12 Things Foodie Teachers Can Do to Help Their Kids Learn About Health
I became a teacher because of the wonderful teachers I had growing up. The early years in school were my favorite. I thrived! I was happy and successful. Even accounting for hiccups in middle school and high school (I’m going to blame teenage hormones for those detours!), I became a successful and curious learner. I graduated from a good college and even went to grad school.
So how did I get there? Passion. Some of my teachers were passionate about their content area, others were passionate about a specific skill or hobby they had, but the principal ingredient to their success with students was passion.
Now is a good time to point out that family members are children’s first teachers. And all teachers, from birth to grad school, have the ability to affect the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of the students we are privileged to teach. It is an ENORMOUS responsibility and a great honor.
Any endeavor worth pursuing requires a significant amount of work for success, so it is particularly important for people who work with children to LOVE their chosen career—especially since this generation is facing some terrifying health obstacles:
- Modern Health Epidemics: (e.g., cancer, heart disease, diabetes, learning/behavioral disorders, psychological disorders)
- Scarcity of Resources/Resource Management
Foodies from all walks of life—public service, medical professionals, stay-at-home parents, politicians, etc.— are passionate about REAL food! As foodies, we have the power to educate children in order to improve the quality of their lives and the planet we all share.
Addressing These Concerns In a Public School Classroom
Since my husband and I are both foodie teachers in urban schools, I thought I’d share a little about how we ensure our students have access to information we didn’t even know existed when we were their age. It may also give you ideas to spark discussions at parent-teacher conferences or PTA /school board meetings.
Words are POWER!
Never underestimate the power of language. If students know how to question, discuss, and explain their new knowledge, it is more likely their new knowledge will be passed on, thus creating the basis for lasting change.
Common Vocabulary in our Classrooms: fermented food, processed foods, synthetic, organic, chemicals, preservatives, toxins, natural, pesticides, local, farmer’s, produce, nutrient, energy, antioxidants, oxidized (aka “damaged” in a lower grade).
Top 12 SUPER EASY Things We Do To Teach Kids About for Real Food, Nutrition, and Green Products
1. Show kids our snacks and lunches–When I SHOW the kids what I eat, one of two things occurs. One:If it looks like food (as they know it), it reinforces the idea that home food is GOOD food. Two: My food may look NOTHING like what they are eating and it gets them to ask questions about what my food tastes like, where I buy it, how I cook it, and why I made the choice for those particular ingredients.
2. Provide snack—When I provide the snack, I can make it organic, MSG-free, and avoid low-fat processed “food-like substances.” My kids are better prepared to learn when a) they are not hungry and b) they have good-quality nourishment to fuel their brains! The downside? This typically comes out of my own pocket! However, parents are often willing to donate items or money when they know you are prioritizing their child’s health.
3. Tasting Tuesday—So how do you get kids to taste cilantro, raw sauerkraut, or balsamic vinegar? Well…kids like food. They are basically scavengers. Seriously, they can smell food a mile away! The real secret is not “forcing” them to try it. If they try it, they get free food. If they don’t try it…well, peer pressure when it comes to including whole foods in your diet is one form of “pressure” I’m willing to allow. And kids are very good about encouraging each other and making an apprehensive student feel brave enough to give a new food a chance.
4. Cooking Show—Sometimes I don’t have enough time or volunteers to do a cooking project, so instead we have a “cooking show.” I set up a table at the front of the room and the students become my “audience.” We do a question and answer sessions, I’ll ask for helpers, and I will prepare/cook something they get to eat. They absolutely loved my applesauce and whipped cream “episodes!’5. Books, Books, Books—If food is the way to a man’s heart (let’s be honest, food is the way to ANY foodie’s heart, REGARDLESS of gender!), books ABOUT food are a great vehicle for building knowledge and interest about real food with kids. Great books for teaching include: Green Eggs and Ham (a GREAT way to introduce Tasting Tuesdays!), The Boxcar Children, Jalapeño Bagels (based on Los Bagels of Humboldt County—bonus: they carry gluten-free bagels now!!!!!), The Giant Carrot, Thunder Cake, Blueberries for Sal, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eating the Alphabet, the Laura Numeroff series(Of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie fame), Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Stone Soup, Growing Vegetable Soup, Pumpkin Soup, The Popcorn Book, Strega Nona, Tortilla Factory, The Ugly Vegetables, I Will Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Bread and Jam for Frances, In the Night Kitchen, Gregory the Terrible Eater, and That is NOT a Good Idea!.
