Eating well is about more than just knowing what foods to eat—it’s also about knowing how to eat. Healthy eating habits and nutrition aren’t taught in schools, outside of one or two health classes in middle or high school—and if healthy eating habits aren’t taught at home, children are forced to learn on their own. Once students get to college, the temptation to eat freely and often can lead to weight gain and other health problems that will plague them into adulthood.
So, how do students learn healthy eating habits and nutritional information? How do we teach students and young people to read labels, to eat whole foods and produce? And whose responsibility is it to teach students this information?
Early education and nutrition
A recent study shows that food advertisements may have a stronger influence on what children eat than their parents. Parents are susceptible to these temptations as well: they may use food as a reward for good grades or other accomplishments or rely on fast food restaurants that appeal to children. These and other factors give kids the idea that food should be fast and hassle-free. Giving children the kinds of nutritional habits they’ll take into adulthood means starting early—making whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy snacks available to children can help them develop healthy habits once they grow up and are making food decisions for themselves. Fighting advertising may be an uphill battle for parents, but for the sake of their kids’ health, it’s one they should continue to fight.
Nutrition in the classroom
While parents bear the responsibility to teach their children to eat well, schools should—and can—help their students learn more about how the body uses food. Health and home economics courses can incorporate modules like grocery shopping and basic cooking to give students an idea of how to eat healthily and affordably.
For college students, these lessons are even more important: students on their own for the first time in their lives may rely on fast food that is cheap and quick. And for college students enrolled in an online school or distance learning program, the temptation may be greater—but studying at home or in a coffee shop can also give students the opportunity to take charge of their eating habits. Students enrolled in both traditional degree programs and distance learning programs can benefit from joining college fit clubs—members can meet online or in person. Groups like these can encourage students to support each other in healthy eating habits and to learn more about food from their peers.
Eating well requires learning about the benefits and dangers of food, and those lessons should start early. But it’s also important that children receive education about food throughout their school years, up to and including their college years. Learning about healthy eating should be a lifetime endeavor.