Great Questions Lead to Great Learning Opportunities

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What, how, where, when and why we eat are just some of the many questions that your students may have when it comes to the wide breadth of topics connected to healthy eating and food literacy. How can we support all students to feel educated, inspired, and empowered to make informed choices about their health and well-being? Let’s spark change in how students are learning about food!

March is Nutrition Month and in connection with this year’s “Ingredients for a Healthier Tomorrow” theme, which recognizes that the factors that influence the future health of Canadians and the food they eat are challenging and complex; we’re exploring how to nourish food literate learners through using an inquiry-based approach.

Inquiry-Based Learning; A Powerful Launching Pad to Learning

In grade 4, students will:

D1.1 identify the key nutrients[1]

D2.1 identify personal eating habits through self-monitoring over time, and set a goal for developing healthier eating habits, on the basis of the recommendations and guidelines in Canada’s Food Guides[2]

D3.1 identify ways of promoting healthier eating habits in a variety of settings and situations[3]

A grade 4 teacher displays four pictures of lunch meals at the front of the class:

  • Picture A shows a cheese sandwich on white bread, with a side of chips and a banana.
  • Picture B shows prepackaged crackers and cheese, a granola bar, an apple, and a mini chocolate bar.
  • Picture C shows a thermos of homemade fried rice, some grapes, and a juice box.
  • Picture D has a question mark on it. Students can decide what their ideal lunch would be.

The teacher poses a few overarching questions, followed by some analytical questions that invite students to make a choice and provide support and justification for their choices:

  • “Which lunch is the most appealing to you? Which foods would you enjoy eating, describe why?”
  • “Later this afternoon we have physical education outside on the school field. Which lunch would be the best choice for you and why?”
  • “Describe the process it may have taken to prepare each lunch. What factors do you think this person(s) had to consider when preparing this meal?”

Students are given time to discuss their replies with their peers, and then invited to share their responses with the whole group:

  • “I have a big family and my grandparents cook for everyone, including myself and my three siblings. We all help out in some way because any meal we make together is a big job! Sometimes it’s just easier to pack leftovers for lunches the next day because it saves our family time. So, Picture C is my choice.”
  • “I love chips, and I cannot resist the salty taste! I find that I enjoy what I’m eating when I have something to munch on the side of my meal. Picture A is my kind of lunch!”
  • “My mom takes care of my brother and I, and I know she has her hands full because she also works two jobs. I don’t mind Picture B for my lunch, this is something I can easily pack on my own to help my mom out. It would be nice to also learn how to cook and prepare my own meals one day!”
  • “I know that on the days we have Physical Education class, my body needs more food to fuel me because I’ll be moving more than other days. I’m not picky with my food, so any of the lunches I would like to eat. If I had the opportunity, I’d add more snacks to the lunch so that I’m able to have food choices when I know I’m hungrier on the days I have Physical Education.”

The sample provocation activity introduces grade 4 students to the topic of Healthy Eating in Health Education class. By asking open-ended and thought-provoking questions, students were invited to explore a particular understanding of this topic, while eliciting the students to take a position with the knowledge and experience they have, while respecting the diversity of their backgrounds. The inquiry-based approach at the beginning of the unit also provides the students an opportunity to share their current knowledge and understanding of the topic, while respecting the uniqueness of each individual background and experiences with food. 

By taking an inquiry stance, an educator can gently guide students in exploring the same topic in different ways by helping them to formulate their own questions—meeting students where they are at and building on their prior knowledge. Good inquiry questions foster higher-order thinking, and allow educators to approach topic areas with an inclusive and equitable lens.

Building Food Literacy for ALL Learners

The Healthy Eating component of “the Healthy Living strand equips students with the knowledge and skills they need to make the healthiest eating choices they can. Students learn to examine their own food choices and eating patterns and develop personal guidelines for healthier eating, while working within the parameters that they can control.”[4] In our Building Healthy Eating Habits and Food Literacy Skills with the H&PE Curriculum webinar blog it is explained that the learning in the topic of Healthy Eating in both the elementary and secondary Health and Physical Education curricula also promotes the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to foster Food Literacy skills.

One thing the pandemic has brought increased attention to is the inequities faced by families of differing socio-economic backgrounds. As a Registered Dietitian, Cara Rosenbloom, raised in our Finding Balance in Precarious Times article, equity is a huge issue when it comes to nutrition. “Everybody has to be starting from the same place. That means equal access to healthy food and programs for nutrition and food literacy. We’re not even close.” And although educators cannot be expected to address this systemic problem on their own, there are things we can do to help.

“We can make sure that children are at least taught the basics of food skills and nutrition beginning in kindergarten and going up to grade 12,” suggested Rosenbloom. Educators can reach out for support in this area whenever possible. Aside from consulting Canada’s Food Guide, this might also mean turning to resources like Ophea’s Healthy Eating Lesson Plans, and Ophea’s Ideas for Action: Healthy Eating, or even calling-in an expert for help and advice.

Inquiry as an Entry Point to Equity

Educators are always finding collaborative and creative opportunities for students to learn the expectations within the Healthy Eating topic to appreciate, enjoy, and build a positive relationship with food. Building a physically and emotionally safe environment for learning where educators recognize and respect the diversity of their students will set students up for success.

Applying an Inquiry-Based Learning approach is an active teaching and learning process that is intentional, student-centred, and provides opportunities for students to share their perspective and experiences in a physically and emotionally safe environment. Addressing equity in the topics of Healthy Eating and Food Literacy is a multi-dimensional challenge. Educators are encouraged to reflect on their own attitudes, biases and values within these topics, and are encouraged to seek current resources, supports and professional learning opportunities, as necessary to support continued growth too.

Questions for educators to pause and reflect include:

  • When you create the space and take the time to listen to your students' conversations about food, how might this impact your teaching practice?
  • Where do you see your role reflected when facilitating learning in the topic of Healthy Eating and Food Literacy?
  • How will you use the Inquiry-Based Learning approach to validate culture, background, and the unique experiences of all your students?
  • What is a first step you can take to help create a safe, inclusive, and caring environment when learning about Food Literacy? 

For support, access our Inquiry-Based Learning resource and additional information through our related webinar recordings:

For more activities and information on food literacy and H&PE, check out the Food for Thought – Improving Food Literacy free online resource. The resource integrates food literacy and media literacy into discussions about healthy eating which provides students with the skills they need to make healthier food choices in a variety of settings, taking into account the factors within their control.

This resource also includes access to Growing Chefs! Ontario’s suite of food education resources that are available to support students’ and school communities’ engagement with food in meaningful and safe ways through lesson plans, interactive resources, and fun activities too!

Let’s keep the conversation going! Share with us @OpheaCanada on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


[1] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 172). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf

[2] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 175). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf

[3] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 179). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf

[4] Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 41). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf