A nourished body feeds achievement, attainment, satisfaction and happiness. Athletes cannot achieve greatness without invigorating their bodies with the nutrients they require, just as a pupil cannot thrive without a varied, nutrient dense diet. Unfortunately in our modern world of convenience and immediacy, many have lost sight of some basic human needs, and it’s having catastrophic consequences. Children of primary age know no different. They are dependent on adults feeding them well, and trust their carers. Yet if the carers themselves are dependent on the food industry, and innocently trust the products sold to them, the fundamental knowledge and understanding of how to nourish a body can become lost. Fuelling our children with natural, highly nutritious food and drink, which tastes great, is hardly processed and offers a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants offers them a fighting chance at vitality. If we can supplement their nourishing diets with deep learning, of which foods and drinks will fulfil their needs, why they are good for them and how they will impact their bodies, children are more likely to develop a healthy relationship with food, and make healthy choices that fuel their adventurous lifestyles.
See all or Nutrition lesson plans in the CHP Academy
How can teachers encourage ‘Healthy Eating?
First and foremost, to teach healthy eating, we must be including cooking and nutrition in our Design Technology curriculum. So many teachers we speak to now choose not to teach cooking and nutrition, because of classroom layout, lack of utensils, or just the worry of the whole class making a mess or using utensils at the same time. If the cooking lessons are happening in school, it is essential that they are delivered alongside a nutrition lesson, where children develop their knowledge and understanding of ingredients, and their role in the human body. Our work with schools breaks down the knowledge children need to learn from 4-11 years old, and is relatively ambitious in what we’d like them to understand by the time they leave Primary school. This ambitious approach to nutrition knowledge and cooking skills should then transition to Secondary school, where children learn to craft and cook whole meals, and understand the nourishing values of the ingredients they select.
Imagine if children leave Primary school knowing how to fuel themselves for their sports competition that weekend; how to adapt recipes to make them more nourishing; how to plan and prepare a balanced meal – they then stand a greater chance of making healthy food choices when they get to grips with the content of their food, perhaps grow their own food, and recognise where food comes from. Here are a few essential tips for classroom teachers who are delivering a cooking and nutrition curriculum:
Many children who take part our in our classroom workshops have a fear or phobia of certain foods, and/or could be described as ‘picky eaters’. Often a nurturing approach to taste testing foods and using them in dishes they have autonomy in designing helps the child feel more comfortable in their preferences, and more curious to try new foods.
No pressure Go out to dinner with friends and you will often hear someone say they don’t like a food – the same is ok for children. It’s not essential for health that a child eats every fruit and every vegetable…taking the pressure off and making it ok for children to dislike an ingredient is crucial. However, don’t make a song and dance about it – if they don’t like it, they simply avoid it or put it to one side – we’re building social skills for the future and spitting food out when in company tends to be frowned upon as an adult!
An EYFS teacher in our Project brought ‘mousy nibbles’ to us! When food tasting with her class, she said the children loved the idea they could just have a ‘mousy nibble’ rather than take a big bite of something they’d never tried before. It made the new food less daunting and gave them permission to trust their taste buds.
Diversity One of the Project’s topics in our nutrition Scheme of Work is ‘diversity’ – learning to eat a diverse range of foods from different sources. This can be encouraged through different colours, food sources, macronutrients, seasonal foods and by trying unusual foods they may not often recognise.
Ensure that if you are offering kiwi, pomegranate, melon, butternut squash, artichoke or aubergine (among many others) that you also show the children what the food looks like in the supermarket! This increases the chances of them going food shopping with parents and being able to pick out the foods they’ve tried in class. It also makes for some great scientific conversations, and even inspiration for artwork (we love a cross curricular approach!).
It’s important that you are nourishing the pupils brains as well as their bodies with all this delicious cooking and nutrition knowledge. Getting to grips with the basics – understanding what macronutrients and micronutrients are and the concept of the ‘microbiome’ can liven your lessons up and help the children make healthier food choices, realising the food they eat has an important role to play from the neck down, as well as the importance of taste and texture in their mouths.
