This is part four of my five-part mini series on the Health Month initiative I created for my school.
As I explained in the first part of this series, Health Month is an annual, month-long initiative I run throughout the month of May that is designed to help celebrate healthy, active living within my school’s community. The initiative is broken down into four weeks, with each week having it’s own theme:
In this blog post, I will be walking you through the activities and challenges that I created for Health Month’s Nutrition Week.
As I mentioned in my previous Health Month posts, I established a few learning targets to guide the design of each week’s activities/challenges. For Nutrition Week, the learning targets were:
✅ I can design a healthy meal at lunchtime.
✅ I can list and put into practice some of the healthy eating habits that are outlined in Canada's Food Guide.
I shared these targets with the rest of the faculty via the ‘#healthmonth’ channel in our school’s Slack workspace leading up to Nutrition Week so that everyone was aware and on the same page. The targets were also shared with my school’s parent community via our Health Month weekly email in the hopes that it would guide discussions at home.
When we redesigned Health Month in 2019, the new version of Canada’s Food Guide had just been published. I’m a big fan of the document and its resources, which is why I took the opportunity to redesign our annual Nutrition Week around it!
Although we did post a few copies of the poster version of the Canada Food Guide around the school (i.e. in the cafeteria, on the PE department door, in the staff room), we knew we needed to be doing more than that to ensure that the guide truly lived as the heart and soul of Nutrition Week.
In my opinion, one of the best features of the guide is the fact that it promotes healthy eating habits that go beyond just what goes on your plate. These habits were shared with families in our weekly Health Month email blast (you can access the Nutrition Week email template in the Health Month Teacher Pack) and presented as “challenges” that families could take on throughout the week. This included:
Practice Mindful Eating
Eating is an opportunity to practice mindfulness. That said (and as pretty much any physical educator can attest), it can be really easy to fall into the trap of rushing through meals in order to get to the next task or activity.
To help families practice and benefit from mindful eating at home, we shared some of the discussion prompts that were presented in Canada’s Food Guide:
How did you eat?
Why did you eat?
What did you eat?
When did you eat?
Where did you eat?
How much did you eat?
Again, the goal with these questions/prompts was to help families slow down, pay attention, and get into the habit of being mindful during meal times.
Cook Together & Often
Cooking as a family provides us with opportunities to spend quality time together, have discussions about the food we are eating, learn new skills, and - most importantly - have some fun!
For some, cooking is part of their family traditions. For families who fell into that category, the challenge was to cook together as often as possible throughout Nutrition Week. We also told families that they could earn “bonus points” for doing the grocery shopping together!
For some families, cooking is not part of their family traditions. For those families, we encouraged them to try one of the family-friendly, easy-to-follow recipes from Canada's Food Guide growing list of recipe cards and encouraged them to start small (e.g. a snack) and work their way up to larger meals (e.g. supper).
Eat Meals With Others
Food is one of the best ways to bring people together. It gives us an opportunity to spend quality time with others and helps strengthen relationships that - in turn - support our social wellness.
As a final challenge for Nutrition Week, I invited families to organize a social dinner with family and/or friends. For some families, this may not seem like a challenge at all as social eating is already part of your habits. For others, setting time aside to have brunch/lunch/dinner with others may be way outside of their comfort zone.
Either way, sharing a meal with people we care about gives us time to connect, relax, catch up, and laugh. It’s one of the things that I have missed the most throughout this pandemic. That said, there are still ways to work around any physical distancing orders that have been put in place. For example, my family and I hosted a virtual pizza night with my brothers and their wives! I prepped pizza dough and sauce ahead of time, delivered it to their doors, and then we all hung out, made pizza, and shared some laughs together over Zoom!
There were two main in-school challenges that I put together for our students. Before I share these, I need to tell you a little about how lunch worked at St. George’s:
I worked at a private school that offered lunch services every day. Towards the end of second period, the gymnasium got converted into a cafeteria (my students and I would help set up all of the tables and chairs for the school). The in-school kitchen team would then come in and set up buffet tables in preparation for the lunch services.
Students from grades 1-3 would then come in, line up, grab a tray, and put together their lunch for the day by choosing from the hot meal option and the salad bar. At the end of their lunch period, they would go outside and grades 4-6 would have their turn to eat.
