Over the past several years as we have been developing the physical education department and strength & conditioning program at the school I teach in, we had experimented with different ways on how to incorporate nutrition into the curriculum. Nutrition "seminars" during our summer workout program and various "talks" in our PE classes where large amounts of information were sort of vomitted out, were the methods we chose. But we felt like too many kids were not really applying what we were teaching them, mostly because it was too, much too fast.
In addition to asking HOW we would implement nutrition into our programs, we also had to decide WHAT we wanted them to know. We started with the fact that, philosophically, we would not promote, provide, or encourage the use of supplements of any kind. I know that's a whole other discussion, but for the context of this piece, that fact is important to note. We broke our nutrition philosophy down to 6 areas:
1. Drinking at least 80 oz of H2O/day
2. Eating breakfast everyday
3. Eating 6 meals/day
4. Taking in 6 servings of fruits/veggies everyday
5. Consuming 4servings of dairy/day
6. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep (no, not food, but closely tied to the big picture)
From there, we created weekly and bi-weekly Nutrition "Challenges". At the end of class on Monday, we have a short 5 minute talk about what the challenge for the week or next couple of weeks is (i.e.trying to eat breakfast everyday), along with practical ways to address the "what, why, how" of getting it done. A handout of some sort reinforcing the information we talked about is usually included. The kids then attempt to complete the challenge as best as they can. At the end of the two weeks, our high school kids turn in a 100-200 journal reflection on the experience discussing whether or not they were successful and why, as well as, what they would do differently next time. We then read the journal entries giving feedback on what the kids said about their experience. Because it's for a class, a completion grade is given whether they were successful or not. Our goal is not to simply dock a kid for failing the challenge but to get them on the road to practicing sound nutritional habits. In the context of a class, our teachers/coaches believe giving them points for working through how/why they failed, promotes that. Every week, our middle school students have a log sheet that there parents sign off on indicating success or failure. Again, credit being given at least for the attempt and in the case of MS, getting the parents involved.
We found that by having the kids reflect in writing about what it was like to try and eat breakfast everyday or how they had to plan ahead to pack extra snacks in their lunch each day, gave us an insight into the reasons why they don't eat the way that they should which helps us teachers/coaches zone in on what issues the kids struggle with specifically and not what we think we should talk about. Breaking down the vast amount of nutrition and rest information that exists into small, manageable pieces, has also been crucial in a much larger number of kids even attempting to practice this stuff.
This system has not "fixed" all of our kids poor eating habits but it has caused them to start tinkering with how to eat right and get enough rest, even if it's only at a very basic level or for a short amount of time. It has also gotten their parents involved because they are the ones who do the grocery shopping primarily. The kids are telling them to make sure to put certain things in the cart or cook food in a certain way.
Our overall goal then is for kids to continue all of the "challenges" all of the time as a part of their everyday life when there is no longer a grade to be earned. Again, these are not complicated ideas or overly specific, personalized diets. These are very basic, yet very essential habits that kids and adults should be practicing.