Turning Food Into Fun Learning Games At School 

The topic of Health as a subject at school came up during yesterday’s dinner, specifically, how boring it is to be told what to eat … 

“All. 

The. 

Time.” <insert yawn>

Lessons about food in the classroom are typically mandated by higher powers, with the noble intentions of persuading children to consume more fruits and vegetables. This mandate encourages classroom lessons about food that is healthy, and virtuous lunch bag policing of food that is not. I’ve discussed why this approach is problematic here. I’m also interested in solutions that strengthen the relationship between educators and parents, to the benefit of children, and their various needs and eating ability.  

So when the subject came up, I turned the table over to the kids. I wanted to demonstrate to them how it is possible to bring food into an educational discussion that doesn’t involve virtue or persuasion. Specifically, I wanted to find out what they wanted to learn about food using the same reference that guides the Healthy Eating portion of the Health and Physical Education curriculum. It wasn’t difficult to structure a conversation based on Canada’s Food Guide that doesn’t discuss what we should and shouldn’t be eating. 

What do you want to learn about vegetables?

MissA: What vegetables grow in New Zealand?

TJ: Why do teachers keep telling me I have to eat them?

Miss Adventure’s response has potential for an introduction to geography, science, and social studies. Why do certain climates produce food that is difficult to grow in other regions? How is food imported from one country to another? Who can spot seasonal variations in the produce available at your local grocery store? How does demand for certain foods in one country affect the economy of another, and who benefits most from the exchange of these goods? 

TJ’s response is an indication that a change in approach is overdue. It adds additional challenges to parents of children who struggle with the taste and texture of vegetables. It’s hard to introduce a rainbow when children are tired of being told they can’t be healthy unless they eat food they find noxiously offensive. 

What do you want to learn about fruit?

MissA: What kind of apple tastes the best.

SE: Why does fruit have seeds and vegetables don’t?

In grade 4, my children were learning about graphs, and mean, medium and averages in math. With parent permission, children could each bring their favourite apple to school and each classmate could try a taste, rate it on a scale of preference, and record the results. “No thank you” could certainly be one those options. 

TJ has a very interesting question. How does seedless fruit reproduce? How do vegetables grow? Students could be responsible for nurturing a seed they collect from a favourite fruit, and observe it growing into a plant. 

What do you want to learn about dairy?

MissA: What makes milk skim – what does this mean?

SE: Why does chocolate milk taste so much better than plain milk?

“Dairy” is a term I chose to see if the kids understood what this means as a food group, and because I didn’t want to influence their answers by asking about “Milk and milk alternatives.” MissA wants to understand how the fat content of milk is modified in production. Not surprisingly, both kids are interested in how changes made to milk affects how it tastes more than how healthy milk is as a drink. 

Indeed, milk may not be a healthy drink for some children. Cows milk protein allergy and lactose intolerance are significant concerns. The process of making milk from rice, soy, almonds, hemp, and coconuts introduces children to the purpose of food labels, and the importance of being respectful and empathetic to the needs of peers with specific dietary limitations.

What do you want to learn about grains?

MissA: How is bread made?

SE: What makes bread a grain?

Both are excellent questions. What is the cultural significance of “breaking bread,” and why bread and not peas or carrots? Why don’t we see fields of towering plants with bountiful stems loaded with baguettes and bagels? 

Media literacy could explore the current societal prejudice against gluten. Music and drama could construct musical instruments and devise creative ways to bring these creations into a dramatic presentation. Science can investigate how yeast works. History might explore the origins of pasta and how noodles are traditionally made. 

What do you want to learn about meat?

MissA: Who is the genius that invented bacon

SE: What do people like about meat?

The human race has a long and varied connection with following herds of animals as a food source. Do you think hunting would be easier as a solo activity or as a group? To this day, many traditional societies consider a successful hunt cause for celebration. What special occasions do you celebrate that brings your family together around food?

It is very possible to use food as a common reference for any subject in the curriculum and at any grade level. If you are a school administrator interested in supporting students toward a healthy relationship with food, and building a stronger school community, let’s talk.

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