Supporting healthy eating at school

Group of children having packed lunches

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.

Watch Supporting Healthy Eating at school webinar by Farm to School BC

  • 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

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

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:

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.

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

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.


Additional resources



Supporting a healthy body image for children and youth

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 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

    • Bake sales

      Recipes and Tips for Healthier Baked Goods

    • Breakfast Club Canada

      Offer breakfast programs or connect with local food programs in your community.

    • Food fundraising ideas for schools

      Guideline for food and beverage sales by HealthLinkBC

    • Fresh to You Fundraiser

      Fresh to You is a fundraising initiative for K-12 schools in BC.

    • Celebrating with healthy food

      Tips to reinforce classroom food and nutrition lessons when celebrating special occasions.

    • Food and beverages at school sporting events

      Guidelines for food and beverage sales by HealthLinkBC

    • Eating for Peak Performance

      Written for youth athletes who are looking for nutrition tips on what to eat and drink to optimize sports performance.

    • BC Ministry of Education and Child Care’s School Meal Program

    • Indigenous and Traditional foods in public institutions

      Gov of BC

Related articles

Keeping baby & you healthy

Eating & nutrition for infants to 18 months

Eating & nutrition for toddlers

Eating & nutrition for preschoolers

Indoor air quality in schools

Vision services for children

How to keep children's teeth healthy

When should I keep my sick child home from school?

VCH welcomes children six months to four years to COVID-19 vaccine clinics

Vancouver Coastal Health launches dedicated supports for children receiving COVID-19 vaccine

Vancouver Coastal Health offering COVID-19 vaccinations to post-secondary students

New pediatric unit opens at Richmond Hospital

Active travel to school

Body image & eating disorders info for North Shore Schools

Sexual health youth clinics for North Shore schools

Immunization after care for children