Healthy eating at school

Healthy eating supports children to learn well, eat well, and live well. Schools can positively influence 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 classrooms are in line with healthy eating messages.

Support healthy food environments in schools

How can schools make the healthy choice the easy choice?

  • Avoid using food as a reward. If using rewards, consider these ideas from Vancouver Coastal Health’ Non Food Rewards for Young Children (PDF).
  • Consider a "Play First Lunch" to help kids eat, play, and learn better. To learn more, see Vancouver Coastal Health’s Play First Lunch Toolkit (PDF).
  • Create safe and pleasant areas for students to gather and eat. Ensure students have enough time to eat.
  • Identify and address weight-based bullying and discrimination. Promote an inclusive and respectful school environments. To learn more, see Promoting Positive Body Image through Comprehensive School Health (PDF) – Jessie’s Legacy.

The Guidelines for food and beverage sales in BC Schools (PDF) were developed by the Government of BC to support schools with role modeling healthy eating in the classroom, in fundraisers, and at special events.

Resources:

Allergies

Food sales

Fundraisers

Special events

Additional tips to consider:

  • Avoid the collection of student height, weight and/or BMI in schools. These parameters are influence by many factors, not just lifestyle, and their collection has been shown to cause harm. Instead, focus on helping all children build a healthy body image and a positive relationship with food, regardless of size. To learn more, see Facts and Concerns about School-based BMI Screening, Surveillance and Reporting (PDF) - Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC). Encourage healthy food choices from home, while recognizing that many families face barriers to providing healthy foods.
  • Follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding (PDF), children decide how much and whether to eat from the foods adults have provided.
  • Never take away food or negative comment on a child’s lunch. This can lead to a child feeling shame and anxiety about the foods they eat or what their families have included in their lunch.
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Build a school food program: Tips, tools, and examples

Consider the following questions when building your school food program:

  • Why is this program a good fit for our 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 food and knowledge into our school?

School food programs examples :

Resources:

Grants:

See Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Granting for funding opportunities or to learn about other local initiatives.

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Teach about food and nutrition: Key messages and lesson plans

Key messages for educators:

  • Education around food and nutrition should focus on experiences that allow students to explore a variety of foods and build their comfort with choosing, growing and preparing foods.
  • Children do not need to know about nutrients (calories, fat, vitamins, etc.), food labelling, or classifying foods as “healthy” and “unhealthy”. This information is too abstract for young children, encourages black-and-white thinking, and does not help them feel positively about eating.
  • Teach children to listen to internal cues of hunger, fullness, and satiety (e.g. what does your tummy say?), as opposed to external cues (e.g. portion size), when deciding how much to eat.
  • Role model talking about food in a neutral, non-judgmental manner.
  • Consider that growing children have different nutritional needs (including requirements for calories, calcium and dietary fat), compared to adults.
  • Include weight-based-discrimination when talking about bullying. To learn more, see the National Eating Disorder Information Center’s (NEDIC) Confronting Body-Based Harassment Tip Sheet for Teachers (PDF).
  • Teach older students how to spot nutrition fads and find good sources for nutrition advice. See HealthLink BC’s Finding Reliable Healthy Eating Information on the Internet.
  • Consider curriculum links to food-based activities or program such as Farm to School BC , or take a trip to a local farm, forest, or shore.
  • Connect students with an Elder or a farmer to learn about growing, harvesting, and preparing local or traditional foods.

Lesson plans and food activities:

These lesson plans and activities are based on the new BC curriculum.

Exploring food

Body image and media literacy

Local, traditional and sustainable food systems

Additional resources:

Supporting parents and caregivers

Teacher workshops

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