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Celebrating Nutrition Month: Engaging Food Literacy Activities

March 26, 2024
Celebrating Nutrition Month

Nutrition Month is celebrated each March in Canada to bring awareness about the importance of making informed food choices and working towards healthy eating habits. To celebrate Nutrition Month 2024, we want to shine a spotlight on food literacy and how you can incorporate some fun activities into your classroom. This is a great opportunity for schools and teachers to focus on food literacy, particularly on the wholistic connections to a healthy, and active lifestyle.

What is food literacy?

The Canadian Physical and Health Education Competencies defines food literacy as “the ability to source, understand the nutritional benefits or risks, prepare and store food and be able to maintain these skills throughout life’s ups and downs. Food literacy is linked to improved diet, food habits and behaviours and the ability to manage food and maintain food security to support one’s wholistic wellbeing in keeping with potential health needs as well as social and cultural dynamics” (Davis, et al, 2023).

Why focus on food literacy?

Food literacy is more than healthy eating and understanding nutrition. It’s also about culture, tradition, and enjoyment so children can develop a positive relationship with food (FraserHealth, 2022). Cooking is an important life skill that promotes self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of achievement (Health Canada, 2019). Children are more likely to try a variety of new foods if they have been involved in preparation, but if they don’t want to try it that’s okay! Food literacy aligns with many provincial and territorial curriculums and can be incorporated into many cross-curricular subject areas such as language arts, math, science, social studies and geography. 

How can I foster an environment that builds food literacy?

When students develop the attitudes, knowledge, and skills to know how to choose, grow, purchase/budget for, store, prepare, and enjoy food that best supports their health, community, and environment they are developing food literacy (FraserHealth, 2022). There are many different ways you can foster an environment that builds food literacy in your classroom:

Make food together and explore recipes!

Kitchen access isn't required to engage your students in a food literacy session. When selecting a recipe, ask for student input and aim for simple, interactive, and personalized recipes. Before starting, read and review the recipe(s) together as a class, reinforce the steps for handwashing, and discuss food safety and knife safety basics. Below are some simple and tasty ideas to consider, but it is important to be mindful of food allergies/intolerances. 

Try these recipe ideas in your classroom:

Introduce Fun Food Literacy Activities:

A favourite classroom activity is called Guess the Spice. The teacher fills 10 different clear containers with 10 spices labelled from #1-10. Students are given a game sheet to write down their answers as they look and smell each spice. After revealing the answers, brainstorm as a class how each spice could be used while cooking. Below are a few more activities you can try:

  • Food Clues – to get children to think about types of foods, where foods grow, colours of foods and how foods are eaten.
  • Sample Clues – (The fewer clues you hear before guessing the more points your team receives)
    • I am a vegetable (if guessed correctly after the first clue your team would receive 5 points)
    • I grow under the ground
    • I can be yellow, white, purple or green
    • You can peel me back layer by layer
    • I come in many varieties such as sweet, green, red, white and Spanish (1 point if your team hears all 5 clues)
  • The Balloon and Yeast Experiment – children will learn all about yeast and why it is important when making food such as bread!
  • Nutrition Scattegories – to get children thinking about different foods and kitchen products
  • Mystery Bag – to get children to use their senses to identify a food

Food literacy learning examples (PHE Canada):

The Canadian Physical and Health Education Competencies recommends provincial and territorial curriculums to begin introducing food literacy concepts as early as Kindergarten to build students’ food literacy skills under the “Living Well” and “Environment and Community Connections” frameworks (pg. 31):

