We all know nutrition is related to overall, long-term health, but that can be a hard sell for kids. Still, kids need to know that healthy eating helps prevent chronic diseases and is essential for strong bones and muscles. Learning good habits now will serve them well throughout their life, and that starts now.
Good nutrition helps with energy, attention, and memory. That means it helps with learning and is essential for middle school students. Student athletes and performers will also benefit from fueling their bodies. And nutrition can affect mood and mental health too.
Challenges to teaching nutrition in middle school
Despite the importance of teaching nutrition, many teachers find it challenging to teach nutrition in middle school. Top reasons cited are not enough time and the need to prioritize academic subjects. Curriculum, or lack thereof, can be challenging, and some studies suggest that nutrition education can do harm to students if it focuses on weight or eating disorders.
Students need to know what nutrition can do for them. They also need information to understand how to choose foods that meet their needs. That means understanding the different kinds of nutrients they need and where to find them. They need to be able to think critically about advertising and claims about food.
How to make time for teaching nutrition
So, yes, teaching nutrition is challenging — and essential — so how do you make it part of your busy day and the competing demands of your classroom?
The good news is nutrition education can be tied in with many subjects. Here are just a few ideas:
- Nutrition weaves easily into science lessons about the chemical makeup of different nutrients and which we need, transfer of energy from different kinds of food, or the digestive system.
- Nutrition should be an integral part of a health curriculum, so health classes are a great way to work nutrition in.
- Nutrition can be part of lessons on meal planning in home economics classes.
- Use nutrition labels to compare foods in math class. Have students calculate if they are getting enough of certain nutrients if they mix and match different foods for a day. Make graphs comparing how much sugar or fat is in different foods.
- Practice reading comprehension with short nutrition articles. Have students write persuasive essays about nutrition related topics or create graphic novels to inspire peers to eat healthy foods.
Looking for a way to get started? This digital interactive nutrition quiz is a great place to start. Get 11 informative reading passages that foster an understanding of nutrition, critical thinking, independent learning, and collaborative discussions in your classroom. Then check students’ understanding with the nutrition quiz.
There’s a lot for kids to know about nutrition. It could easily be its own subject, but nutrition education can easily be woven throughout different subjects. Try short direct lessons and then reinforce learning with nutrition woven throughout your other lessons. Or simply take the nutrition topics you need to teach and spread them throughout your other subjects.