“Healthy” Eating 101

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:

  1. Refer to those above mentioned delicious foods as “sometimes” foods
  2. Talk about how food is not only a part of daily life, but culture, celebrations and traditions 
  3. Talk about the various ways in which people eat across different households and around the world 
  4. Talk about ingredients that are in food 
  5. Talk about how your body feels after eating food
  6. Talk with students about prices of food and why people may choose buying one food over another
  7. Talk with students about how to make food!
  8. 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/

The end is here

The end (of January) is here. Thankfully. I thought wrapping up 2019 would have signaled my surrender. I didn’t know another white flag needed to be waved so quickly, but here goes.

The month of January has been particularly trying on my mental health and well being. When I say my mental and health and wellbeing, it’s important to know that it implies the way a lot of my colleagues in education are feeling right now. It’s tough sledding right now. Let me explain what’s been going down.

The usual demons

The entire month has elapsed as a slow motion dream sequence of continually compartmentalized interactions. Meet here, teach now, listen here, discuss there, teach again, receive devastating news, listen, meet, teach, share, support, listen some more, put on a brave face, teach, weep for a student lost in a senseless act, grieve, cope, support, listen even more, meet, teach, and try to make sense of what the heck happened?

I’d like to blame Mother Nature for the storms, poor commutes, and frigid school days, but I can’t because I bought snow tires which ensured that the weather would only be bad on weekends this month. I’d like to say it’s the flu, but I can’t because I got my first flu shot in 10 years. I’d like to say that my students are being difficult, but I can’t because they are truly interesting and engaging learners.

So it’s got to be me right? I’ll own my part of things knowing that I am sharing with 7.2 billion others in January right now. Let me reiterate. It’s been an incredibly difficult month even though my usual January demons were uncharacteristically co-operative? Now that the month is over things can get better right? Either that, or something really bad is in store for the future once the demons get back from vacation. Fingers crossed, salt over my left shoulder, ladders put away, black cats all in their homes, and artificial rabbit’s foot rubbed something more positive is possible. Anything will be better than the start of 2020.

This January’s tragic events were completely out of our hands. Yet, as teachers, we were all working together in support of our students, as well as one another. At my school, the death of a student on UIA Flight 752 was devastating. Upon confirmation of the news, it was as if the air had been taken from our lungs in a flash. It was hard to breath that day. We were all in shock, and had to put on a strong face for our students and each other as the news unfolded which was not easy.

We are told to try and return things to normal as quickly as possible, but all I remember is feeling numb in the weeks that followed. I wonder how normal I looked trying to hide how it hurt to lose a student? In fact it has taken me a few weeks to even process the feelings in order to share them here.

Despite, therapy dogs, social worker support, and incredibly kind admin/school board officials it has been one of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced as a teacher.  When tragic and senseless events occur the losses are hard to overcome regardless of the supports in place. Finding “normal” again would have been very tough without help, but isn’t enough in itself. This leaves many of us having to manage some of the restoration on our own outside of school.

Setting aside a bit of quiet time to process each day helped. As simple as that sounds, it is hard to shut it all down at the end of the day or over the weekends. Taking time to remember the good things and dwell for some time on positive memories helps healing to begin. Sometimes laughter helps too. Especially, when the humour comes in the form of a joke, a meme, or a witty remark. Thank God for animal videos and Reddit.

As teachers we live and breath our callings. Our learners occupy a huge space of our thoughtlives. We have them with us as we process our days whether we are at school or not. There have been countless times where I’m reminded of a student, past and present, in a casual conversation with friends or family. The life of an educator guarantees that you will accumulate some incredible memories, and this is largely a good thing. For me there has been so much joy in reflection back on 2019, but in contrast comes a much harsher start to 2020 with the loss of a beautiful soul from our school family. As February takes over the calender, I am glad to say the end(of January)is here.

Wishing you all health, happiness, and good memories for the rest of the year and beyond.

The Downside

It’s a wonderful time of the year…ish. However, there are a few downsides.
Starting with the scary winter weather commutes, bone-chilling outdoor supervision at -16C, or the daily loss of at least a half hour of instructional time while students remove their winter wear or gear up for recess. Today I was convinced that a child went out for recess and returned as a snowman. It was touch and go whether we would need a lifeguard on duty once all of the snow the students brought inside began to melt.

Then, there’s the realization, that maybe, just maybe I missed assessing something for my upcoming report cards. That sent a shiver down my spine. In my mind I just wrote report cards a few weeks ago. 10 weeks is a few, right?

The end of January signals the half way mark of our instructional year and things are clicking in the classroom. We have our routines back in place, students have shown a lot of growth since September, and there is a feeling of hope in the air at times. Maybe that’s tied to the temperature rising a few degrees and for the days when the trek between the portapack and the main building does not require a Sherpa or tethering students to a guide rope. With chilly temperatures, indoor recesses, and daylight still getting longer, this time of year can sneak up on your mental health and well being to blind side you when your not expecting it.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sherpa_Glacier,_Cascades.JPG#file CC BY-SA 4.0
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sherpa_Glacier,_Cascades.JPG#file CC BY-SA 4.0

Today, a student was having a bad day. No one saw it coming. I was called into another class to provide support. The student was experiencing an anxiety attack. The entire class was genuinely concerned for them, and offered their support and kind words. Seeing this warmed my heart on a chilly day, but it also screamed about the fragility that exists in our learners. In my opinion, we never get the whole picture of our students lives. Finding time to fit it all in beyond the superficialities is difficult when deadlines and commitments loom.

Although we are in each others’ presence 6+ hours per day, we are often humans doing more so than humans being aware of one another when they are feeling sad, frustrated, or stressed. I am finding it more and more important to let students vent about what is weighing on their minds. Yes, it’s during instructional time, but it is an absolutely integral part of my classroom mental health strategy.

If my students are sharing from their hearts, they will also know they are being heard in a safe and supportive space. If we miss these chances in favour of trudging through the lessons hoping it will just go away, or that the student will get over it in time, then we are at risk of missing our opportunity to help our students when they need us most. There is a downside to this that could lead to depression, disconnection, and despair.

In his 2017 TEDxKitchenerEd Talk, Andrew Campbell shares the reason why he meets his students at the door each day. While watching him share this incredibly personal message, I wondered whether all of the other educators in the theatre wanted to be back at school at that very minute to greet their own students. I know the next day couldn’t come fast enough for me. I wanted to make sure they knew they mattered, that our classroom cared, and that even though we had just started the year, I cared too. It is only through these connections with students that I see any learning made truly possible.

The choice of whether to support, stand still, or dismiss could mean the world of difference to someone who is struggling. Choosing to connect and care over the curriculum at times may be the cure. No downside there.