By Megan Bisbee ‘16
The concept of advocacy is an important facet of the education field. As teachers, it is our duty to advocate for changes in the system that benefit our students. I am choosing to focus on the topic of nutrition, especially helping families make healthier eating and lifestyle choices. I feel that it is important to consider families when talking about healthy food choices because they are the ones providing students with food. By encouraging schools and families to work together to create healthy lifestyle choices, we can provide our students with the necessary nutrition to grow and develop in all aspects.
As we have discussed in class, children need proper nutrition in order to grow and develop. When a child eats a healthy and varied diet, they are less likely to get sick and are able to lead a positive and stress-free life. Students in the classroom also need to be adequately nourished because it prepares them for the long school day ahead of them. They can focus because they are not distracted by discomfort due to hunger and are able to fully participate in classroom activities. The benefits of well-balanced nutrition are far reaching; however, it is also the easiest thing to neglect.
According to a report done by the Food and Nutrition Service (2010), “Americans are not consistent with the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Most Americans eat too few fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products, while consuming too much of fat, sweetened beverages, and sodium” (p.1). It is not just our kids that are exposed to unhealthy and unbalanced diets, it is Americans in general. Regardless of age, ethnicity, or income level, Americans are missing out on key dietary components ([FNS], 2010, p. 1-2). Because of this, I believe that bringing families into the equation is necessary if we are going to educate our students on healthy eating. According to Marotz (2010), “Families are children’s first and most important teachers. They shape children’s early attitudes and health/safety practices through an ongoing combination of direct instruction, incidental learning, and modeling of adult behaviors” (p. 291). As educators, we know that consistent and positive contact with families is the best way to help our students, as it promotes a healthy and reciprocal relationship between families and teachers. Family involvement is the best way to improve the likelihood that learning experiences will be reinforced at home. This also reduces anxiety and frustration that students may feel when they receive information at school that is inconsistent or contradicted by family values and customs (Marotz, 2010, p. 291).
While many families understand that nutrition is important, it can be difficult to put these healthy habits into practice. Some families lack financial resources to make proper nutrition a possibility while others are simply too far away from an adequate grocery store. Research done by the United States Department of Agriculture points to a clear relationship among the distance of grocery stores and nutrition. For example, “in 2010, 9.7 percent of the U.S population lived in low-income areas more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket. The diet quality of these consumers may be compromised by their food environments” (Rahkovsky & Snyder, 2015). According to the Food and Nutrition Service’s Report to Congress (2010), “As the relationship among diet, health, and disease prevention have become clearer, nutrition education and the promotion of healthy eating behaviors and lifestyles continue to receive increased attention” (p. 3). Because proper nutrition is under national scrutiny, several organizations have been implemented to combat this growing problem. For instance, many schools in low income areas are providing free and reduced breakfast, lunch, and snack that are consistent with the food pyramid and provide students with important nutrients from fresh vegetables and fruits. In order to successfully help our students receive proper nutrition, I am advocating that schools and child-care facilities bring families into the conversation about healthy food and lifestyle choices. I am also advocating that schools provide families with options that are available to them to help families succeed in their quest towards a healthier lifestyle.
Other avenues for action to educate families and children on proper nutrition can occur in a variety of ways. For example, a classroom teacher may teach a unit on healthy food choices and can set up a free healthy cooking demonstration and invite families and parents in to learn together. Another avenue for action would be to include healthy meal and snack ideas into the classroom newsletter sent home for the families to read. On a larger scale, school districts can hold nutrition nights and invite all families in the district to learn easy ways to make healthier food and lifestyle choices. Families could also have the opportunity to learn about healthy initiatives in the local community or federal programs that they may qualify for.
While educating students and families on proper nutrition is something that educators should strive to do, there are roadblocks that can make this task difficult. For example, some families may feel insulted by a teacher or administrator trying to give them advice on how to raise their child. This can be minimized by establishing a positive relationship with the family first and by using proper and nonjudgmental language. Another roadblock that may occur is a family’s ability to provide healthy food choices. Many families have two parents that work full-time jobs or may work two or three jobs in order to pay the bills. Because of this, they may rely on fast food options that are cheap and quick rather than taking the time to prepare a nutritious home-cooked meal. Finally, as stated before, the availability of fresh ingredients and wholesome foods may be a challenge especially for families in urban and rural settings. While educating families on how to make healthy choices is a wonderful idea, it may be nearly impossible for some families to actually accomplish these goals.
Adequate nutrition is necessary for students’ growth, development, and academic achievement. Currently our nation is experiencing a nutritional crisis as many Americans are not consuming well-balanced meals and are instead ingesting high volumes of sodium and sugars. By advocating for student and family nutrition, we can help provide our students and their families with the necessary knowledge and skills to make lifelong healthy choices.
Food and Nutrition Service, (2010). Nutrition Education and Promotion: The Role of FNS in Helping Low-Income Families Make Healthier Eating and Lifestyle Choices, 1-22.
Marotz, L. (2010). Planning for Children’s Health and Safety Education. Kerr, D. (Ed.), Health, Safety, and Nutrition for the Young Child (290-315). California: Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.
Rahkovsky, I., & Snyder, S. (2015). Food Choices and Store Proximity. United States Department of Agriculture, ERR-195, 1-30.