Youth Food Movement is campaigning this month for compulsory nutritional education in the Netherlands. Children need to learn where food comes from, what a healthy diet is, and how to cook, says the campaigning group. Good idea, says Laura Bouwman, a researcher at the Health and Society chair group.
‘It is important to give children the chance to relate to their food – at home and at school. Seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting food is crucial to then. You could get schoolchildren to grow some food, for instance. If you see how a carrot grows, you’ll be more inclined to eat it. You can get them experimenting with cooking, which makes them start tasting fruit and vegetables. And you can teach them about food in a playful way through puzzles and quizzes. That makes children more willing to try new foods too. They need to be actively involved with it.’
So no lessons about health and overweight?
‘No. At the moment there is too much focus on overeating and wrong dietary choices – in other words, on what is not good. That standard education - scaring children off things - doesn’t work very well because children and adolescents are not very receptive to risk communication. It would be better to tell them what is good, but only once they have experienced it for themselves. You have to challenge children, get them questioning things. That is really necessary because you hear more and more children saying ‘I don’t like vegetables.’ Vegetables haven’t changed but parents and the parties providing them have.
Should schools have a food policy?
‘Schools do have a very clear policy against smoking and alcohol but they don’t usually have a position on healthy food. That kind of policy could help, making a healthy food choice the easiest choice. But even then pupils will go off to the snack bar in the lunch hour and get a hamburger. So you need to challenge your pupils to develop their own point of view on food.’