Supporting healthy eating at school
Providing children with positive food experiences has been shown to promote physical and mental health. Schools play a crucial 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 in and outside the classrooms are consistent with healthy eating messages.
School food environments
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 school and beyond.
- 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
Tips to help kids eat, play and learn better
- Apply the Play First Lunch Model. Watch it on Global News.
- 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.
Build food literacy in schools
Consider the following questions about 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?
- How 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?
Tools and examples
- Connect with Farm to School BC to engage students with food at your school. See The BC Farm to School Guide or this Farm to School webinar.
- Connect students with Elders to learn about harvesting, preparing, and preserving traditional foods or consider creating your own traditional foods toolkit.
- Sign up for the BC School Fruit and Vegetable or + Milk Program to get local fruit, vegetables and milk delivered to your school.
- Start a school food garden. Or start small, and grow a potato tub garden.
- Learn about the local photovoice research project, in which youth experienced an improvement in some aspect of their mental well-being as a result of their hands-on food and gardening experience at school.
Key messages for educators
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.
Watch this webinar; Teach Food First: Food Exploration as an approach to nutrition education to learn how to implement a consistent approach to nutrition education that focuses on building food skills and exploring the broader role of food in our lives
- 10:35-34:06 Guiding principles for educators on teaching about food and nutrition
Resources to help teach the 2019 Canada's food guide
Teach Food First: An educator's toolkit for exploring Canada's food guide - 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.
Hands on Food: is a food-based teaching resource for primary and secondary school educators in BC. Developed by experienced educators and health professionals, it includes engaging lesson plans designed for grades 4 to 7 but easily adaptable to any grade level.
With Hands on Food, educators can help students develop important food skills like growing, cooking, preserving, and reducing waste while teaching the BC curriculum.
Key messages and tips:
- Focus education around food and nutrition on experiences that allow students to explore a variety of foods and build their comfort with choosing, growing and preparing foods. These experiences help children apply the messages from the new Canada's Food Guide.
- Teach children to explore internal cues of hunger, fullness, and satiety (e.g. what does your tummy say?) as opposed to external cues (e.g. eat half a plate of vegetables and fruit) when deciding how much to eat.
- Teach children how to spot nutrition fads and find good sources for nutrition advice.
- Role model talking about food in a neutral, non-judgmental manner.
Tips on being a healthy role model in the classroom
- Modelling 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
- 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.
- 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).
- Weight Bias and Stigma in Schools: Weight stigma is widespread, not well understood, and harmful. Schools have made gains reducing stigma around race, gender, and ability. This resource can help schools extend this work to create weight inclusive environments that are safe for all students.
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.
Lesson ideas for educators
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 lifelong healthy eating habits.
The following lesson plans align with the 2019 Canada's Food Guide.
- What am I? Food Literacy Activity (K to 3)
- FANLIT Groovy Grains: Pancakes (K to 5)
- FANLIT In a Pickle (K to 5)
- Yogurt Sundaes (K to 12)
- Talking About Taste (K to 12)
- Mindfulness in the Garden (K to 12)
- Apple tasting (Grades 2 to 12)
- Breakfast Basics (Grades 4 to 12)
- Worldly Restaurant (Grades 4 to 7)
- Food guide digital scavenger hunt (Grades 6 to 12)
- Northern Health 2019 Food Guide display (Grade 8 to 12) - If you would like an emailed copy of the display panels for printing, please contact email@example.com for the digital files
Positive body image and mental health
Find the following lesson plans and other related tools at Promoting Positive Body Image through Comprehensive School Health.
- Mindfulness in the Garden
- Grains! Growing, Grinding, Eating & Learning
- Patterns through the Seasons (K to 7)
Local and sustainable food systems
Poverty awareness and reduction
Visit the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition website for more resources.
- How to raise awareness about poverty (9 to 12)
- The Upstream Story (9 to 12)
- Justice Not Charity (9 to 12)
- The Price is Wrong Welfare Game (9 to 12)
For the home
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.
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.
- Lunches to Go - Ideas for packing school lunches
- Positive Mealtimes - short booklet with tools for eating with young children
- Ellyn Satter Institute - Internationally recognized eating & feeding specialists for kids & adults
- Healthy Eating for parents and caregivers - Canada’s food guide
- The Joy of Eating
- Get your kids in the kitchen
- How to start an indoor kitchen garden
- The New Food Guide: How We Eat Matters
- Is Dairy in the New Food Guide?
- Is Sugar Unhealthy for Children?
- Halloween Treats: How much is OK for Kids?
- Lunches to Go
Tips for families on encouraging vegetables - Northern Health
Supporting a healthy body image for children and youth
- Jessie’s Legacy - BC website with eating disorders prevention resources and blog
- What are Eating Disorders?
- Eating Disorders In Youth: A Webinar for Parents and Caregivers
- The Journey from Dieting to Healthy Eating (PDF) - Also refer to the backgrounder The Journey from Dieting to Healthy Eating: A resource for youth (PDF)
Questions and support
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Clients looking for nutrition assessment and support from a registered dietitian can call Dietitian Services at a HealthLink BC by dialling 8-1-1.
Nurture healthy eating in classrooms
Breakfast Club Canada
Food fundraising ideas for schools
Fresh to You Fundraiser
Celebrating with healthy food
Food and beverages at school sporting events
Eating for Peak Performance
BC Ministry of Education and Child Care’s School Meal Program
Indigenous and Traditional foods in public institutions