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.
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.
- Resource guide for allergy aware schools (PDF) - Northern Health
- Peanut and nut aware lunches and snacks (PDF) - Northern Health
- What can you do to support safe and inclusive school environments for children with food allergies? - NH Stories
- Tips and recipes for quantity cooking: Nourishing minds and bodies (PDF) - Dietitians of Canada
- Bake better bites: Recipes and tips for healthier baked goods (PDF) - Dietitians of Canada
- Guidelines for food and beverage sales: Stock vending machines and stores with healthy food and beverages - HealthLink BC
- Fresh to You Fundraiser (annual initiative) - BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation (BCAITC)
- Healthy fundraising for schools: A practical guide for parents and educators (PDF) - Dedicated Action for School Health (DASH BC)
- Healthy school fundraisers: A win-win for schools and families! - NH Stories
- Eat smart celebrations - Government of BC
- Guidelines for food and beverage sales: Selling food and beverages at school sporting events - HealthLink BC
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.
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 :
- Connect students with Elders to learn about harvesting, preparing, and preserving traditional foods or consider creating your own traditional foods toolkit.
- Provide hands-on experiences with food through the Farm to School BC program or or other local food to school activities.
- Offer a breakfast program at your school with support from the Breakfast Club of Canada.
- Run an after-school kid’s cooking program. Sign up for the BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program and + +Milk 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 with support from the Spuds in Tubs Program.
- Try a salad bar at your school. Salad bar kits are available for loan from Northern Health.
- Apply for support - Breakfast Club of Canada
- BC Farm to School Guide: A fresh crunch in school lunch (PDF) - Public Health Association of BC (PHABC)
- BC School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program - BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation (BCAITC)
- Cook it. Try it. Like it: A guide for program leaders - Interior Health
- Farm to School BC: Getting started - Farm to School BC (F2SBC)
- First Nations traditional foods fact sheets - First Nations Health Authority (FNHA)
- Local Foods to School: Reconnecting the children of Haida Gwaii to their food and their land - Farm to Cafeteria Canada and Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia (SPARC BC)
- + Milk Program: Connecting students to dairy - BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation (BCAITC)
- Nuu-chah-nulth Traditional Foods Toolkit - Uu-a-thluk (Taking care of)
- Spuds in tubs: Connecting students to agriculture - BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation (BCAITC)
- Start a school food garden - Making it happen: Healthy eating at school
See Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Granting for funding opportunities or to learn about other local initiatives.
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.
- Yogurt sundaes (all ages) (PDF) - BC Dairy Association (BCDA)
- Primary booklist (K-3) (PDF) - BCDA
- Food skills (ages 4-9) - Food and Nutrition Literacy (FANLit)
- Mystery food activity (K-7) (PDF) - BCDA
- 3,2,1 Dressing (K-7) (PDF) - BCDA
- Apple tasting (grade 2-12) (PDF) - BCDA
- Meals then and now (grade 4-7) (PDF) - BCDA
- Breakfast basics (grade 4-12) (PDF) - BCDA
- Cook it. Try it. Like it: A guide for program leaders (grade 4-12) (PDF) - Interior Health
Body image and media literacy
- Media Smarts (K-12) - Canada's Centre for Digital and Media Literacy
- Being me: Promoting positive body image (K-9) (PDF) - HealthyFamilies BC
- Discussion and activity guide: Percy Pinhorn (grade 2-3) (PDF) - Body Diversity Newfoundland and Labrador
- Healthy at every size: So, what’s normal? (grade 6-12) (PDF) - Innovation in Nutrition Education, BC Dairy Association
Local, traditional and sustainable food systems
- BC At The Table Teacher Resources (grade 8-12) - BC Dairy Association (BCDA)
- Educational resources (K-12) - BC Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation (BCAITC)
- Nuu-chah-nulth Traditional Foods Toolkit (all ages) - Uu-a-thluk
- Salmonids in the Classroom (K-12) - Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- Consider inviting an Elder to teach students about harvesting and preparing traditional foods, or take a field trip to a local farm, forest or shore.
Supporting parents and caregivers
- Nutrition Education Home and School Learning Opportunities (webinar) - Farm to School BC, Northern Health and Vancouver Coastal Health
- Exploring food: COVID-19 Home Learning Lesson Pans and Resources (PDF) - Vancouver Coastal Health
- Nutrition for children and youth - Northern Health