Creating a Safe and Inclusive Learning Environment

“Connections to the home are important. Students bring their learning home to their families, and they have variable amounts of control over the food they eat at home and the food they bring to school. Educators need to consider these realities and be aware of issues such as poverty, food allergies and sensitivities, eating disorders and weight preoccupation, and social and cultural practices in order to ensure that the learning is presented with sensitivity. Using a flexible and balanced approach and avoiding rigidity regarding food rules and guidelines can reduce potential triggers to body image and eating concerns. Sensitivity regarding weight and shape and personal values regarding ‘what is healthy’ are important when considering instruction. What can always be stressed, however, is that healthy eating and regular physical activity are essential requirements for maintaining good health over the long term”.1

Tips for Talking about Healthier Food Choices:

  • Keep in mind the “do no harm” approach to teaching about healthy eating.
  • Focus on the idea and wording of “making healthier food choices.” Avoid food-shaming language like “good food” or “bad food,” which are words that can be damaging and judgmental and may make children think that if the food they eat is bad, then they are also “bad.” This can harm their self-esteem. Remember, many kids don’t have a lot of choice and eat whatever they are given or have access to. We never want to make a student feel bad about that.
  • Emphasize that some foods are more helpful than others at helping our bodies grow, learn, and play.
  • Focus on behaviours that support healthier eating, such as awareness of food marketing techniques, food labels, and how to make wise menu choices.
  • Emphasize: developing healthier eating habits given the factors within their control; making healthier choices on a regular basis to support healthier eating patterns; and the knowledge that healthy eating patterns are developed over time.
  • Use terminology that empowers students: “more nutritious,” “minimally processed,” “limiting highly processed foods,” “making healthier choices,” “making different food choices,” and “making the healthiest choice available.”
  • Avoid sharing personal views about food, dieting, and body weight.
  • Celebrate that healthy bodies come in every shape and size.
  • Keep messages food-positive and avoid negative or fear-based statements like “Avoid X food because it isn’t healthy.”
  • Respect that families may define “healthy food” differently and children have different health needs.
  • Respect traditional foods or eating habits from a student’s cultural or religious background. Never make these seem unusual or different, even if it’s new to you – remember it’s not unusual or new to them!
  • Remember to focus on more than just the nutritional value of foods. Food education also covers where food comes from, what students enjoy eating at home and when they are out, which foods are part of holidays and customs, family time, cooking, environmentalism, grocery shopping tips, and so on.

1 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1–8: Health and Physical Education, page 42.