The Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum requires students in Grades 1-8 to learn about healthy and active living. The curriculum document stresses the importance of healthy eating and the relationship between healthy food choices and strength of the body and the brain’s preparedness to grow and learn. Sounds ideal right?
Talking about the positive benefits of foods that are high in nutrients, vitamins or those classified as “healthy foods” must be done with extreme caution. Idealizing certain foods or food groups has the potential to demonize foods that don’t fit neatly into the “health” category.
Seemingly innocent activities such as ‘colour in the healthy foods’ disregards the role and existence that “unhealthy” foods have in our world. Potato chips, french fries, chocolate, milkshakes – they are here (and they are awesome). Students need to hear that these foods are awesome, and they can be enjoyed and loved. Food is good for our bodies. Sharing food with people we love is good for our bodies – and essential for our mental health.
How to avoid demonizing food or food groups:
- Refer to those above mentioned delicious foods as “sometimes” foods
- Talk about how food is not only a part of daily life, but culture, celebrations and traditions
- Talk about the various ways in which people eat across different households and around the world
- Talk about ingredients that are in food
- Talk about how your body feels after eating food
- Talk with students about prices of food and why people may choose buying one food over another
- Talk with students about how to make food!
- And, when we are no longer teaching in a pandemic, make food! Share food together as a community.
Disordered eating knows no boundaries. Eating disorders exist across all demographics of human beings. We don’t know every student’s relationship with food, nor do we know the relationship with food that our students see at home with their families.
With love from a teacher who has personally struggled with her own relationship with food: Please, proceed with caution.
Ophea: Healthy Eating Resources https://teachingtools.ophea.net/activities/level-up/program-guide/healthy-eating
School Mental Health Ontario https://smho-smso.ca/
Canadian Mental Health Association https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/understanding-and-finding-help-for-eating-disorders/