Building Healthy Eating Habits and Food Literacy Skills with the H&PE Curriculum Webinar Blog
Choosing a banana isn’t as simple as it looks. As you’re peering through the display of bananas in the produce aisle, you may be thinking: How do I choose a banana so that it is ripe enough to eat? Are bananas locally grown or are they imported? How are they grown and does this impact the environment and the economy? Are bananas more nutritious than eating banana flavoured yogurt? How can I use a banana as an ingredient to make other foods? Making meaning from the foods we eat can be challenging for us and our students.
The topic of Healthy Eating within the Healthy Living strand of the Health & Physical Education curricula is more than teaching our students about what to eat. It is about having conversations about food choices, involving them in knowing where their food comes from, growing foods to teach them about sustainable food systems, and even building healthier eating habits such as enjoying the company of others when eating food; this all amounts to building food literate learners!
In previous webinars, we learned about Canada’s Food Guide and the connections to the Health & Physical Education (H&PE) curricula to help students develop the knowledge and skills to make the healthiest eating choices they can. On May 4th, 2021 we heard from educators who are using these strategies to support a focus on healthy eating habits and the development of food literacy skills through teaching the H&PE curricula.
We would like to thank The Helderleigh Foundation for their partnership on this webinar, as well as our co-presenters:
- Andrea Barrow, a Health & Physical Education teacher with the Limestone District School Board in Kingston, and an Ophea Ambassador.
- Andrea Haefele, a Health & Physical Education teacher in the York Region District School Board, currently seconded as a curriculum consultant at Ophea.
- Robin MacDonald, a Health & Physical Education and Special Education specialist teacher in the Near North District School Board, and an Ophea Ambassador.
- Shaun Vaillancourt, a Healthy Active Living School Lead and French Immersion specialist teacher with Trillium Lakeland District School Board, and an Ophea Ambassador.
What is Food Literacy?
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.”1 The learning in the topic of Healthy Eating in both the elementary and secondary Health & Physical Education curricula also emphasizes the importance of students having the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to understand and examine where their food comes from, how food affects their health, and how to make informed choices about food consumption. This is where the concept of food literacy comes in. The Ontario Dietitians in Public Health explain Food Literacy2 as:
- Knowing about food and nutrition;
- Having food skills;
- Feeling confident when choosing, preparing, and eating food;
- Making healthier food decisions most of the time;
- Understanding how the food system, food environment, living situations and culture and traditions impact food decisions; and
- Recognizing that each of these components are interconnected.
The social-emotional learning (SEL) skills within the elementary Health & Physical Education curriculum provides a unique approach when teaching the expectations in the Healthy Eating topic and how to make the learning personally relevant for students. Our panel of educators shared the importance of integrating the SEL skills and how this approach helps foster food literate learners:
“Teaching students how to pay attention and notice how different foods make them feel helps them make a personal connection to the whole food experience. Embedding the social-emotional learning skills when teaching about healthy eating also helps build my students’ confidence in applying their critical and creative thinking skills to make informed decisions about healthy eating, given the parameters that are in their control.” Shaun Vaillancourt
“I also believe that as educators, we need to be positive role models when teaching about Healthy Eating. Adopting food neutral language3, allows me to foster a positive mindset around food and teach my students how to listen to their body and make food decisions based on the things they like, want, crave, and the whole experience of eating.” Robin MacDonald
The Living Skills in the secondary Health & Physical Education curriculum helps “students gain a better understanding of who they are and help[s] them connect positively and productively with the larger world.”4 Andrea Barrow spoke about how embedding the Living Skills expectations helped her students identify the learning within healthy eating and look at food as fuel for their bodies and minds, as well as building healthy eating habits, such as enjoying what they are eating, and who they may be eating with.
Building a Positive Relationship with Food
Canada’s Food Guide approaches eating beyond the food we eat. Appreciating food beyond the nutrients supports building a positive relationship with food. Healthy eating includes an understanding of the environment and our behaviours around the food we eat.
As educators, we are always finding collaborative and creative opportunities for students to learn the expectations within the Healthy Eating topic. 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. It is important to remember, “topics within the Healthy Living strand need(s) to be approached with additional sensitivity, care and awareness because of their personal nature and their connection to family values, religious beliefs, or other social or cultural norms.”5
Knowing your learners, their families, and the school community is a good starting point to ensure that the topic of Healthy Eating is integrated and connected to real life. Robin MacDonald teaches in a rural community and shared how the Ophea H&PE Elementary Resources, Grade 3, Healthy Decision Making Unit, Lesson #3 Local & Cultural Foods helped her students learn about the connection between local fresh foods and how foods from different cultures contribute to her students’ understanding of making healthier eating choices.
Providing opportunities for students to analyse, synthesize, evaluate and reflect is also a great way to help students explore and become familiar with food. Andrea Barrow shared how she used the Understanding Inquiry in Health & Physical Education Ophea resource to approach the topic of food myths and fad diets with her senior students. “Using an inquiry approach helped my students explore and be curious about new foods. I was able to introduce new recipes to engage them in making sense of sustainable food sources and the food that is consumed in other countries.”
It is important to think about how we approach and develop our students’ comprehension about food as this contributes to building healthy eating habits. Shaun Vaillancourt shared the importance of building a healthy school culture with Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification program and how this helped his students extend their learning about healthy eating beyond the classroom. Healthy Eating is a health topic that Shaun’s school is focusing on. Using the Ophea’s Ideas for Action, resource is helping to involve the whole school community to enhance existing programs such as their nutrition program, and provide learning opportunities to help students build their comfort and skills with identifying, growing, preparing, and enjoying a variety of foods together.
Making cross-curriculum connections in math and language will help reinforce the importance of healthy eating. By accessing Ophea's Wallet Wellness resource for both junior and intermediate learners, educators can make real world connections to healthy eating in meaningful ways.
It is important to approach healthy eating thoughtfully to ensure meaningful and safe experiences for all our students. We learned from our panel of educators that approaching the topic of Healthy Eating is most effective when we seek to engage our students with food through curiosity, connection to the real world, and reflective thinking.
Access additional information through our related webinar recordings:
- A Journey through Canada’s NEW Food Guide: What Educators Need to Know Webinar Blog
- Ask a Dietitian: Explore Nutrition Facts and the H&PE Curriculum Webinar Blog
- Ask a Dietitian: Supporting Educator Nutrition and Well-being Webinar Blog
- Ask a Dietitian: Navigating the Grocery Store Webinar Blog
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.
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1 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
3 Ontario Dieticians in Public Health. (2020). Mental Health and Weight Bias in Schools. Retrieved from https://www.odph.ca/upload/membership/document/2020-10/3756-mental-health-and-weight-bias-in-schools.pdf#upload/membership/document/2020-10/3756-mental-health-and-weight-bias-in-schools.pdf
4 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 9-12: Health and Physical Education (pg. 27). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/health9to12.pdf
5 Ontario Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education (pg. 40). Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf