Effective Food Literacy Strategies in Elementary Health and Physical Education Webinar Blog | Ophea.net

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Effective Food Literacy Strategies in Elementary Health and Physical Education Webinar Blog

Tuesday, April 7, 2020 - 09:00

In March, Ophea hosted a French webinar with a specific focus on effective food literacy strategies in Health and Physical Education at the elementary level. The content was based on research and resources to improve the quality of life through healthy food choices and mitigate the harmful effects of highly processed foods. Practical strategies and ideas for teaching the expectations of the Health and Physical Education curriculum (Grades 1–8) were shared.

We would like to thank our co-presenters for this webinar:

  • Hélène Charlebois is a dietitian with over 25 years of experience in helping people improve their health. Hélène has a nutrition clinic in Ottawa. She coaches her many clients toward better lifestyle habits in the hopes of heightening their quality of life. She is a professional speaker on Food & Nutrition matters for the general public and for fellow health care professionals across Canada and abroad via workshops, seminars, webinars and lunch & learns.
  • Marc-André Proulx is an Ambassador for Ophea and is the school board lead in Health and Physical Education and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) coordinator for the CSD catholique de l’Est ontarien. Prior to his board position, Marc-André taught Health & Physical Education for 12 years and was school lead with numerous initiatives, from Specialist High Skills Major in Health and Wellness, to guidance, Co-op Education programs to Hockey Canada Skills Academies. His passion lies in creating and teaching quality programs where all students and staff can develop a passion for lifelong healthy living and be community leaders based on their interests and strengths.

Funding provided by the Government of Ontario.

We would also like to send a thank you to our participants for their active engagement and insightful feedback throughout the webinar.

View the full webinar (in French) on our YouTube channel and read the overview below.  

Food Literacy

According to Hélène Charlebois, teachers are in a position to be a driving force in influencing the food choices of students towards healthier choices. She presented the definition of “food literacy,” Canadian statistics and the implementation of theories of change so that children are predisposed to choosing foods that are beneficial.   

At this time, Canadians are heading towards an unhealthy future with an increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease and an associated increase in health care costs. (1) Moreover, research shows that 57% of the diet of children aged between 9 and 13 is made up of highly processed foods of low nutritional value which have a negative impact on health. (1) That is why it is crucial to promote food literacy, which is “ … a set of skills and attributes that help people with the daily preparation of healthy, tasty, affordable meals for them and their families… It includes an understanding of why we make the food choices that we do and the importance of enjoying food and eating.” (2) Nutrition Connections suggests efficient ways to improve the knowledge of our students regarding food and nutrition. (3) It should be noted that knowledge is only one of the components of food literacy and the basis for adopting healthy habits. Based on the individual and societal levels, the resource (3) also indicates the five following interconnected components that are the foundation of food literacy: 

  • food and nutrition knowledge;
  • food skills;
  • self-efficacy and confidence;
  • external (ecologic) factors such as food systems, social determinants of health, and socio-cultural influences and eating practices; and
  • healthy food choices.

 The research by Hawkes et al. (3) proposes another theory to influence food literacy; they propose the theory of change regarding food systems. It is focused on policies the government must support to achieve the following:

  • Ensure a healthy learning environment
  • Overcome obstacles (costs, availability, time, skills)
  • Encourage people to re-evaluate their existing unhealthy choices and habits
  • Boost the food system

As for the Canadian government, it launched the new Canada’s Food Guide in January 2019. The teachers who took part in the webinar noted the diversity, as well as the visual and the realistic aspects of what is shown in the “What to eat” section of the guide. They were all pleased by the “How to eat” section of the guide and the social and cultural links included. Several of the participants had already downloaded the PDF copy of the Food Guide Snapshot available in over 30 languages. At the national level, the government will turn its attention in the near future on the front labelling of packages and will limit food marketing to children. Please see the “Additional Resources” section for more information.

For more information on available resources at the national level and through Health Canada please visit Canada’s Food Guide.

You can also view the webinar hosted by Ophea, A Journey through Canada’s NEW Food Guide: What Educators Need to Know.  

Strategies for Program Planning

Marc-André Proulx, who co-presented the webinar, highlighted the important role of childcare, schools, families and communities in improving the food and nutrition knowledge of kids so that they have the tools required to make healthier choices throughout their lives. According to Hawkes et al., (3) learning over an extended period requires several hours of repetition to learn and put into practice the knowledge that will bring about positive changes. Teachers must therefore use several strategies:

  • incorporate other subjects (French, social studies, math)
  • incorporate material and exercises throughout the year (count apples rather than blocks or candy)
  • encourage student engagement
  • establish age appropriate links to student experiences
  • include authentic tasks
  • allow for student curiosity
  • use inquiry-based learning
  • include the school team
  • establish links with the Creating Pathways to Success policy
  • ensure family engagement (cook a recipe together as a family)
  • seek out community involvement (community gardening, partnerships with farmers, produce growers, grocery stores, chefs or dietitians)

Of course, teachers must have adequate training, the necessary resources as well as the curricula to facilitate food literacy. Once again, government policies are required to ensure this.

Additional Resources


(1) Nutrition Connections (2019). Policies That Influence Food Literacy Among Children and Youth in Ontario. Retrieved from https://nutritionconnections.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/SOFL-Policy_FINAL4.pdf

(2) BrightBites (2019). Ontario Dietitians in Public Health Members. Retrieved from http://www.brightbites.ca/learn-more/nutrition/what-is-food-literacy

(3) Nutrition Connections (2019). Effective Education Strategies to Increase Food and Nutrition Knowledge in Children and Youth. Retrieved from https://nutritionconnections.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/EB2_Food-and-Nutrition-Knowledge_FINAL.pdf

(4) Government of Canada (2019). Canada’s Food Guide. Retrieved from http://food-guide.canada.ca/