Getting food education – cooking, gardening and academic skills – into every school will require collaboration from many groups and individuals, as well as an approach based on research. The new Food Day report describes the state of food education in America to provide a baseline and recommend what more could be done.
Food education in U.S. schools is negligible, scattered, and inefficient, without a national food literacy curriculum or standards. When it is available at all, food education is mostly carried out through small local projects.
There are many examples of successful food education projects, but the groups implementing them haven’t come together as a unified movement or gained enough political clout to increase their reach. Comprehensive national food education is in its infancy.
The best programs in schools include nutrition classes and hands-on activities where kids can grow food, and then touch, taste, and cook it. They often help schools fulfill a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirement that each school district implement a wellness policy that includes food education. Food education programs are funded mostly by federal dollars allocated for low-income families, with just a small portion spent directly in schools. Implementation varies from state to state, and national programs, such as to support family and consumer science classes, are often the targets of budget cuts.
There is little systematic and comprehensive information on what works and what doesn’t in food education. It’s hard for teachers to know what curriculum to use. Some of the materials are produced by research institutions, while others are based on anecdotal evidence or produced by industry to promote their own products.
Improvements in school meals have made it possible to meet nutrition criteria essential for health. That needs to be taken further by teaching students how to cook and prepare meals at home.
There is an urgent need for national standards that will provide skills and knowledge to students, support teacher training, assist the development and rating of materials and curricula, and help to integrate food education into the core of learning.
How can 79 million children enrolled in schools around the country be educated about food? It’s going to take involvement from all levels of stakeholders: states and cities, school districts, the academic community and philanthropic organizations, and parents. Click here to learn more.