Food for Thought – Why Food Education Matters

Food For Thought – Why Food Education Matters

Wed 17 Jul 2013

Story by Cathy Schmelter

When most people choose to write a book it’s because they’ve always felt that they have a “book inside of them.” This could not have been further from the truth for me. I decided to write a book because I wanted to promote my worksite wellness seminars and felt that having a book was the way to do it. That was it. But as I started to research my topic, I was surprised to learn that there were tons of books on nutrition for adults, but nothing for children. The light bulb went off and I knew that this was what I needed to write about.

I had no idea what was in store for me next. As I started reading and doing research, I realized that many kids are subjected to a poor food environment on a daily basis, contributing to declining health. I was shocked to learn about the number of kids that were overweight and obese and that we were starting to see diseases that were once only seen in adults showing up in children as young as two years old. I mean, this was serious stuff! So what started as a way to promote seminars became my life’s passion and mission - to create a better food world for kids.

Creating A Better World for Kids – Food for Thought

As I began working with schools, it appeared we were starting to make some real progress on giving students access to healthy foods. Schools were changing menus, learning to cook from scratch and even starting school gardens, which were great, but there really wasn’t much education for students on the value of choosing these foods.

In middle or high schools, students might have received one class on nutrition that was very “food-guide pyramidish” and didn’t resonate very well with them. So, I decided to develop a food and nutrition curriculum program for high school students that would challenge them to think about where their food comes from, how it’s made and how the food choices they make impact their personal health and the world around them. With that, “Food for Thought” was born.

Through our train-the-teacher model, “Food for Thought” informs students about all of the steps involved in taking food from farm to table. They learn how food is grown, processed, distributed, marketed, sold, consumed and even how it is disposed of. Our goal is to encourage students to “vote with their fork” and become part of the movement to revolutionize the future of food!

To arm them with knowledge, but also the tools to feel empowered to make a difference, one of the projects students are required to complete is to write a letter to someone of influence about how they feel about our current food system and what they would like to see changed. We had a student write to her mayor, asking him to put a grocery store near her home, because all there is around her is fast food restaurants or convenience stores.

Some of our students may go on to work in school gardens or greenhouses. They may work with the school cafeteria to improve their menu or change their cafeteria environment. They might teach younger kids how to cook or lead cooking classes for their parents. Or even get involved in the legislative process around food. They become real champions of good food!

This past school year, we piloted “Food for Thought” in 5 LiveWell Colorado schools across Colorado and had an impact on about 1,400 students. The results have been amazing! Students are eating less fast food and drinking less soda, or giving it up entirely. They are eating more fruits and vegetables and now understand how nutritious foods have an impact on their minds and bodies. They are thinking about how they can make changes in their community around food.

For example, one of our students wrote “If I become healthy, then I would influence the people around me, like my friends and my family to become healthy as well. If I can make my family healthy than I already made a group of people change for the better. The cycle will continue to spread and eventually that small group turns into a large scale community effort, making changes on a global scale. A large thing can come from a single person trying to make a change.”

Powerful stuff!

What’s on the horizon?

Next year our goal is to reach around 3,000 students. Additionally, our middle school program “You Are What You Eat” will be piloted in schools beginning in January 2014. This curriculum program will cover the basics around food and nutrition and require students to develop a personal wellness plan around nutrition, physical activity, behavioral changes and a healthy mind.

About the Author: Cathy Schmelter is a Registered Dietitian and Founder/President of An Ounce of Nutrition in Denver, Colorado. She is author of a children’s nutrition book called “Cutting thru the Nutritional Jungle – A Survival Guide to Feeding Kids” for parents of elementary school children. She has spent the past several years helping hundreds of schools implement and promote nutrition and physical activity. She is the author of the popular high school curriculum “Food for Thought.”


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