It’s not too challenging to find recipes for foods made with natural ingredients nowadays. It serves to teach the children about making foods from scratch – learning about individual ingredients and how they combine to make delicious meals. Opting for natural ingredients is most educational, we’ve found, as it allows for further conversation about the miles that food has travelled, its original source, and the beneficial vitamins and minerals it contains.
Savoury or sweet
It is widely recognised that fairy cakes don’t need to have a place in our cooking and nutrition lessons due to their sugar content etc. However, eating fairy cake is not harmful for most, unless we eat too many. Most important is exposing children to a variety of savoury and sweet foods they can create. The sweet foods can be adapted to include less sugar, or use alternative ingredients. Savoury foods provide children with the opportunity to create their own healthy snacks or meals at home with the family. Balance is key here. More about our approach to sugar in another blog post…
Stick to the curriculum
Avoid placing your own biases on the nutrition element of teaching if possible. If you are a teacher who avoids sugar at all costs, or has cut out carbohydrates, or is vegan, there is no need to impart your own opinions onto the pupils in your class. Stick to facts, and keep balance in mind, always. At the same time, respect that families may also be choosing to eat a certain way, for personal preference, religious reasons or economical reasons. You are not acting as a child’s nutritionist, and should feel no pressure to. You are simply sharing knowledge and understanding of natural ingredients as much as possible, and developing cooking skills which can support them to lead healthier lifestyles as they become more independent.
See other health and wellbeing resources and tips for teachers in the CHP Academy
Lesson plans in The Children’s Health Project Scheme of Work
Our Healthy Eating unit offers children an insight into variety in food, its powerful influence, and how they can achieve vitality with simple dietary choices. We believe in moderation, balance and finding joy in food. It’s important to us that pupils have an opportunity to try new foods in safe environments, develop a passion for cooking, and don’t attach emotion to the foods they consume. We approach Healthy Eating with ten knowledge based topics, and include recipe cards for many of the lessons in our Scheme of Work:
Macronutrients(Protein, Carbohydrates, Fats)
This ‘macronutrient’ section focuses specifically on carbohydrates, fats and proteins – not calories. We want the children to fully understand what each macronutrient does for their body, and why they should consume a balanced diet – with all three macronutrients from mainly natural sources. From learning about dinosaur food, to making a healthy cheesecake recipe, we focus the nutrition knowledge on macronutrients, while developing a variety of other skills.
See a sample lesson plan and recipe card from our Macronutrients topic
Micronutrients (Vitamins and Minerals)
Micronutrients are different to macronutrients in that we need smaller amounts of them for energy, growth and function. Having said that, micronutrients are crucial for feeling healthy and well, and children will feel better physically and mentally if they are nourished by a variety of vitamins and minerals. Healthy fruit fizz, salads, smoothies and dips form the basis of the cooking lessons in this unit, while the children develop a deep knowledge of a variety of vitamins and minerals.
‘Meganutrients’ (Anti-oxidants and foods dense in vitamins and minerals etc.)
‘Meganutrients’ is a phrase we’ve coined, as opposed to a scientific term. Our ‘meganutrients’ are nutrient dense foods high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They are natural foods, and will have a positive impact on the body and the mind. Antioxidants help prevent or stop cell damage caused by oxidants – both the free radicals we consume from the environment (air pollution, plastics, perfumed products), and the toxins which form in our bodies. Eating natural foods high in antioxidants help us to find a natural balance. Nutritious ‘ice cream’ and porridge recipe cards help children to see that regular foods can be upgraded to be highly nutritious.
Food and Mood
The focus of this unit of work is for each child to recognise the foods we eat can chemically affect our moods, however eating less healthy foods in moderation can also positively affect our mood – basically to make responsible food choices on reflection of how foods make us feel. In discussions with the pupils, you should highlight that if we choose to eat the less healthy foods on occasion, we should take responsibility in other aspects of our lifestyle, to ensure we maintain a healthy balance – e.g. drinking more water, getting fresh air, moving our bodies consistently, brushing our teeth thoroughly, spending time with people that make us laugh etc . Children have the opportunity to learn about ‘Good Mood Foods’ and ‘Bad Mood Foods’ and to understand how they can moderate their intake of food that may be delicious, but may be less healthy for our mental health.
