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By Jen Arbo (she/her), parent, New Westminster

Earlier this school year, my child brought home a photocopied sheet to track both the amount of sleep they got each night as well as their food intake for a week-long period. Mine is a diligent student, so each day they carefully tracked how much sleep they had and what food went into their body. No context was included on the log, simply a list of foods and check-boxes indicating hours of sleep. 

While great for math, statistics, or measurement lessons, food logging isn’t the most effective way to learn about food. In fact, food logs could have unintended consequences and long-term implications related to food security, shame, and disordered eating. Food logs are comparative, are assessed by someone who isn’t a health professional, and have few learning outcomes that will help children navigate the world. As well, food logs do not consider cultural preferences and have little correlation to an individual’s unique scenario based on activity levels and overall health. 

The Canada Food Guide gives us current, science-based approaches to healthy eating, but children and families who are living in poverty often don’t have the ability to choose, for example, whole grains over processed grains. According to Food Banks Canada, 1.1 million Canadians accessed food banks in March 2019, with two out of every five food bank clients being children or youth. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated those numbers, with some food banks reporting a 50% increase in demand. While community groups and school districts offer some support for hungry kids, students logging their food only reinforces the gaps they’re experiencing—gaps that are beyond their control.

Inclusive and culturally appropriate approaches to learning about nutrition in schools need not be onerous on educators. Here are some ideas to make the lessons on food a bit spicier.

Look at the big picture
Logs are granular; they are a snapshot of a moment in time and don’t show the big picture. The week my child logged their food, there was a welcome back picnic at school and a family get-together. Both times we had burgers, hot dogs, pop, and chips. Taken on their own, these food choices aren’t necessarily the most nutrient dense; but in the big picture, these meals were fun, social activities with food as the common theme that brought us together. After 18 months of living through a global pandemic, having some laughs over sugary sodas and fatty foods was much more important than a log that failed to consider regular eating patterns.

Get them excited about food
Students, especially the young ones, are curious scientists who have questions about how the world around them works. Logging food is a performative chore. Instead, app-roach lessons about healthy eating by seeking answers to questions they might already have. How do nutrients actually fuel the body? What is a carb? How is their favourite snack actually made? What do they wonder? As a group, classes can explore the answers and brainstorm solutions. 

For older students, exercises related to critical thinking, reading nutrition and ingredient labels, and understanding how misinformation is used to market food are valuable as they approach their adult lives. Science has evolved, and certain aspects, such as metrics used to measure health or body weight, are being refuted by experts as more research is uncovered. 

Arming students with the tools necessary to think of their own unique bodies as they come across information will assist them in the long term. This act of checking in with their bodies will help with understanding fullness cues, and can help them understand factors that make them reach for specific food items.

Understanding diversity
We’ve probably all heard the expression “eat the rainbow.” This refers to the idea that humans should strive to eat as many varied fruits and vegetables as possible, trying new flavours, textures, and colours. But “the rainbow” should really extend beyond produce: diverse diets in general ensure your body gets access to a variety of nutrients from a variety of sources. 

Understanding diversity in human diets is also a great topic for students to explore. Access to culturally appropriate foods is an important part of “food sovereignty,” which extends the concept of food security. While “food security” refers to ensuring access to enough food, “food sovereignty” is the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food, produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. With students learning more and more about life from a global perspective, studying these concepts will support them and help them understand food production around the world.  

Encourage eating together!
While the pandemic may have limited in-class celebrations where students bring foods from home to share, it doesn’t stop students from planning dishes and full menus they could eat together with their families or daydream the meal they’d serve their idols or heroes if they ever had the chance. What does their parent love to eat? What ingredients would they need to prepare it? What is their favourite Olympian’s favourite snack? What is the latest pop star’s pre-concert meal? What would their favourite comic book or video game character eat for lunch? There is so much fun to be had in dreaming up those perfect celebration meals.

Ultimately, lessons about food and healthy eating need to cultivate a sense of playfulness and endless possibility in order to stick. Looking outside a standard food log can really add the zest you might need to make sure all students feel included and excited to dig in about food.

Visit linktr.ee/LeaveLogsBehind for links to food and nutrition resources.

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Category/Topic: Teacher Magazine