What can I do as a teacher or school to encourage healthy eating habits and to be active?
School communities are increasingly becoming places where healthy habits can flourish. The responsibility for teaching children healthy habits does not fall only on teachers though.
A healthy school community involves all partners and sends children the same message in the home, school, and community. Children who attend a healthy school can make informed, healthy decisions that affect their own lives and the lives of their families.
It doesn’t take a lot to create a healthier school. Some changes could include:
- Incorporating healthy eating and physical activity across the curriculum in fun and creative ways
- Creating partnerships with the broader community, for example local food growers, sporting clubs, library etc.
- Providing professional development opportunities for teachers and other support staff to teach and promote healthy eating and being active.
Schools can encourage good nutritional habits by:
- Developing a whole school food policy
- Involving pupils and parents in guiding food policy and practice within the school, and enabling them to contribute to healthy eating, and acting on their feedback
- Offering healthy foods in school canteens
- Providing clean, cool-water fountains
- Assessing the food provided at the school canteen and vending machines
- Providing parents with information on healthy food choices and active living
- Developing a school vegetable garden
- Offering regular snack breaks for students to eat fruit and vegetables
- Allowing students to bring their water bottles into the classroom with them
- Providing a welcoming eating environment that encourages positive social interaction.
Ways in which schools can help students to become more active, include:
- Developing a whole school physical activity policy, which encourages all staff and students to be physically active, then implement, monitor and evaluate it for impact
- Providing a school environment that encourages being active, for example adequate playground facilities, access to equipment, walking paths etc.
- Providing secure bike racks or storage to encourage students and staff to ride to work
- Scheduling more physical education and physical activity
- Involving students in decisions about the school environment
- Including students when deciding the type of physical activity to be undertaken, making them more committed to participation
- Providing parents/carers with the opportunity to be involved in the planning and delivery of physical activity opportunities
- Ensuring that adequate time is spent on developing fundamental motor skills.
Be a role model
Positive modelling by school staff is important to support healthy eating and physical activity policies and actions. It helps to show leadership and commitment that others, such as students and parents, can be inspired by.
Teachers are in a good position to act as positive role models for students, parents and the community. As a teacher, you know that students watch what you say and do very carefully. Any difference between your words and your actions is picked up quickly. This can be frustrating, but keep in mind that students learn by watching and copying the behaviour of others.
A teacher who makes healthy choices – including healthy eating and regular physical activity – can have a good influence on the health of students, others and most importantly, yourself.
Schools and teachers can model healthy eating and being active at school by:
- Packing a healthy lunch and taking the time to eat it
- Providing healthy snacks at school and staff functions (staff meetings, parent-teacher interviews, etc.)
- Using non-food rewards (pencils, skipping ropes) instead of lollies and sweats
- Walking rapidly during yard duty
- Joining in the activities during physical education classes, recess or lunchtime
- Using public transport for school excursions – it is often cheaper and you can get in your physical activity for the day
- Taking activity breaks during classes
- Supporting physical activity opportunities during and after school
- Sharing your physical activity interests with students.
It’s your health, too!
Here is the best part. When you model healthy habits, your own health improves.
By choosing to eat healthy foods and be physically active, you will find that you are more alert, have more energy, smile more, remember more and generally feel better about yourself.
Ideas for the classroom
Not sure how to make healthy eating fun? Running out of ideas for fitness and PE lessons?
Have a look at some of the resources below:
- Firstly, there are a range of resources available from the be active, Go for 2&5® and Swap It! campaigns to order, free of charge, to help support schools. See the order form under Related Resources.
- Healthy Eating Curriculum Kit for SA Primary Schools (second edition)
- Australian Council for Health and Physical Education and Recreation
- Nutrition Recommendations for kids and teens
- Physical Activity Recommendations for kids and teens
- Premier’s be active Challenge
- Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden
- Natural Resources Management Board – School Food Gardens Resources.