Food and Organs
Getting to grips with the concept that food is for more than taste and texture, children explore the inner workings of their bodies. They learn about the foods, which can be good for our skin, heart, brain and other vital organs by investigating and researching with fun activities. There is a lot of cross over with other pillars of health – discussing how else they can keep their heart and brain healthy, aside from nourishing them with the foods they eat.
Muscles and Bones
Pupils begin to link their understanding of macronutrients and micronutrients – and start to learn about why we are recommended to eat proteins, fibres , fruits and vegetables, for example. They learn specifically about calcium – from natural food sources, and how it can help to support a growing body. They learn about the amino acids in foods, especially complete proteins – where they can source them from, and how this links to the physical activity they are doing in PE. This is a great unit where children are challenged in their knowledge and understanding, and make links to the wider concepts of health and wellbeing.
Recognising a natural food’s original source, investigating how we can use seeds, discovering the concept of eating a whole plant and understanding how far some foods have to travel in order for us to eat out of season are all included in our unit on Food Sources. These are quite practical activities, which help children piece together the journey of food from source to plate, and encourages them to reflect and feel gratitude for the foods they have access to, as well as avoiding wastage or eating less sustainably. This is a concept children love to explore – there are always so many questions, and we’ve found the children feel supported with their new knowledge of food sources.
Food and Energy
The first thing many children tell us about calories is that they are ‘bad’, ‘we should avoid them’ and ‘they make us fat’. It’s absolutely essential we improve the younger generation’s understanding of how our body uses food for energy, and how to optimise our health with foods that keep our energy levels stable (in conjunction with other health factors) and boost our energy when needed. The youngest children in our Project start with lessons about great breakfasts to start their day; there are recipes for energy balls and then the oldest children progress their understanding of calories, by choosing which foods are most beneficial for them, even if the calorie count may be the same.
In this unit of work, we help the children to learn about their microbes in their gut, linking this to good health and a strong immune system. Pupils are often fascinated to learn that they have different species living inside them, and many young children start to understand that they look after their gastrointestinal microbiota with the foods they eat, and their healthy lifestyles – some children even comment that it’s like caring for pets in their tummies! Pupils explore prebiotic and probiotic foods, how they can make healthy snacks with these in mind, and reflect on whether they mostly encourage growth of good bacteria, or less healthy bacteria with their food choices. This is a fascinating, challenging unit, with high expectations that pupils develop knowledge and skills of cooking and nutrition. Research is changing frequently in this field, and we’re keen to keep these resources up to date whenever we can.
Eating a diverse range of fruits and vegetables increases the likelihood of a child consuming a balanced diet of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. The strength of good bacteria in the gut relies on diversity. The wider diversity of food we consume, the healthier we are likely to be. If the whole school can work onthis topic at the same time, your assemblies could be filled with children sharing examples of new foods they’ve tried/ cooked, and the seasonal foods they have been trying that term. This is another great opportunity for children to try new foods, eat the colours of the rainbow, and develop their knowledge and understanding of nourishing, diverse nutrition.
See all health and wellbeing lesson plans in the CHP Academy
Nutrition Ninja© inspires ‘Healthy Eating’ and links nutrition to holistic health
Nutrition Ninja© searches the world for her favourite recipes, savouring every delicious flavour, and feeling safe in the knowledge that her food is fuelling her adventurous life, her healthy body and her mind. She realises the power of food, not only for taste, but also to nourish her body and brain, both working hard everyday. With her knowledge and understanding of nutrients, she can select foods to support her needs, nurturing her great moods and steady energy levels. Food and drink are powerhouses of goodness forNutrition Ninja©, who cares about and respects their origins and carefully considers her diverse diet to make her feel vibrant!
Please note: You need a license to use Nutrition Ninja© in your school, which comes with membership to the CHP Academy
Regardless of whether you use The Children’s Health Project resources, Health Champions© or the nutrition lesson plans from the Scheme of Work in your school, you can encourage better cooking and nutrition in school. Encouraging children to eat for more than taste and texture demands a development of knowledge about nutrition, and this is why it’s essential that lunchtimes and cooking lessons are complemented by knowledge-rich learning.
We’d like to hear your thoughts on what ‘healthy eating’ is to you, and how you develop this in school. Please comment below, or on our social media posts.