food literacy skills: Kindergarten
  Outcome: I Can Exemplar:
Living Well
  • Practice effective personal hygiene and safe food practices (e.g., exhibiting caution around hot foods and equipment, recognizing when foods need to be cooked or cooled, washing hands)
  • Recognize what is safe to eat and how safe food practices contribute to well-being (e.g., exploring different colours, textures, tastes, sizes, shapes, temperatures, smells, origins)
Environment and Community Connections
  • Recognize where food comes from (e.g., local and household gardens, commercial farms for plants or animals, manufacturing)
  • Explore food customs, practices, rituals and celebrations from around the world (e.g., pemmican, dim sum, lavash, ceebu jën, challah, chicken soup)
food literacy skills: Grades 1 - 4
  Outcome: I Can Exemplar:
Human Growth and Development
  • Describe how to keep the immune system working to its full potential (e.g., rest, hydration, nutrition, vaccines, hygiene, safe food practices)
  • Explore the link between food and well-being at different life stages (e.g., infancy, childhood) & Recognize that food and water are essential to growth and development
Living Well
  • Describe a variety of food traditions (e.g., respecting individual, familial, and cultural diversity) and how they contribute to health and well-being
  • Explore different foods (e.g., plants, meats, whole foods), their nutritional benefits, and where, when, why, and how they are processed, stored, and eaten
  • Communicate the importance of respecting the food choices of others
  • Express feelings associated with sharing spaces with others (e.g., eating with others, preparing food, birthdays, weddings, religious holidays, playing sports)
  • Identify health and well-being promoting activities that are personally enjoyable (e.g., eating together, movement activity, cultural activities)
  • Consider how allergy, intolerance, culture, and values impact food choices
Environment and Community Connections
  • Recognize the symbolism and meaning of food in their family and community
  • Explore harvesting and farming practices that respect the natural environment and what this relationship with the land has looked like over time (e.g., hunting, fishing)
  • Harvest natural ingredients for sharing (e.g., vegetables, spruce gum, maple syrup) & Appreciate knowledge from Elders and knowledge keepers about sacred/significant food in the community
  • Explore how food is processed or prepared, and local farming and food production and preservation techniques (e.g., canning, drying or smoking of meat, fish, fruits, and/or vegetables)
food literacy skills: Grades 5 - 8
  Outcome: I Can Exemplar:
Living Well
  • Explain how to use nutrition fact tables and ingredients lists on food labels to make informed choices about healthy and safe foods
  • Relate the difference between a budget (e.g., to help save) and a plan (e.g., to reach a goal, ensure nutritional meals) and describe the benefits of each
  • Relate how and why food preferences differ in different contexts (e.g., at home, eating out, at school, snacking or sharing meals, breaking fast)
  • Develop a sample personal budget
Environment and Community Connections
  • Advocate for environmental issues in the community that affect health and well-being (e.g., transportation, farming, food sovereignty, food insecurity, energy use)
  • Explore survival skills through traditional activities and games (e.g., shelter building, target practice, food storage and scavenging)
  • Engage in volunteer opportunities that affect the environmental health and well-being of the school or community
  • Practice survival skills in the outdoors (e.g., knot tying, shelter building, food storage, fire building, safety, personal hygiene)
food literacy skills: Grades 9 - 12/CEGEP
  Outcome: I Can Exemplar:
Living Well
  • Connect food sovereignty to Métis, Inuit, and First Nations culture and well-becoming
  • Apply an understanding of food groups, and micro- and macro-nutrients to personal eating patterns and habits to support wholistic well-being
  • Explore boundaries to Métis, Inuit, and First Nations food sovereignty (e.g., costs, environmental change, colonial laws
  • Design eating plans for self and others at different life stages and with different financial resources (e.g., pregnancy, childhood, living alone) & Observe kitchen and food safety precautions during cooking and food storage processes
Environment and Community Connections
  • Describe non-medical factors that influence health outcomes (e.g., education, security, work-life balance, employment, income, food and housing security, equality)
  • Recognize the implications of climate change on food availability and its impact on community health and well-being (e.g., heat, severe weather, and droughts, lengthening of growing degree days, prices)
  • Investigate the impact of social determinants on health and well-being
  • Investigate the pace of change on issues of social injustice or climate change and its effect on well-being (e.g., plastic packaging, alternative energies, food waste, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women)

If you are looking for other ideas to incorporate food literacy in your Physical and Health Education lessons, we encourage you to explore the variety of food literacy learning examples within the Canadian Competencies for Physical and Health Education and the PHE Learning Centre:

Kindergarten - Grade 3 
Grade 4-6 
Grade 7-12

Additional Resources - Check out these other food literacy resources:


References:

Davis, M., Gleddie, D.L., Nylen, J., Leidl, R., Toulouse, P., Baker, K., & Gillies, L. (2023). Canadian physical and health education competencies. Ottawa: Physical and Health Education Canada.

FraserHealth. (2022). 5 ways to teach your kids food literacy this summer. Retrieved from https://www.fraserhealth.ca/news/2022/Jun/5-ways-to-teach-your-kids-food-literacy-this-summer#:~:text=Food%20literacy%20means%20having%20the,to%20budget%20for%20food%20shopping 

Government of Canada. (2022). Tricks to not get sick: Food safety for kids. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/video/tricks-not-get-sick-food-safety-kids.html

Government of Canada. (2020). Hand-washing heros. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/video/covid-19-hand-washing-heroes.html 

Health Canada. (2019). Canada’s dietary guidelines for health professionals and policy makers. Retrieved from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/guidelines/section-3-importance-food-skills/ 

North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, Public Health Sudbury & Districts, Thunder Bay District Health Unit. (2022). Adventures in Cooking: A Hands-On Cooking Program.
 

 

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