On April 26, 2023, Public Health Dietitians, the BC Ministry of Health and Farm to School BC presented a webinar entitled "Teach Food First: A Food Exploration Approach to Nutrition Education". This webinar teaches participants how BC schools are using food exploration as a student-centered approach to teach nutrition and Canada’s food guide. Through provincial collaboration, BC is working to implement a consistent approach to nutrition education that focuses on building food skills and exploring the broader role of food in our lives. This approach has been linked with long-term, positive eating attitudes and behaviors.
During this webinar, participants learned about the best practices for teaching about food and nutrition, and a newly developed educator toolkit - Teach Food First. This comprehensive toolkit offers lessons for grades K-8 that:
Connect with Canada’s food guide and the British Columbia Curriculum
Are grade-specific and age-appropriate
Consider equity and cultural inclusivity
The “Teach Food First” toolkit was developed by the BC Ministry of Health and the BC Centre for Disease Control in partnership with public health dietitians, BC teachers, and Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. See our FAQ below for more information.
Emilia Moulechkova, MPH, Registered Dietitian Emilia (she/her/hers) is a population health dietitian with Northern Health Authority. She works with schools, educators, and community partners to promote healthy eating and supportive food environments for school-age children. In this role, and as part of her Master’s practicum, she has supported various aspects of the Teach Food First toolkit. She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) and Bachelor of Sciences in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of British Columbia, and a Master of Public Health from Waterloo. She is a first generation settler living on the traditional and unceded lands of the Tsimshian peoples, colonially known as Terrace.
Simone Jennings, Registered Dietitian Simone (she/her/hers) is a public health dietitian with the Healthy Communities team at Interior Health. She has 14 years of experience supporting food literacy education in schools and using current evidence to inform best practices for teaching nutrition. Simone participated in the provincial working group that developed the Teach Food First toolkit and is a lead creator for the Hands on Food resource. Simone holds a Bachelor of Sciences in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of British Columbia. She is grateful to live and work on the traditional, unceded territories of the Secwepemc peoples.
Sonya Rokosh, Community Animator, Farm to School BC and BC Certified Teacher Sonya Rokosh (she/her/hers) is the community animator for the Kamloops Regional Hub of Farm to School BC. She takes a community development approach to expanding Farm to School initiatives across the region. Sonya is also a BC certified teacher, and for the past four years has had a primary focus on outdoor education and experiential learning. She is currently completing her MA in Environmental Education and Communication from Royal Roads University. Sonya lives and works on the traditional, unceded territories of the Secwepemc peoples.
Natalie Laframboise, MScFN, Registered Dietitian Natalie is a manager in the Office of Nutrition Policy & Promotion at the BC Ministry of Health. Since 2010, Natalie has worked in Population and Public Health at the Ministry providing leadership for several nutrition policy files including the Trans Fat Regulation, Feed BC in Health Care, and sodium and sugary drink reduction. Natalie is also responsible for school-age nutrition policies, programs and resources including Teach Food First and the Guidelines for Food & Beverage Sales in BC schools. With gratitude, Natalie lives and works on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen peoples of the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.
The Coalition would like to thank our presenters for sharing their experience and their expertise. We would also like to thank all the participants for taking part in the webinar.
Your presentation suggested avoiding categorizing foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ when teaching about nutrition. If we don’t explicitly tell kids which foods are ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ then how will they learn to eat nutritious foods?
Just like any other skill, young children learn best from experiencing food in pressure-free ways. Food exploration through seeing it grow, reading a story about it, touching it, preparing it, and sharing food with classmates are all important aspects of learning about food and nutrition. Telling kids what foods to eat “to be healthy” can backfire and does not help them learn to enjoy a variety of foods. For some kids this can also be stigmatizing, particularly if they have limited access to nutritious foods at home.
We also want to recognize the broader role of food in our lives; eating is personal and context dependent. For example, exploring the role of food in enjoyment, culture, traditions and celebrations supports overall wellness and a positive relationship with food. Food is more than just nutrients and it’s important to acknowledge this in classroom education.
It can also be reassuring to know that one of the best ways we implicitly teach healthy eating is when children see what is offered in a meal and snack, day in and day out. Based on the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, it is the adults’ role to decide what types of foods to serve kids. In the school setting this means offering nutritious options in meal and snack programs (caregivers are responsible for lunches packed from home). At school, sitting and eating with students, when possible, can be a powerful way to role-model enjoyment of food and social norms such as table manners. At home, families can do the same, while also including foods that are important to their family context.
Many of us advocate for nutritious school food and work to create healthy school food environments. How can we bridge this work with our understanding of what you shared about teaching students about food and nutrition?
It’s important to acknowledge that there is a difference between advocating for access to nutritious school food versus teaching young students about food and nutrition. The former are conversations amongst adults. The latter is talking, teaching and role modeling to children.
Being well nourished supports students' ability to learn. This is one of many reasons we know that it is important to create school food environments and policies that make it easier for all students to access nutritious foods at school. In the classroom setting the focus is promoting food acceptance and a positive relationship with food. The Teach Food First toolkit supports educators with creating meaningful learning experiences that build students’ curiosity and comfort with foods.
In line with the Comprehensive School Health Framework, educational approaches should be offered alongside school food environments and policies that promote access to nutritious foods at school and enough time to eat. Using the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, schools are uniquely positioned to support students by exposing them to foods they may not experience elsewhere, which can help broaden their food acceptance. When explaining or advocating for school food policies, consider using positively framed language that describes the benefits of improving access to nutritious foods to all students, in a stigma-free way.
For more information and lessons plans that offer a food exploration approach check out:
Teach Food First Lessons, grades K-8 - offers a searchable database of lessons that use food exploration to teach about Canada’s Food Guide, including traditional foods lessons.
Foundational Knowledge Document – This Teach Food First Resource is a ‘setting the table’ document that supports educators to teach the First Nations Traditional Foods Lesson Plans for grades K-8.
Hands on Food - is a collection of lesson plans that use experiential learning to teach food skills and food systems concepts. Topics include growing, cooking and preserving food, and limiting food waste. Lessons connect to the BC curriculum and are targeted to grades 4-7, but can be adapted for any grade.