Although the bulk of literacy skills are taught within Language Arts, these skills can be strengthened through other curriculum strands, including healthy eating. Cross-curricular opportunities to strengthen literacy not only help students better understand every subject, but make better sense of the world around them. As with numeracy, growing and preparing food is not only fun, but it provides hands-on learning opportunities that easily incorporate literacy into healthy eating education and the development of life skills.
Primary students can read and discuss books about food and where food comes from. Most libraries have online resources and eBooks available with a library card, and some websites have audiobooks for kids. Some children’s books like Stone Soup and How Did That Get In My Lunchbox? are also read out loud on YouTube. Students can journal about some of their favourite meal time traditions or foods. Older primary students can research a food and create a poster about how this food gets to their table. And at meal and snack times, parents can read an age-appropriate recipe with their child and help them follow the recipe to then enjoy together.
Junior students can investigate a vegetable or fruit and create an illustrated pamphlet with information about the food (e.g., the best growing conditions, when it’s in season, how to prepare it). They may enjoy creating a menu for a family meal (or for their own imaginary restaurant) that incorporates produce in season or from the garden. They may also have fun designing a food-related board game for family game night. These students can also get involved in the kitchen by reading recipes, looking up unfamiliar cooking terms and following recipe steps to create meals and snacks.
Intermediate students can create a weekly menu for their family and then write a grocery list based on the ingredients needed. For an added challenge, ask them to include a new recipe that they’ve never used before, or something from their home garden. Have them share their findings via a journal, pamphlet, poster or powerpoint presentation. A bonus for students to cover lessons in health, history, and science and technology – students can also explore various physical, historical, geographical, and environmental factors that influence what types and how food is made available in grocery stores and markets, and in their meals.
When we integrate numeracy into all areas of the curriculum, it enhances a student’s understanding of every subject, as well the world around them. Growing and preparing food is not only fun, but it provides hands-on learning opportunities that easily incorporate numeracy into healthy eating education and the development of life skills.
For primary students, parents can use snack time to practice patterning and counting by making fruit kabobs. They can incorporate some simple discussions about fractions when segmenting an orange or cutting a bagel in half, and there’s no better way to practice measurement than asking children to help measure ingredients when preparing recipes.
Students in junior grades can do calculations to modify a recipe (e.g., half a recipe or double a recipe) and they can help with measuring the ingredients. To increase difficulty, parents can remove a measuring tool. For example, remove the 1 cup measuring cup and help them figure out how many ⅓ or ½ cups are needed to make 1 cup.
With spring here, junior and intermediate students can map out a backyard or balcony garden by calculating the total area of their garden, choosing seeds, and then using the spacing guidelines for the seeds to calculate how many of each seed can be planted per row, and how many rows their garden can hold. They can even draw a diagram of their garden on graph paper.
Intermediate students can pick a favourite dinner recipe and then calculate the cost of the needed ingredients by looking at a grocery store website that lists prices online. They can also calculate the price per serving by dividing the total cost by the number of servings the recipe makes. Doing this with a second recipe will allow them to do a cost comparison. They may also notice cost differences amongst particular ingredients. As a bonus, students can also plan their favourite menu based on a sample budget.
The COVID-19 pandemic has educators and students entering a new unprecedented chapter in public education; learning from home. As you continue on this learning curve, consider the unique opportunities at home for students to learn about food and healthy eating.
In addition to meeting curriculum expectations, suggest that families use this time at home to provide students with hands-on opportunities that build important life skills, such as food literacy. Involving kids in growing, preparing and enjoying food allows them to practice numeracy and literacy without it feeling like schoolwork. It can provide a fun and tasty way to get a meal or snack on the table too. Consider having students share photos of the food they make and what they learned from the experience.
Over the next few weeks we will share ideas for teachers to incorporate food and nutrition into home-based learning, starting with ideas related to numeracy and literacy (e.g., read a food-related book, utilize vegetables and fruit as units in math questions, explore different cultural food practices, investigate the sources of food in your community).
Nurture healthy eaters. Making time for family meals and snacks, free from distractions (e.g., screens), at regularly scheduled times, can help reinforce healthy eating messages while allowing students to put their learning to practice. As you share healthy eating messaging and activities with families, be mindful of your sources of information. Continue to use Canada’s Food Guide for evidence-based information.