Food Literacy: An Essential Part of Ontario’s Education Strategy

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Author: Danielle Lewis

Posted: December 10, 2013

Categories: Edible Education Network / Good Food Ideas for Kids / GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Ontario / Policy News / Schools

Food EducationThis fall the Ontario Ministry of Education consulted with the public about building the next phase in Ontario’s Education Strategy. Formal consultations were conducted throughout the province and included members of the education, early learning and municipal sectors, as well as members of the business, research and innovation, non-profit and Indigenous communities.

This consultation presented an opportunity for Sustain Ontario and the Ontario Edible Education Network to advocate for the need of basic food literacy for all Ontarians. In our written submission we encouraged the Ontario Ministry of Education to take a whole-school approach to healthy eating and to ensure that food literacy opportunities are firmly established within all schools.

The health of our children is a growing concern with childhood obesity at a crisis level in Ontario. Schools are in a unique position to impede this trend, particularly by supporting prevention-oriented strategies that foster good dietary habits. Integrating education about agriculture and food into the Ontario curriculum and teaching children and youth the valuable skills of growing, securing, and preparing healthy foods has the potential to help them establish healthy food habits early, reducing future rates of obesity, diabetes, and other diet related diseases, while also helping them establish life-long skills.

Food literacy education allows students to gain the necessary skills to make healthy food choices and increase their self-efficacy to prepare nutritious meals for themselves. Teaching food skills within the education system is important, as children are not always provided with food skills or knowledge at home. Taught in a fun and engaging way, food education can allow for the negative social stigma about healthy eating to be reversed.

Engaging children and youth in food-focused activities brings education to life for children and youth and gets them excited about other subjects. Food can act as a catalyst for learning about subjects such as math (e.g. measuring ingredients in a recipe), science (e.g. turning a liquid into a solid by making butter), social science (e.g. talking about our different food cultures), economics (e.g. by preparing food budgets) and physical education (e.g. through discussion about nutrition and what leads to physical health). By applying academic subjects to real-world situations, especially those as exciting as food, children and youth can become more engaged in learning about all subjects in a dynamic and memorable way while gaining useful and marketable skills.

In light of the benefits of taking a broad approach to this issue, we strongly encouraged the Ontario Ministry of Education to put in place measures to:

  1. Support the development of a provincial food literacy and student nutrition policy framework.
  2. Provide teacher and administrator training, and support infrastructure to enable food literacy to be integrated into the Ontario curriculum as well as into other aspects of the school environment.
  3. Support the establishment of gardens, composters and food skills programs in schools as complimentary experiential programs that support and reinforce in-class food literacy education.
  4. Work with other government Ministries to ensure that linkages are built between food literacy, student nutrition, local sustainable food procurement, and other policy opportunities. 

Food literacy education engages children and youth to learn skills and develop habits that will enable them to make healthy food choices throughout their lives. Not only will food literacy programming strengthen our local food system but will also translate to a healthier population in the medium to long term.

Please refer to our written submission to The Ontario Ministry of Education, Sustain Ontario’s Food Literacy Backgrounder, the Healthy Kids Strategy and the Ontario Edible Education Network for more details and information about these issues.