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Pros and Cons of Making Food and Nutrition Compulsory Subjects

Fresh apples and grapes at a farmers market
Fresh apples and grapes at a farmers market | Source

The Importance of Studying Food and Nutrition

Knowing how to choose and prepare healthy and nutritious food is a very important skill in life. A healthy diet supports the immune system and reduces the occurrence of many diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and some kinds of cancer. Being healthy improves the quality of a person's life and decreases public health care costs.

According to WHO (the World Health Organization), obesity has become a "global epidemic". Even children are becoming obese and developing type 2 diabetes. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that almost 36% of U.S. adults and about 17% of U.S. children are obese.

Obesity is probably caused by a combination of factors, but many health experts feel that the increasing incidence of the disorder is being fueled in part by our increased reliance on highly processed foods and large serving sizes.

In many cities and towns, the pressure to follow the junk food lifestyle is intense. This is especially true for young people. They need to discover the benefits of a healthy diet and learn about foods that support this diet. They also need to learn cooking skills and realize that foods which are nutritious can also taste delicious.

Whole grain bread is a nutritious food.
Whole grain bread is a nutritious food. | Source

Food and Nutrition Classes in Schools

The topics of food and nutrition are often discussed in other school subjects, such as science, biology, family studies or home economics. This may be a successful tactic, provided enough hours are assigned to the food and nutrition sections of the courses.

Ideally, food and nutrition should be studied in the same course. The food preparation and cooking component of the course will give students practical experience to help them in their daily lives. The nutrition part of the course will give students a theoretical background and should help them understand how the treatment of foods affects their nutrient level. It may also enable them to perform lab experiments related to nutrition.

I think that a specialized course is especially important in the older grades so that food and nutrition can be covered in depth and the relationships between them emphasized. However food and nutrition are studied, though, there is a strong case for making the topics compulsory for both genders in at least some grades. Improving the health of the upcoming generation is vitally important, not only for the sake of individual students and their families but also for the sake of public health budgets.

Fresh fruit is nutritious and delicious.
Fresh fruit is nutritious and delicious. | Source

Advantages of Food and Nutrition Courses

Food and nutrition courses offer many valuable benefits to students. For example, the courses can enable students to:

  • use food preparation equipment
  • use different cooking techniques
  • follow a recipe
  • understand the health benefits of specific foods, nutrients and additives
  • understand the potential dangers of certain food ingredients and additives
  • evaluate the contents in recipes and the ingredients listed on food packages
  • prepare and store food safely
  • take precautions to prevent foodborne illness
  • discover healthier ways to make their favorite foods while maintaining a food's appealing taste
  • discover ways to buy healthy foods and ingredients cheaply
  • eat interesting foods that they haven't tried before
  • eat foods from other cultures
  • develop an interest in creating new recipes
  • support their health and the health of their present and future family through the diet

A food and nutrition course can teach students about the taste and health benefits of spices, such as this star anise.
A food and nutrition course can teach students about the taste and health benefits of spices, such as this star anise. | Source

More Benefits of a Food and Nutrition Course

A good food and nutrition course teaches students thinking and analytical skills, especially at the senior level. These skills will be valuable in other subject areas and in other areas of life. The course may:

  • teach students to evaluate the results of nutrition experiments.
  • help them assess the reliability of nutritional claims made on the Internet and reported in the media
  • help them assess the different nutrient needs of people in different stages of their life cycle
  • help them to appreciate the different dietary preferences of different groups of people
  • help them appreciate the effects of a food choice on the environment or on other people
  • teach students first aid techniques for injuries that may appear during food preparation
  • enable them to learn gardening skills as they grow some of their own produce in a school garden
  • introduce them to careers in the areas of food and nutrition

Growing Food in a School Garden

A Problem - No Time or Teacher for a Specialized Class

No Time in the Curriculum

Although teaching food and nutrition in school may sound like a good idea, there are some problems with the plan. Some schools struggle to find time in the curriculum for subjects other than the core ones. Language arts, math, science and social studies must be allotted a specific number of hours in the school year. Often physical education, a computer course and a second language are required subjects, too. There are many other worthy subjects vying for time in the curriculum, such as music, drama and art. There may not be time for a separate food and nutrition course.

In higher grades students are often constrained in their subject choice by college or university admission requirements. Food and nutrition may have to be an elective subject rather than a compulsory subject in these grades.

