Pathways to Excellence in School Food: Integrating Nutrition into Classroom Learning

July 16, 2013

To help CPS teachers integrate health into the school day, HSC offers Fit to Learn!

School food programs across the country are trying to reinvent themselves in response to the critical health needs of students. Over the past year, Healthy Schools Campaign has been working with the Chicago Public Schools to develop a comprehensive plan to achieve excellence in their school meal program. This plan centers around 10 interconnected pathways that are critical to success of every school food program.

This week, we highlight efforts around teaching and learning. Click here to learn more about the 10 pathways to excellence in school food and to read about Chicago Public Schools’ action plans for achieving excellence in school nutrition.

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Teaching students about good nutrition is critical to helping students make healthy food choices. The challenge is for teachers to incorporate nutrition lessons into an already-packed school day. To help CPS teachers do just that, HSC offers Fit to Learn, a professional development program that helps teachers integrate nutrition and fitness into classroom lessons while meeting state learning standards. For example, Fit to Learn teachers learn how they can teach children about different kinds of fruit during a lesson on the popular children’s novel James and the Giant Peach.

All across the city, Fit to Learn teachers are taking what they have learned in the program back to their schools and classrooms. At Oscar DePriest Elementary school on the city’s South Side, health and physical education teacher Mary Holmes regularly incorporates nutritional education into classroom culture. Every time students come into the classroom, Holmes reminds students of the “5-4-3-2-1” plan for nutrition and fitness: five fruits and vegetables every day, four glasses of water, three dairy products, two hours or less of screen time and one hour of active play every day. Holmes also works with the University of Illinois at Chicago Partnership for Health Promotion to bring in OrganWise Guys, an interactive program in which delightful puppet characters teach children about the importance of healthy eating, for nutrition education activities in the classroom every month.

At Hamilton Elementary School on Chicago’s North Side, Fit to Learn teacher Nichole Moos ties healthy eating into core subjects like science and social studies. When students bring unique foods from home in their lunches, Moos creates a mini-”food study” around it. Students have looked at foods as varied as red curry squash and lychee. At Halloween, Moos and her class studied orange and black foods that come from the earth; on Valentine’s Day, they studied pink and red foods. Sometimes, the class will look at the sticker on a piece of fruit, find out where it comes from and point it out on the classroom globe.

Moos has even used the sticker method to talk about local food. Once she brought the class a giant apple and explained to them that it came from a farm just outside Chicago. Her efforts show that, with the help of teachers, parents, staff and community members, students can become expert food explorers.

“They just become aware,” Moos explains. “If they see a sticker on everything, they’ll want to know where it’s from. If someone has a lychee in their lunch, they’ll talk about lychee.”

Fit to Learn gives teachers all over the city of Chicago strategies and resources for incorporating nutrition, fitness and wellness education into classroom learning. The next Fit to Learn training sessions will be held on August 1st and August 7th, 2013, and you can sign up at the Fit to Learn website. For more information about Fit to Learn, contact Rosa Ramirez at rosa@healthyschoolscampaign.org or Kristi Cox at kristi@healthyschoolscampaign.org.