6. Dissect an ingredient label—In my husband’s fourth and fifth-grade classes, students are studying ecosystems. It’s the perfect time to show students the origins of the food they eat and have them ascertain if they are actually consuming “food.” Students analyze the make-up of a dinner and study the label of foods they have eaten the night before (IF there is a label). The idea is to track the foods’ composite parts to see if they are natural sources of energy (apple, carrots, cheese, bread, etc.) or a processed ingredient (colors, “natural flavors,” chemicals/preservatives, etc.). In other words, the final result of the activity is to find out if students actually ate “food” or “food-like” substances. This is always a very eye-opening experience and my husband notes the increase of simple snacks in the days that follow (fruit/veggies/sandwiches) as opposed to glow-in-the-dark yogurt or cupcakes at 10 in the morning. 7. Allow them to eat in class—As a professional, when I’m at a meeting I don’t think twice about using the restroom, eating a snack, or getting a drink of water. Why shouldn’t my students have the same basic human rights? I am a huge advocate of drinking if you’re thirsty and using the restroom as needed. Period. My husband took it a step further and allowed student to eat real food snacks in the classroom, during instruction (anything homemade or out of a package were the requirements). Kids who used to bring Hot Cheetos and Go-gurt began bringing fresh fruit, vegetables, and cheese for snack.
In my classroom, kids drink water like crazy! And yes, I *know* they aren’t always thirsty, but they need a mental break and a chance to stretch their legs—who cares? When they come back, they are more prepared to focus and learn. The moral: let the kids eat when they’re hungry, drink when they thirsty, and pee when they have to! It’s that simple.
8. Hand-washing—Seriously. Let kids WASH their hands! Don’t apply chemically-laden junk (i.e. commercial hand-sanitizer) to their hands. Take 4 minutes out of the day (a few times a day) to teach kids how to wash their hands in a sanitary and environmentally appropriate way (i.e., turn OFF the water while you’re scrubbing!). During the last outbreak of stomach flu at my school, my class was the only first-grade class unaffected! I know it something to do with the fact that we wash our hands a minimum of 3 times throughout the day! Yay for simple preventative measures!
9. Essential Oils in the classroom—This has been SO much fun! Ever since I became a distributor of Young Living essential oils (which I did as much for my personal as professional life!), the kids are hooked! They ask what the purpose of the oils are (medicinal properties), comment on how the oils make them feel, and I notice it increases their happiness and engagement while at school. Side note: Since I began using my diffuser, I have had MORE visitors in my room than EVER before. People are just following their noses, hahaha! For more information on my preferred brand of essential oils, read more HERE.
10. Coconut Oil/Tallow Balm/Healing Salve—For my kids who suffer from eczema, dry skin, or a scrape throughout the day, I always have natural alternatives in the classroom. Anti-bacterial/anti-viral coconut oil, healing salve (even for bruises!), or skin soothing tallow balm is a great resource for anyone who wants to keep toxic chemicals off little ones’ precious skin (get more info on coconut oil HERE; tallow balm HERE, and Fiddlebump’s Healing Salve HERE)
11. Non-Toxic Cleaning Products—Our skin is our largest organ. If I am taking the time to feed my students real food and having them wash their hands to avoid chemicals in commercial hand sanitizers, then I also need to be committed to non-toxic cleaning products. I use the Thieves household cleaner by Young Living, you can make your own (check out Fiddlebump’s recipe for hand sanitizer), or purchase the book Green Clean, which features TONS of DIY non-toxic household options.
12. Grow something—This seemingly easy activity is a challenge in my school…where we practically have no windows. Yup, I said it—we have 1 darkly tinted window per class. Some teachers load up a cart and push it in the sunshine throughout the day for growing experiments. I like to do starter seeds and send them home for the kids to take care of in a sunny window. I also aim for the end product and share food from my garden. The reality is, nowadays, the idea of growing things that are edible seem like magic to kids and a goal of mine is fundraising for a school garden. The novelty of growing your own food could really be capitalized on and turned into a force that propels kids to eat real foods from a local source!
I know there are MANY more things we can all do to help kids become as healthy as possible…this is just the first installment of a series I hope spans my professional career
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