I’ll take two slices of pepperoni and a side order of nutrition education, please!

Written by: Andrea Miller MHSc, RD

I think most of us would agree that teaching children about the importance of nutrition, healthy eating and being connected with their food supply, is a good thing. Many of us know that increased knowledge about nutrition may translate into, students making healthier food choices, to improved academic performance, to increased energy, better sleep and decreased risk of long term health concerns.
What we may not all agree on, is who is best qualified to provide this teaching.

It was recently brought to my attention that several schools in the region, offer elementary nutrition education, through a local pizza company! This company sends a representative to the classroom, where he or she teaches the children to make pizza dough, then tells them how pizza is the perfect food, as it provides all four food groups!

While this company representative may be qualified to offer a food preparation lesson, I am not sure if they are qualified to provide nutrition education. Now don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not criticizing pizza. I love pizza and I make it, often. What I am saying, is that I think teachers, educators and school administrators, need to carefully evaluate who is providing nutrition education for children and what their scope of practice is.

Let’s think about the goals of teaching children about nutrition and healthy eating. We want to ensure our children not only have the tools and critical thinking skills to make healthy food choices, we also want them to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Pizza is a fun food and it can definitely be part of a healthy diet but is the rep from the pizza company the right person to teach this information.

I wonder about the child with a food allergy, who cannot eat (or touch) some of the ingredients; or the child who does not eat some foods for religious or cultural reasons; or the children who eat pizza so frequently, that they are tired of it and would love to try a new food. How are these children included in this event? Is there a discussion about how pizza can be adapted to meet different taste preferences, food allergies or cultural differences? Many young children cannot differentiate between healthy food choices and foods that offer little nutrition. Many children grow up in homes where food choices are limited for a variety of complex reasons. It is for these and many other reasons, that I am concerned about a pizza company, providing any nutrition information to young children.

Teachers, educators and school administrators are in the unique and important position to influence these young minds. Given the finite resources, including time, for teachers, would it not make sense to bring in those professionals who are most qualified and have countless age-appropriate education tools and resources, to provide nutrition education for these young children. Making pizza and teaching nutrition are two very different things and unless we are qualified to do both, they should be kept separate. In a world where teachers are taking away banana bread from children’s’ lunches because it is perceived as an unhealthy food choice, how is it ok that the pizza guy, is telling our children that pizza is the perfect food?

Nutrition literacy is hard enough for most adults, as is navigating our way through the mass of mis-information about nutrition, online. Why not invite registered dietitians into the classroom, to teach children (and educators) about the benefits of non-dieting, healthy eating, connecting with our food supply and eating in a way that makes us feel good about our bodies. Let’s leave making pizza to the pizza guys and teaching nutrition to the dietitians.

This story also appeared in Durham News.

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