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Supporting healthy eating at school

Supporting healthy eating at school

Providing children with positive food experiences has been shown to promote both physical and mental health. Schools play a key role in shaping children’s eating attitudes and behaviours and help lay the foundation for a healthy relationship with food. Students do best when they have role models, and when foods offered both in and outside the classrooms are consistent with healthy eating messages. VCH Public Health Dietitians created this webpage to provide tips and resources.  Click on each title below to find out more.  

New resource: An educator’s toolkit for exploring Canada’s Food Guide

Teach Food First lessons align with the BC curriculum, are grade-specific and age-appropriate and were developed with equity and culturally inclusive considerations.
Acknowledgement: Teach Food First was developed by the Province of British Columbia and the BC Centre for Disease Control in collaboration with dietitians from the regional health authorities and the First Nations health authority. Teach Food First resources and lessons were pilot tested by BC teachers. A special thanks to the Indigenous knowledge keepers from Vancouver Island in the development of the traditional food lesson plans.

‎How can schools build a positive and healthy eating environment at school? 

Food culture and food systems are complex. Find out how we can support children to eat well and nurture a healthy relationship with food in the school setting and beyond:

Supporting Healthy Eating at School: What we Say and do Matters (30 min webinar plus 20 min Q&A)

3:45 What is healthy eating?

9:36 What is healthy eating at school?
18:23 Opportunities in the school setting
22:43 Resources and tools to support healthy eating at school
30:05 Summary and Q&A

Help kids eat, play and learn better 

More tips

  • Create pleasant and safe eating areas

  • Offer adequate time for a sit-down snack and lunch

  • If using rewards to encourage positive behaviour, choose non-food rewards, e.g. instead of offering candy, offer extra free time

  • Refer to the Guidelines for Food and Beverage Sales in BC to support schools with role modeling healthy eating in the classroom, in fundraisers, and at special events.

Food program ideas

  • Offer breakfast program with support from Breakfast Club Canada

  • Connect locally to find out food programs in your school or community

Food sales


Special events



Refer to these general tips about how to nurture healthy eaters at school.

‎Consider the following questions around building food literacy at your school:

  • How can we provide students with hands-on food experiences, rather than a focus on nutrition information?

  • What links can be made with activities in the classroom, garden, kitchen or community?

  • How can we create a supportive environment by improving access to healthy foods at school?

  • In what ways can we honour the social, traditional and cultural values of harvesting, preparing, and eating food?

  • What opportunities exist to partner with local farmers, food distributors, or community members to bring local and indigenous food and knowledge into our school?

Food literacy at school: Tools and examples

‎Key messages for educators for teaching food & nutrition

Teaching about food and nutrition is another aspect of food literacy. It is helpful to consider in advance strategies for addressing topics that may arise when teaching healthy eating that need to be handled with sensitivity. 

Connecting around Food during COVID-19: Nutrition Education Home and School Learning Opportunities (30 min presentation, 30 min discussion) *Note: there was a land acknowledgement shared, in recognition of the unceded lands we were sharing from, which was not captured in the webinar recording.

Using the 2019 Canada's food guide

  • New resource: An educator's toolkit for exploring Canada's food guide - Teach Food First lessons align with the BC curriculum, are grade-specific and age-appropriate and were developed with equity and culturally inclusive considerations.

  • Find tips on how to apply eight popular topics relating to the 2019 Canada's food guide in Top Questions about Canada's Food Guide in the school setting.

The following are some key messages and tips:

Tips on being a healthy role model in the classroom include: 

  • Modeling healthy eating behaviours (e.g. bring in lunches/snacks prepared at home that reflect comfort with a variety of foods).

  • Speaking positively about food and eating habits without expressing personal food preferences.

  • Dispelling assumptions based on stereotypes (e.g., thin students eat healthy, overweight students do not).

  • Consider that growing children have different nutritional needs (including requirements for calories, calcium and dietary fat), compared to adults.

  • Include weight and size discrimination when talking about bullying.  

  • Find out what to do if you suspect a student is struggling with disordered eating or an eating disorder.

Tips for discussing societal norms around our bodies include:

  • Emphasize that students can be healthy at a variety of body sizes and shapes (e.g., display images and use resources that show individuals with different body types).  Students who feel positive about their bodies find it easier to make decisions that promote good health. 

  • Avoid making assumptions that an underweight or overweight student is not eating healthy food and requires an intervention or that an average weight child is necessarily eating healthy food. 

  • Focus on health rather than weight, acknowledging that natural body development includes increases in weight and body fat. 

  • Watch for, discuss and address issues related to weight-based teasing/bullying or weight bias

  • Focus on teaching decision-making skills that can optimize healthy behaviours (e.g., media literacy, challenging peer norms about weight and shape, stress management). 

Other tips for teaching food and nutrition:

  • Consider curriculum links with school nutrition programs such as Farm to School BC, or take a trip to a local farm, forest, or shore.

  • Connect students with an Elder through your school district’s Indigenous Education team or with a farmer to learn about growing, harvesting, and preparing local or traditional foods.

  • Recognize inequities in our society and explore poverty reduction strategies with students.

  • Consider all the above strategies to encourage children to feel positive about eating and develop skills to enjoy a variety of foods. Refrain from classifying foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy”, learning about food labelling, and nutrients (calories, fat, vitamins, etc.) as it can produce the opposite effect and encourage black-and-white thinking.

Lessons ideas

Through experiential learning around food, students will be able to make meaningful connections between cooking, growing and enjoying eating a variety of food together to support life-long healthy eating habits. 

The following lesson plans align with the 2019 Canada's Food Guide.

Connecting around Food during COVID-19

Food-based learning: Tips for elementary schools during COVID-19 inside and outside the classroom (two-pager)

New resource: An educator's toolkit for exploring Canada's food guide

Teach Food First lessons align with the BC curriculum, are grade-specific and age-appropriate and were developed with equity and culturally inclusive considerations.

‎Exploring food

‎Positive body image and mental health

Find the following lesson plans and other related tools at Promoting Positive Body Image through Comprehensive School Health.

‎Growing food

Local and sustainable food systems

Poverty awareness and reduction

Visit the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition website for more resources. 

Additional resources


Connecting around food during COVID-19

How to feed school-aged children and youth

  • Adults decide what foods to offer, and when and where to serve meals and snacks.

  • Kids decide how much to eat, and which foods to choose from what is provided.

  • Involve kids in growing, selecting and preparing foods so that they can build their food skills.


Additional resources


What to feed school-aged children and youth

Offer children and youth a variety of foods. As they see foods over and over again, they will build their comfort with a wider range of foods. Involving them in some of the meal planning, shopping, and cooking can also increase their ability to eat well and make mealtimes more pleasant in the long run.

Supporting a healthy body image for children and youth


Clients looking for nutrition assessment and support from a registered dietitian can call Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC by dialing 8-1-1.


Public health dietitians work with public health staff, schools, and community partners to promote healthy eating environments in the school setting. For questions about this webpage, please contact Helen Yeung at Clients looking for nutrition assessment and support from a registered dietitian can call Dietitian Services at a HealthLink BC by dialling 8-1-1.

Webpage content adapted from the Northern Health Population Health Nutrition pages.

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