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September 12, 2014

Bring Back Home Economics

by Anne Paddock

Why is so much classroom time spent on Math, Science, English, and History and so little on Health and Nutrition?

Kids and teenagers are overwhelmed with homework, standardized tests, AP courses, sports, and extracurricular activities – all of which require the brain and the body to perform at an optimum level for success. Yet, time is rarely allocated to learning about what it takes to properly nourish the body because parents, schools, and outside sources (i.e. McDonald’s, Five Guys, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin Donuts, Chipotle) provide the finished product (food) to our kids.

Every child has heard a parent say “eat your breakfast – it’s the most important meal of the day” but how nutritious is a bowl of cereal or a yogurt with 20 grams of sugar or a fast food meal at a drive thru? Not very nourishing but the bodies of the young are forgiving and so, nutrition and learning about healthy choices are not priorities for most kids and adolescents although they should be because our children are starting to show the effects with higher rates of obesity and diabetes than previous generations.

Over the past few years, school lunches and vending machines have been in the spotlight because highly processed, sugary snack food and drinks provide little if any nutritional benefit. Improving school lunches and changing the options in vending machines are steps in the right direction but we need to do more to educate our kids on the best ways to fuel bodies.

Years ago – the dark ages according to some – when I was in high school, the most popular elective class was Home Economics which was really a cooking class. We learned about baking and cooking which also taught us about biology and chemistry (i.e. making bread) but the best part was eating what we made. Teens – both boys and girls – being hungry all the time were receptive to this class and eager to participate. But with budget cuts through the years, most home economics/cooking classes have been eliminated from school budgets. So, how is a teen to learn about:

  • The basics of cooking and baking
  • Tools in the kitchen
  • Navigating a grocery store
  • The economies of food and how to make healthier choices
  • The nutritional characteristics of fast food
  • The pros and cons of various diets: Vegetarian, Vegan, Omnivore, Paleo, Weight Watchers, and more
  • Animal Agriculture and the environment
  • Organic farming and GMO’s
  • Eating fresh food versus processed food
  • Reading and understanding food labels
  • The connection between health and diet
  • Using spices to add flavor to food
  • Healthy dinners in less than 30 minutes

Many people believe the place for children and teens to learn about nutrition, diet, and food is in the home. No doubt, parents bear the primary responsibility but the classroom is also an opportune place because there is so much for them to learn.  Just as most parents aren’t equipped to teach their kids algebra, chemistry, biology, and history, neither are they equipped to teach all of the topics listed above. As in most education or learning, a collaborative effort can be more effective.

Offering a hands-on class provides life-long lessons that will be utilized every single day of their lives. A basic cooking/home economics class also provides kids with a respite from the usual grind and allows them to learn firsthand about math, biology, chemistry and more as it relates to fueling our bodies. And, finally habits learned by the young are very hard to break as adults so we need to reach out to our children before they begin to think it’s a good decision to go to McDonald’s once or twice a week to eat a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a medium order of French Fries (which provides 883 calories , 47 grams of fat, and 1,418 grams of sodium*) or reach for a bag of potato chips and a handful of Oreos and wash it down with a bottle of Gatorade or Coke. Every day we decide what to put into our bodies and although the young body is resilient, unhealthy choices will eventually catch up with anyone who doesn’t know about or make healthier choices.

* Nutritional information obtained from www.nutritionaldata.self.com.

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