No Specialist Teacher Available

Another problem is that a school may have no teacher qualified to teach food and nutrition at an advanced level. If there is a qualified teacher, he or she may be too busy teaching other subjects. There may not be enough money in the budget to hire a new teacher if one is needed.

Growing produce in garden is a useful strategy for teaching nutrition.
Growing produce in garden is a useful strategy for teaching nutrition. | Source

Expensive Cooking Ingredients and Equipment

For schools with small budgets, buying recipe ingredients for an entire class or for multiple classes may be difficult financially. This may limit class size and force food and nutrition to be an elective subject. Buying large pieces of equipment like ovens may also be difficult.

Teachers may be able to solve the problems of expensive ingredients or equipment by following some of the following suggestions.

  • If only one oven is available, students could prepare a food that needs to be baked and then give it to the teacher instead of putting it in the oven. The teacher could bake the food during the rest of the day and give the baked goods to the students before they go home. The teacher could bake his or her own sample of the food during class to demonstrate when a product should be taken out of the oven.
  • Portable hotplates are cheaper than stoves, but the teacher needs to be aware of safety issues when using these devices.
  • Students could prepare food in larger groups so that fewer ingredients and less equipment is needed.
  • Students could watch more food being prepared in videos and take less time following recipes themselves. Some hands-on work is necessary for the most effective course, though.
  • Students could prepare only cold or no-bake foods in class and watch the preparation of food that needs to be cooked in videos.
  • Teachers could prepare some foods as a demonstration and share them with the students afterwards.

A healthy salad with low-fat cheese
A healthy salad with low-fat cheese | Source

The Problem of Accommodating Special Diets

Vegans eat no food that comes from animals; vegetarians eat plants, eggs and dairy but no fish or meats. A vegan or vegetarian family won't want their children to learn about the best way to cook salmon or practice making healthy gravies for beef.

Children who don't eat meat could follow a separate recipe that uses a vegan source of protein, such as tofu. Some families with strict dietary requirements may not want their children to be present in the room where certain foods are being prepared or discussed, however.

There may also be health concerns related to the use of specific ingredients in class. For example, people with celiac disease are intolerant to gluten, a substance present in many grains. The gluten damages and destroys the tiny projections on the lining of the small intestine, which are called villi. The villi absorb nutrients from food, so when they aren't functioning properly or are absent serious health problems can develop. The intestine usually heals on a gluten-free diet, but even a small amount of gluten can trigger more damage.

A student with celiac disease mustn't make a product with gluten-free flours while the other students in the class are using a flour that contains gluten. Flour particles containing gluten can drift through the room and settle on the gluten-free flour.

Wild salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to have a number of health benefits. Not everyone wants to eat fish, however.
Wild salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to have a number of health benefits. Not everyone wants to eat fish, however. | Source

Handling the Problem of Different Dietary Requirements

Making food and nutrition an elective subject would solve the problem of accommodating students who have different dietary requirements from the majority of a class or school. However, it may have the unfortunate effect of excluding these students from a popular elective which they would like to take.

If the course is compulsory and a student can't stay in the classroom when a certain recipe is being followed or discussed, he or she could leave the class to work on a written assignment, watch a video or participate in another activity. Separating a student from his or her class isn't a good situation, so the student should return to the classroom as soon as possible. It's important that no student feels bad about being temporarily excluded from a course.

Perhaps at another time the whole class could make a food that incorporates the special dietary requirements of one of its members. This not only makes the class more inclusive but prepares students for the real world when they may have guests that cannot eat certain foods. They may also discover that they love the foods made with alternate ingredients!

Tomatoes have a variety of colours.
Tomatoes have a variety of colours. | Source

A Poll - Food and Nutrition Classes

Do you think that a food and nutrition class should be part of the school curriculum?

See results

Food and Nutrition in the Curriculum

Food and nutrition are very important topics for students and for society. I think that it's essential that the subjects are incorporated into the curriculum in some way in both elementary schools and high schools. Even if the topics can't be taught as a separate course, schools should make sure that all of their students learn about food and nutrition in as many grades as possible.

More Information About Obesity and Nutrition

Child Obesity at the CDC

The WHO Obesity Report

The MyPlate program from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has replaced the familiar food pyramid.

