Who teaches about food?

Food education in the school is a collaborative effort.  Food service/child nutrition program staff, teachers, farmers, chefs, extension educators, master gardeners, and community members can all play an important role in educating students about agriculture, food, health, and nutrition. According to research compiled by the USDA, food education as part of farm to school activities can:

  • Demonstrate willingness to try new, healthy foods
  • Triple the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten by students when they participate in hands-on food activities
  • Inspire students to choose healthier meal options
  • Increase the number of students eating fruits and vegetables by 33% when local food is offered in the school meal

Food Service/Child Nutrition Program Staff

Food service and child nutrition program staff have a unique opportunity to work with students in the cafeteria.  Those working in this area are intricately involved in students’ health, as these individuals prepare and serve food to students.  Any time that meals and snacks are being served is an opportunity to connect food with its nutritional benefits and teach students the importance of eating a well-balanced diet.  By offering students healthy food choices and nutritious substitutions, food service and child nutrition program staff can help students understand what a healthy meal looks like.  Further, by engaging students in activities such as cafeteria taste tests and allowing students to vote on their favorite meals, students can make healthy choices, have an active voice in the school food program, and try new foods that they may have otherwise never tried. This news article details how one district in Washington DC is working to menu vegetables that are ‘student approved!’

Teachers

When it comes to food education, teachers may be unsure of where or how to get started, but there is a great deal that can be incorporated into the classroom experience.  Opportunities for teaching students about agriculture, food systems, food types, health and nutrition, gardening, the environment, etc. exist at all grade levels and can complement any subject matter.  For indoor and outdoor lesson plans and unique ideas for integrating food education into the curricula, check out “Activities” under the Food Education tab.

Farmers

A farm to school program gives farmers the opportunity not only to provide fresh, local food to the school but to get involved in students’ educational experience both inside and outside of the classroom.  Farmer visits to the school can be a great way for students to connect the food they eat with the farmers who produce their food and to gain a better understanding of the food system and the farm-to-school process.  Additionally, it is likely that many students have never been to a farm or seen up-close how food is produced on a large scale.  As such, farm visits can provide students with this opportunity, and on-farm education can help students further make a connection with where and how their food is grown.

Chefs

Chefs can be a fantastic resource for providing food education in the school, and local chefs could visit the school throughout the year.  Students may be unwilling to try healthy foods based on how certain foods look or how students have had foods prepared in the past.  With a visiting chef preparing foods in new and appealing ways, students will be more apt to try something new or something they may have disliked in the past, and, in doing so, may find a new food or dish that they enjoy!  Chefs can also work with food service and child nutrition program staff to assist with school taste tests and menu development.  Finally, chefs may be able to provide instruction to food service and child nutrition program staff as well in terms of food preservation, healthy meal preparation, and kitchen safety. Here is an Earth Eats podcast featuring a chef working with kids in Indiana.

Extension Educators

Extension Educators are able to provide community resources and expertise in the areas of 4-H youth development, agriculture and natural resources, community development, and health and human sciences and can develop tailored, county-level programs to offer practical, relevant solutions to community issues.  Collaboration between extension educators and schools is possible throughout Indiana.  Extension Educators can delve into educational activities and lessons using food to teach food production, gardening, healthy food choices, nutrition and family health. Find your Purdue Extension office in your county here.

Master Gardeners

Master gardeners are trained through the Extension Master Gardener program to become experts in the science and art of gardening.  Through the support of the County Extension office, master gardeners may be an excellent resource for schools and districts and may provide expertise in the development and maintenance of school gardens, as well as the teaching of horticulture and food gardening.  With a school garden in place, master gardeners can work with the school to develop a Junior Master Gardener program for students.  Master Gardeners can engage students in fun and creative individual and group activities related to horticultural and environmental science education while encouraging the development of leadership and life skills.  Working with a master gardener will allow students to connect their experiences in the garden with the larger concepts of agriculture and the environment while helping students to recognize their ability to be leaders within their community.

Community Members

Community members can prove to be an invaluable support system for schools and districts. Individuals, organizations and the school community may have expertise in food, food systems or a part of the food system (farming, cooking) that could become an important partner. Moreover, student families will need to be engaged with the food education at school in order for the work to have an impact in the home environment. Research has shown that farm to school can have an impact on healthy food choices for the families of students involved in farm to school. It is important to involve the different community audiences in any farm to school effort.

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