Be in the know
It's important to know the basics if you're teaching your pupils about healthier eating. Check out our key terms about nutrition.
Calories (kcal) are a way of measuring the amount of energy that a food contains. You normally see them on food labels broken down per 100g and per portion.
Carbohydrates are a major source of food energy for people throughout the world. Sugars and starches are the main forms of carbohydrate (and energy) in the diet of people in the UK. Carbohydrates are found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, fruits, vegetables, milk and yoghurts.
Minerals like calcium and iron in food help to build strong bones and teeth, deliver oxygen around our body, control body fluids inside and outside cells, and turn the food we eat into energy.
Vitamins, like vitamin C and B vitamins, are found in fruit and vegetables. They help our bodies work properly.
Fibre is only found in food that comes from plants. It can improve digestive health and may help prevent heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and some cancers.
Sugar myths: fact vs fiction
With so much information out there, it can be hard to know what's true, especially about sugar. Read on to find out what's fact and what's fiction!
Fiction: children in England are eating a healthy amount of sugar
Children in England are eating more than double the recommended guidelines. That's 8 sugar cubes too many each day, 56 too many each week and around 2,800 too many every year.
That's equivalent to 312 cans of cola each year, 469 higher-sugar yoghurts or 562 chocolate bars.
Sugary drinks, confectionery, biscuits, cakes, puddings, higher-sugar breakfast cereals and higher-sugar yoghurts are all contributing to too much sugar in children's diets.
Fiction: a little sugar never hurt anyone
Too much sugar is bad for children's health.
It can lead to harmful fat building up inside and can lead to serious diseases, like type 2 diabetes, which people are getting younger than ever before. It can also lead to painful tooth decay.
Fact: dental issues cause children to miss school
Every 10 minutes, a child has a rotten tooth removed in hospital. Tooth decay is the main reason for children aged 5 to 9 being admitted to hospital.
On average, children miss 3 days of school as a result of dental issues.
Fact: we don't have to worry about sugars found in milk, yoghurt and fruit
Plain milk, plain yoghurts, fresh fruit and vegetables contain what we call "intrinsic sugars". We don't have to worry about these sugars as they are not "added sugar".
"Added sugar" means sugar added to food and drink to sweeten it. This could be added by the food manufacturer or even by us at home. It includes honey, syrups and fruit juice nectars.
Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fibre that we need as part of a balanced healthy diet.
Watch out: fruit juice and smoothies are a 'healthy' choice
Fruit juices and smoothies are sugary. They still count towards your 5 A Day, but make sure to limit them to no more than 150ml a day.
These drinks should also only be consumed with a meal (and not by themselves) because drinking them on their own can lead to tooth decay.
Fiction: eating and drinking less sugar means giving up all the things children like
Just one or two everyday swaps can really make a difference to how much sugar children are eating.
For example, simply swapping from a split pot yoghurt to a low-fat, lower-sugar yoghurt, or swapping a higher-sugar juice drink to a no added sugar juice drink can cut children's sugar intake from their products in half.
Teaching children about simple swaps is a great way to help them understand what's in their food, and get them thinking about healthier choices.
Get everyone involved
The importance of delivering the healthy eating message goes beyond the classroom, so try to get everyone involved.
- work together — all teachers have a role to play in fostering a great whole-school food culture and can use cross-curricular opportunities to share healthy eating messages.
- engage — involve cooks and catering staff and make sure lunch-time sets a good example.
- communicate — share the importance of children learning about food at all school levels to teachers, school staff and parents.
Find out how you can involve the whole school.
Plan for success
Good planning ensures the right skills are covered for your students' level, and helps children enjoy learning about food and healthy eating.
- lesson planning — plan for your pupils' age and key stage, making sure each lesson has clear aims and objectives. Use our Change4Life core competencies as a guide to help you plan your lesson activities, and make sure children are learning and developing core skills in nutrition.
- make a list — think about what you need before each lesson, such as ingredients, equipment, and worksheets.
- equipment — pick a range of different types of equipment when selecting what to use.
- skills — include a wide range of skills, as well as equipment, in your lessons, like chopping, threading and mixing.
- ingredients — think carefully about the ingredients you choose. Pick seasonal fruit and vegetables and remember to explain to your class why this is important.
- make it visual — remember that how food looks influences what people decide to eat, so be creative with the aesthetics of the food and recipes you plan to teach.
- allergies and intolerances — be aware that some people eat or avoid certain foods because of their religion or because they have a food intolerance.
Use our Change4Life classroom cooking toolkit to help you plan your lessons. It's full of great ideas to help you teach cooking, with cooking FAQs and essential safety tips.
Prep for lessons
Follow these steps to make sure your healthy eating lessons run smoothly:
- brief everyone — brief teaching assistants and support staff so they are well equipped to help you and the children.
- be a role model — lead by example by removing jewellery and tying back any loose hair.
- shop for ingredients — buy food in advance so you have everything you need on the day.
- complete a risk assessment
- allergies and intolerances — remember any special dietary requirements that children in the class might have and how that affects what ingredients you use.
- cooking area — set up a safe cooking area and make sure it's clean.
Bring lessons to life
Make your lessons exciting so children enjoy learning about healthy eating. Keep these ideas in mind:
- inspire — find inspiring ways to help your pupils learn. Try inviting food experts from the local community, such as chefs or farmers, to come and talk to the children about food.
- demonstrate — show a wide range of food skills, such as peeling, tearing and using a knife.
- use tastings — get children tasting the food they've made and explain why it's important to share meals with friends and family.
- be a role model — demonstrate safe food handling, storage and personal hygiene.
Teach children how to make healthier food choices with our Change4Life healthy snacks toolkit and healthy eating and cooking toolkit. Both teaching resources are packed with flexible lesson ideas – just pick and choose the activities that best suit your pupils and incorporate them into your lessons.
Develop your skills
Just like the rest of the curriculum, actively seeking out Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is really important for teaching healthy eating.
- teach the right stuff — stay on top of current educational thinking, best practice, and national policies about teaching food, and develop schemes of work to reflect this. Alongside the National Curriculum, keep in mind:
- share — observe, share and learn with other teachers
- investigate new foods — keep an eye on the latest food news. Try checking the Food Standards Agency website.
- keep learning — participate in training, workshops and online courses.
- build a library — create a library of activities, resources and videos as you come across them to help support your lessons.
- be reflective — develop a reflective approach to teaching. Regularly review and evaluate your healthy eating lessons, like any other subject, to identify areas you could improve. Try using the Food teaching in primary schools: knowledge and skills framework which includes an audit exercise.