© 2013 Linda Crampton

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Comments 25 comments

anndango 3 years ago

Interesting hub. I agree there needs to be better emphasis on nutrition in schools, and I like how you offer solutions to some of the problems.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit and the comment, anndango!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

No time and no funding in schools for this, which of course is ridiculous but a way of life here in the U.S. Teach to the test and leave everything else out of the curriculum. This stuff should be taught in health classes in every school in America.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. I know exactly what you mean by teaching to the test. This is a troubling phenomenon that is eliminating very valuable subjects from the curriculum. There are so many life skills that students need to learn as they grow up, and some of them are missing out on these skills. Thanks for the visit.


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

This may be one of the most sensible articles I have ever read on the subject of food, nutrition and the escalation of obesity, Alicia. Wait a minute, I take that back. Strike the 'may.' It IS the most sensible, and every parent should share it with their children who are old enough to understand. Voted way Up, m'dear.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, drbj! I appreciate your wonderful comment very much!!


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 3 years ago from Massachusetts

Great hub Alicia. If we want kids to grow up with healthy eating habits we need to start this when they are young. As you stated, this should be a part of every curriculum. We should be introducing this to kids in elementary school. Great job, voting up & sharing.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

This really has been a necessity for decades. Kids have fallen off the bandwagon, due to the fact that both parents have to work, and mom or dad just throw together what they can as quickly as p[ossible after work. Kids can teach their parents important things to get family eating back into the sync that it should be. Heck, when I grew up, I ate well.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Bill. I agree - good eating habits need to begin in elementary school. Thank you very much for the vote and the share!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Deb. Yes, if we teach kids good eating habits they may be able to teach their parents! Diet is a sad problem in some families. Poor eating habits could cause serious problems in the future.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

You deserve to get 100 hub score. My friend, thank you very much for writing this hub and your passion in sharing useful information for us. I always learn from you. Voted up and take care!

Prasetio


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much, Prasetio! I appreciate your lovely comment and your vote. I hope that the upcoming week is a great one for you.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

Wow so very interesting and useful. Here I vote up,across and share.

Have a great day .

Eddy.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Eddy! I appreciate your comment, the votes and the share. I hope that you have a great day too.


wabash annie profile image

wabash annie 3 years ago from Colorado Front Range

Excellent topic and well written hub, with great suggestions. I am a retired special education teacher and incorporated nutrition (also label reading) in my SPED science class at a middle school. The students loved those lessons and remembered what they learned. Your pictures were wonderful and should excite everyone's taste buds!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you so much, wabash annie. I appreciate your comment very much. Thanks for sharing your teaching experience, too!


PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

There really needs to be a life skills class in the curriculum, although, I can see where there's little room in today's classroom. Whenever I see a special program on the benefits of teaching healthy food preparation, I'm astounded by the lack of information that some parents seem to have gained before starting a family. Portion control and healthy ingredients take a back seat to the economy of cheaper and less nutritious foods.

The first time I ever cooked vegetables from raw ingredients was in Home Economics in 9th grade and later in Advanced Food and Nutrition as a senior. I was amazed at how easy it was and how important. This is truly an essential subject and you've covered it well.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing your experience and opinions, Peg. I agree - learning about healthy food and good nutrition is very important for school students today and for adults as well!


Paula Mitchell 2 months ago

I would love to see Cooking and nutrition a mandatory class. I think it could be worked into Health class. However the main problem is budgeting and space. My graduating class had 1,200 kids alone. You would almost need a separate building just to teach the class.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Paula. I agree. Ideally all students would learn about nutrition and preparing healthy meals, but as you say budgeting and space could be major problems. Thanks for the comment.


Paula Mitchell 2 months ago

I have read that some schools do make cooking a mandatory class. If somebody could tell me how the problem of time and space is handled I would appreciate it, as I am considering working in my own state on changes in this area.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

This sounds like a worthy project, Paula. I hope you get some good suggestions. Where I teach, nutrition is a required component of certain courses that the students must take. There is no requirement for a cooking class, however. Whenever the students cook anything, it's for a special event.


Paula Mitchell 8 weeks ago

What are some of the special events?


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 8 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

The events are calendar celebrations, such as Christmas. There are several of these events in the year because we're a multicultural school. Only a few students come out of class to help prepare food for everyone, and they are volunteers. (We are a small school, so this is possible.) Some of the food is prepared at home by parents and just needs to be heated, but some items are made at school. The event is certainly not a substitution for a cooking class, but it does give some students cooking practice that they may not have at home.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 8 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I meant to add that the food is served in a potluck fashion. The students and staff always have access to enough food, although they won't all be eating the same meals.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,250 Followers
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    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.



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