One third of children in England aged 10 to 11 is overweight or obese, according to NHS figures, in a trajectory that continues upward, making education around healthy diets ever more vital, according to experts at the British Nutrition Foundation.
“We need to make food education a priority,” says Claire Theobald, Education Services Manager at the Foundation.
“It is difficult because we live in an obesogenic environment. It’s easier to take the less healthy options and not do enough activity.
“Reducing inequalities in health and promoting shifts in food culture are important.”
She says the relationship between healthy and sustainable diets is being adopted as a key focus, particularly for Healthy Eating Week this year in June.
“One quarter of children aged four or five, is overweight or obese”
“It means increasing the amount of fibre in our diets, eating pulses and whole grains, fruit and vegetables – this helps us and the environment,” she says.
“What’s good for us tends to be good for the environment. We’ll focus on fibre, five a day, varying protein, and avoiding food waste.
“One quarter of children in Reception, so children aged four or five, is overweight or obese.
“We’re training children to be adults, making healthy eating a norm for them is the idea, getting into habits they can continue through life, giving them the skills, and empowering them to make healthier choices.
“Schools do a fantastic job in trying to help the situation. In primary schools and many secondaries, children are encouraged to have a bottle of water on their tables to be sipping throughout the day, a lot of primary schools will say that if you’re bringing in a snack it must be fruit or vegetables.
“The National Food Strategy said eating well is easier if you cook from scratch”
“In England, children aged 4 to 6 attending a fully state-funded infant, primary or special school are entitled to receive a free piece of fruit or vegetable each school day to encourage them to have five a day and encourage healthy eating habits that can be carried into later life.”
The nutrition curriculum in England is compulsory for state schools for children aged from five up to 14. It prescribes that children are taught about healthy diets, how to cook and where their food comes from.
“Children should be involved in learning about healthy meals as early as possible,” says Claire Theobald.
“The National Food Strategy report last year said that eating well is much easier if you know how to cook from scratch.
“Encouraging sensory food education with children aged three to five is very helpful. Children experiencing fruit and vegetables may then be more likely to then go on to eat them.
“Children should be able to cook a repertoire of dishes to feed themselves and others”
“Children mimic adult behaviours, so cooking and tasting sessions at home are also great.
“The curriculum says children should be able to cook a repertoire of predominantly savoury dishes so they can feed themselves and others, as part of their education.
“They should be competent in a range of skills, of cooking methods and ingredients.
“I’d like to know that the children who will be in charge of the food system in the future had a really good food education, they understand about food and how it’s produced or farmed; what healthy eating is; that we need to consider for our planet and the environment.
“I want them to have the tools to do right by people and the planet.”
“People need education to understand sustainability in our food system”
The British Nutrition Foundation was founded in 1967.
“It’s long been recognised that help is needed – people need an evidence-based education on food so that they understand what they need to do to be healthier and have an increased awareness of sustainability in our food system,” says Claire Theobald.
“We’ve advocated food education for 30 years because it is critical.
“In the last year we’ve trained over 1,300 teachers. Our courses can be accessed for free by teachers and we also run online webinars and master classes.
“Our Food – a fact of life website had over 400,000 unique users last year and 1.3 million resources were downloaded. There is a need for this. People want to help children and do the right thing.
“In pre-school children are open to tasting and learning about food”
“We worked really hard to promote remote learning when children were in lock down, to keep their food and health education going.
“The importance of engaging children is because they are more open and have a willingness to learn.
“They are generally in a nurturing educational environment in pre-school where they are open to tasting and learning about food. In primary school there are lots of opportunities within the curriculum for them to have food experiences, cook and taste different foods.
“This can set them up for life so they have installed behaviours that can guide them as they get older, that they can build on. The knowledge and skills developed will serve them later on.”
Take a look
- Resources to support young children learning about food
- Early Years activity packs
- Pupils with additional needs
- Remote learning resources
- Parental engagement area