The School Scene

Should Nutrition Be Taboo in School?

We have some screwy ideas about food, nutrition, weight, and health. So naturally, we can fight about it in education. OMG! What are they teaching my child about nutrition and health at school? Today, the New York Times frets that teachers may be teaching children to diet.

Welcome to a new chapter of culture wars – we can’t help feeling  déjà vu. Remember when talking about sex education led to the firing of Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders? Perhaps now we’re ready to move on and get angry about food instead of sex.

A Teacher Tells What She Ate

One of the features of COVID-inspired remote learning, is that parents may get TMI about what their children are learning in school. In the Times,  Virginia Sole-Smith describes the example of Caitlin Kiarie overhearing her 6-year-old son’s class talking about food:

“On one recent morning, the Zoom conversation took an unexpected turn: Emerson’s teacher asked the class to share what they ate for dinner the night before. After every child took a turn, Kiarie heard the teacher say, ‘I had turkey and vegetables for dinner last night. My husband and I are trying to eat less carbs, so we didn’t eat any bread.’”

Sounds terrible, right? Kiarie is a dietitian with a particular interest in family feeding. She worried that kids are going to hear what the teacher said and think bread is bad. She told the Times that a teacher is a role model. Should a teacher be modeling dietary behaviors we don’t approve?

Consensus About Food?

But here’s the problem. Many ideas are roaring around in popular culture about food and nutrition. These ideas are in a perpetual state of conflict. Some will say that eating meat is immoral and unhealthy. Others will say it’s very nutritious. Some, like Emerson’s teacher, are avoiding carbs. Others love bread and can’t imagine life without it. The list is long.

Somehow, though, kids need to learn about nutrition. The CDC has a health curriculum tool called HECAT to help schools figure out how to teach kids about health, including good nutrition. But in this age of contention, parents and advocates are not afraid to question the CDC. Dietitian Sarah Ganginis tells the Times that HECAT is a “disaster.” She treats eating disorders and became an activist when her son was in kindergarten. One day he came home and told her he couldn’t bring potato chips for snack anymore. His kindergarten was requiring them to bring healthy snacks.

This May Not Be Easy

It is impossible to overstate how conflicted we are about food, health, and fitness. While some are obsessively pursuing their ideal of a slender, healthy body image, others are enraged at the thought that obesity might be a health problem. What we do know, however, is that nutrition education can be helpful to kids and their health. Head Start has some good data for this.

So making nutrition into a subject that is off limits will not help. Nor will enforcing a singular point of view about it. Perhaps the safest thing to say is that one size does not fit all. Can we balance diverse views about nutrition with a healthy respect for the science of nutrition and health?

Click here for this provocative article in the Times. For more on nutrition in schools, click here, here, and here.

The School Scene, painting by Francisco Goya / WikiArt

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November 13, 2020

One Response to “Should Nutrition Be Taboo in School?”

  1. November 13, 2020 at 11:06 am, John DiTraglia said:

    Why don’t we teach kids about vitamins and fats, proteins and carbs… basic science and tell them that humans are omnivores and can thrive on many different diets and not tell them what to eat.