Although this sounds amazing (and really, it was), one of the major issues we would often see at lunch was the fact students weren’t making balanced plates: oftentimes a student would go through the entire buffet and come out with a carrot and a slice of bread.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the goals of Nutrition Week was to help students be able to design a healthy plate at lunchtime. That brings us to the first challenge piece: the Nutrition Table Cards!
I designed these Nutrition Table Cards, printed/laminated them, and set them up on each table (including the buffet tables) during lunchtime throughout Nutrition Week. The cards had two sides to them:
On the front of the card, I shared the “Balanced Plate” graphic from Canada’s Food Guide to provide students with a reference for their portions. I also shared three of the guidelines from the document for creating a balanced plate:
🥗 Have plenty of fruits and vegetables.
🐟 Eat protein foods.
🍞 Choose whole grain foods.
Having this graphic at each table not only provided students with a visual prompt for designing their plate, but it also provided teachers on lunch supervision duty with a discussion point as they walked around and took a look at each kid’s plate. Although I don’t have any hard data to support this claim, I can say that there were plenty of occasions where students would talk to me about how they tried to follow the guidelines or went back when they saw their plate was lacking. I even saw kids try to organize their plates to look like the one from the graphic!
I like how simple and student-friendly the guidelines from the Food Guide are. However, not all students have the knowledge to be able to determine which foods fell into the “Fruits & Vegetables”, “Protein Foods”, and/or “Whole Grain Foods” categories. This is where the backside of the card became so important.
In the week before Nutrition Week, I sat down with the kitchen team to discuss the menu/buffet that would be prepared for the students throughout the following week. As we went through the different meals and their ingredients, I organized everything into those three categories I mentioned above. From there, I designed the back side of the Nutrition Table Cards to showcase the foods students would find at lunch organized into the different food categories. This would support students as they selected foods from each category and walk away from the buffet with a balanced plate! It also made it easy for them to quickly add to their plate should they get to their table and realize they missed a category.
When I first presented the plan for Health Month at the end of April, I had a parent from the school get in touch with me. As a licensed nutritionist with a passion for educating kids about the importance of whole foods, she wanted to know if there was any way she could come in (for free) to provide lunchtime workshops to the students that would educate them on the differences between whole-foods and processed foods.
If you know anything about Healthy School Communities, you know that partnerships are a key component to their success and that partnerships with parents are absolutely vital. I was thrilled to have a parent want to be a part of Health Month and 100% took her up on her offer!
In total, she ran two separate sessions for the kids: one for the younger students and another for the older ones. In the sessions, students got to learn more about food, healthy nutrition, and even got to walk away with some hands-on experience at preparing healthy snacks!
The best part: this parent felt totally empowered by the experience and informed me later on that year that she was going to get together with a few other parents from the school to start up a “Healthy School Committee”! Big win!
And now we get to what will - unfortunately but also fortunately - forever be the most memorable component of Health Month:
The “What’s My Pee Telling Me” Charts
One of the components of Canada’s Food Guide is to make sure that, when possible, we make water our drink of choice.
To support this, students were invited to bring water bottles to school in order to stay properly hydrated throughout the day (something that became a lasting practice at the school).
In addition to this policy change, I posted some “Benefits of Staying Hydrated” posters around the school above each of our water fountains.
But the crown jewel of these efforts - the masterpiece of Health Month - were the freaking pee charts I made to go above each urinal and toilet in the school.
I wanted students to know that they can use the colour of their urine to determine whether or not they were drinking enough water during the day. To help them with this, the “What’s My Pee Telling Me” graphics shared six different shades of pee and let students know how to interpret each of them.
These were - much to my demise - a hit. The only reason I’m being salty about this is because my office was right beside the boys washroom and I found myself being interrupted time and time again by younger boys who just couldn’t wait to tell me what colour their pee was. It’s a big part of the reason I had back on making “What’s Your Poo Telling You” charts to complement the pee ones (although I still think there is a lot of value to be shared there).
So that’s it for part four of the Health Month mini-series! I’ll soon be publishing part five of the series in which I will be going over the fourth and final theme of Health Month: Sleep. If you want to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the upcoming posts, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.
If you’re interested in bringing Health Month to your school, be sure to check out the Health Month Teacher Pack in which I have included all of the resources I designed for this year’s initiative (along with parent email templates).
Once again, thanks for reading and happy teaching! 🙌