Do As I Say – Not As I Do
Do As I Say – Not As I Do

Teachers, wield your power for better nutrition!

Parents are the primary role models for young children, but other key adults such as teachers, coaches and other parents are important influencers. Since kids spend so much time at school, it is a perfect place to teach healthy habits by incorporating nutrition education into the curriculum and providing healthy food at school events.  

Kids see right through us when our actions don't match our words. Like it or not, they look to teachers, parents, grandparents and other adults as role models. Teachers can use this power for good, keeping healthy foods on the desktop and at the lunch table and teaching nutrition in the context of regular lessons.  

For example, math can become an exercise in fractions, ratios and food and nutrition. Baking, cooking and reading recipes take a lot of math skills, so look for ways to explain fractions through recipes. Getting the kids into the cafeteria kitchen for some hands-on learning is even better. Showing students how to put food together in the proper ratios and amounts will not only cement what they've learned about math, but go a long way to teaching them to eat in a balanced and nutritious way.

Got a science chapter to teach about plants and biology? Why not have your students plant seeds in a pot and teach them about the life stages of the plants they're growing? You can send the plants home with students so they can plant their tomato, bell pepper, corn or eggplant seedling (or whatever grows best in your region) in their yard or in a pot at home and report back on the results. Did they get any vegetables? Did they use it in a meal? What was the meal?  

Teaching spelling? Why not teach food words and use the opportunity to talk a little bit about healthy foods versus not-so-healthy foods. All of the Dairy Council of California programs include specific ideas for integrating nutrition into the core curriculum. Check out the classroom nutrition education programs to see what teachers say about our lessons.  

Classroom parties, too, are a great opportunity to teach about nutrition. You don't have to eliminate cupcakes entirely, but try to make at least half of your parties focused on healthy eating. Host a "food group" potluck where parents are assigned a certain food group and kids have to guess which it is. Or host a color party in which groups are assigned different colors of vegetables, fruits and dishes to bring.

Celebrate successes and milestones with non-food rewards. Rewarding behaviors with food teaches children to associate food choices with emotion; instead, try offering fun activities or privileges to facilitate a healthy relationship with food.  

There are lots of opportunities to turn the health of our kids around, and a lot of them start in the classroom. Teacher, you've got a lot of power; use it wisely!