at school as positive, social experiences.   Avoid making negative references to meals eaten in the school cafeteria.
         
It is imperative that positive messages of respect and value for each individual’s unique qualities and talent replace stereotypical messages produced in some forms of media.   Remind students that every body is a good body. Being different is not equivalent to being wrong.   Avoid making comments that reinforce the unrealistic societal demands for perfect people or ideal bodies.


Tips for use of these lesson plans:

Consider inserting these lessons into traditional “down times” during the school year.  Many make excellent ice-breaker exercises for the first days of school.  They can also be used to reinforce ideas and continue the learning process during the period after TAKS testing towards the end of the school year.  Stand-alone plans might be left as “emergency” activities for substitute teachers.

School schedules vary, so many of the plans are designed to be modular in nature.  If time is short, eliminate or abbreviate some of the activities or omit passages from the readings.  If you have additional resources that you wish to add – videos, books, etc. – insert them where you see fit.  Be flexible and creative.

Although each plan is developed to support the listed TEKS goals, many also teach to or reinforce TEKS outside of the specific subject area, and even grade level, for which they were written.  For instance, many of the social studies and science plans involve reading and writing skills.  It may be worth your time to review lesson plans of other grade levels and subject areas for their applicability.
 
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