There are articles circulating in the news right now that show an interesting interpretation of educational results. The articles have various titles: "Nutrition Classes Don't Work," "Spending on Nutrition Classes Does Little," "Nutrition Education Ineffective." (for instance, http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-07-04-fightingfat_N.htm)

The conclusion drawn should say instead and more optimistically, "Still Searching for Nutrition Programs that Work."

I have a suggestion for one that works: restructure the children's lives enough so that they have some involvement in at least seeing where food comes from (where it grows, how it is processed) and much better yet, actually growing food. Why would anything else work, anyway? You can't reward a kid with stars or prizes for "eating right." That would fail for several reasons including the fact that kids who are rewarded for behaviors they'd be inclined to do anyway tends to decrease those behaviors. (see Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards ) It might also fail because of the contextual issues of offering candy vs. "healthy food" in a peer context that's likely to elicit "candy-grabbing" behaviors... I could go on with why some programs may be silly or misguided, but you get the point.

These articles reflect how sometimes the press (and the government, and professionals of all sorts outside and inside of education) have a tendency to say, "Oh, we tried that and it didn't work so we gave up trying. well, we're still trying but it isn't working and is probably useless." Why keep going on with what isn't working? In matters like this, when the objective (presumably, that children start to like and seek out healthy foods) isn't even coming into sight? Isn't the better course of action to keep trying, and to start trying in new ways?

In the summertime camp I run, and throughout the school year, I try to regularly get the kids out to my garden. Kids are fascinated with digging up potatoes, harvesting onions and making onion braids for storage, finding choice basil leaves for making pesto, and planting corn and watching it grow from spring to fall. I have yet to find the student who isn't more interested in food, more willing to try things, and more eager to sample earth's bounty after visiting a garden. Kids relate to food when its source is understood, felt, engaged with. Kids easily learn to love healthy foods when they see how it grows.

There are some brilliant examples of getting kids involved with gardens, including these:
World Changing, (Edible Gardens, School Lunches, and Student Action at Zuni Public High School) http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/006951.html
and at NPR's news: Oregon School Cafeteria Makes it From Scratch
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6515242

So that's what I wanted to share with CR2.0 colleagues. Anybody out there share the views about how to help kids get into healthy eating choices? Anybody out there have some experience with this?

Tags: nutrition, pedagogy, worldchanging

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Connie, you make great sense and, since my school is beginning a thematic year on caring for our bodies and our world, we have been talking about just this issue.

This past Spring, we began a "native garden"--with the help of a master gardener parent and the children's research of their watershed. Now, we are planning to install and care for a mulch pile (raising our awareness of the waste we produce) and recycling bins. We will be exploring the making of flour from grain and probably make flatbread or pizza at one point.

Given our lack of good soil or space for gardening, and the fact that we will begin in the fall, do you have any suggestions for what edibles might work in a classroom container garden in the winter, or do you think we should just hold off till Spring?
Wow--your project sounds great.
You can grow all sorts of things in the classroom, including herbs (kids love to smell sage, basil, thyme, dill, rosemary, just about any herb should be ok) and veggies. Do you have direct sunlight through your class window? What direction does it face? I think growing beans (green beans of various types) is especially rewarding. You probably won't get enough to cook up a big batch, but I've found that if kids can just see how plants grow, they get much more interested in the food, and often go home to ask their parents to buy fresh vegetables (and that earns me giant kudos from parents; they are thrilled and amazed)!
I'll ask a friend of mine what she recommends. She's grown a lot of food plants right in her class. Thanks for your interest! Your kids will have a blast.
Let's stay in touch.
Connie, thanks, I would love some recommendations. We have a shoestring budget, of course ;)

The school library (my domain) has a bank of windows facing mostly West, which get good afternoon sun, and I could go with Linda's scheme! The pre-primary and primary classrooms face East and ESE, and they would be the group I pitch this to at our planning meetings in August. (Right now I am hindered by summering at a family cottage two states away, and internet via a very poor phone line--otherwise I would upload a picture of our space!)
I could not agree with you more, Connie. We are so far away from the reality of food production that kids think that milk and eggs come in jugs and cartons. I have met kids who almost believe that milk in jugs grows on trees, just waiting to be picked by poorly paid migrant laborers. (Instead of being sucked out of cows by giant machine that connect directly to the truck.) One has to be careful, however, as a farm kid our field trips were to see the next level of food production. We all knew about hatching eggs and birthing calves, creating steers, bottle feeding myriad critters, milking the cows with a squirt to the cats, and so forth, so we went to the meat packing plant to see the cows slaughtered and the meat processed. Yes, we watched the entire process and then were given free hot dogs when we left. I have not touched cottage cheese since I saw it being made on the diary trip. I worked in the garden all summer from the time I was little and was one of those under-paid field laborers through high school. We were there with it all and look at how crummy our generation's nutrition is.

My feeling is that getting kids into the garden may be part of the process, but another big step is getting away from food as rewards--junk food as the extra special reward. If we tell kids that they should healthy food and then turn around a promise an ice cream party if they all do x and y or get a candy for cleaning up first, we contradict ourselves once again. (I know I still reward myself with candy or ice cream after a bad day at work when I really would be happier if I took the time to sit in my back yard and smell the flowers or read a good book or, yes, even allowed myself time to rot my brain with a stupid video game on line.

That's not terribly helpful for your question about getting kids to eat well and wisely. Let's plant a garden together. We could grow herbs in the library or cook up some good, book related recipes. Or we could "Deweyize" food products for a new nutrition scheme that tied into libraries. The options are there if we just brain storm and bring the whole child into the nutrition thinking and teaching.
Linda,
Ok, we'll grow plants in the library. But you know how much space those grow-lights can take. I'll just add them in on top of the shelves, with my couple of trees that you know well.)
Your post is so interesting that I'm going to give you a candy bar!
I found an interesting picture montage @ the Time Magazine Site. It shows: What's on family dinner tables in fifteen different homes around th... Photographs by Peter Menzel from the book "Hungry Planet."

I, like you, think students need more time in the garden experiencing nature. I, however, had limited experience with gardening until this summer, when I planted my first garden. It is very rewarding & my daughter (3) and I love the experience.

We have garden plots @ school and we sometimes do planting with our students, but the garden is a separate project from our nutrition/health curriculum .

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