The new GCSE in Food Preparation and Nutrition will begin this September (2016). As a food teacher and health promotion specialist, I am very pleased to see a shift within the study of food in schools from a design lead context to a much greater emphasis on the role of food in nutrition and its importance in both psychological and physical health through practical application of key messages.
Despite all the recent public debate about sugar taxes, obesity and healthy eating or lack of it, Food as a subject suffers somewhat of an identity crisis where many believe that food education equals baking cakes. Food Preparation and Nutrition is not only academically challenging, but it also equips students with the practical skills and knowledge to look after their physical and mental health in adulthood. Food is certainly not a soft option and it is broad in its scientific scope while embracing social, environmental and moral issues such as animal welfare and food sustainability.
The current scheme of work which I follow covers the following in terms of health and nutrition at Key Stage 3.
In year 7, students learn about the five a day key messages and the importance of fruit and vegetables in their diet. We do this by visually showing the weights and measurements of the portions whether that be a handful of grapes, 3 heaped tablespoons of peas,30g of dried apricots or 150 ml of fruit juice. We encourage students to eat a wide variety by eating colours associated with a rainbow. As a homework activity,students track how many portions of fruit and vegetable they consume over a week and write a report reflecting on this which includes suggestions on how they can encourage young people in general to eat their five-a-day. Student also learn about the importance of adequate hydration levels in a practical activity where they make a smoothie to share and evaluate with their friends.
In year 8, pupils learn about the eat well plate, the Government’s 8 healthy eating guidelines and the main sources and functions of both macro and micro nutrients in the diet. This is a lot of information to digest so we try to teach it in easy manageable chunks and by using memorable acronyms, quizzes and animated videos.Students also experiment with different cooking methods in practical lessons while preparing main meals.They also learn about adapting cultural recipes to make healthier alternatives and this is assessed in an end of term practical exam. Students regularly have to plan and modify recipes, meals and diets to reflect the nutritional guidelines for a healthy diet while considering their own and family dietary needs and practices.
In year 9, we highlight the impact of diet on dental health, including the benefits of a balanced diet. We spend time examining current research findings in terms of dental health, such as the NHS statistics, and often critically reflect and debate headlines from news articles. We watch clips from embarrassing bodies and try to empathize and understand the reasons why people may engage in unhealthy behaviors that can be detrimental to health.
As one in 10 young people between the ages of 5-16 have a diagnosable mental health disorder we are also concerned about mental health promotion. In the year 9 scheme of work we dedicate two lessons to the study of the role of food in mood regulation and foods that can have a positive and negative effect on mental health. Prior, to this pupils spend a week filling in a food and mood diary and reflect on how eating certain foods or perhaps skipping meals such as breakfast can have an impact on their levels of concentration, tiredness and even irritability levels. We encourage pupils to avoid relying on caffeine to get then through the day and to understand the differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger. We encourage pupils to eat mindfully and often practice this by eating a piece of chocolate in a mindful way; eating it slowly and savoring the taste and textures of food.GCSE students embrace the chance to discuss issues such as the link between diet, self esteem, body image and confidence while playing an interactive Food, Mood and Health Game.Now and again we open the food room doors to all students to take part in enjoyable and team building activities such as Bake Off competitions and Time to Talk initiatives where pupils drink cups of hot drink while chatting about mental health.
At Key Stage 4, I intend to use the new AQA Food Preparation and Nutrition specification but all specification cover the same topics albeit in different styles.
There are many objectives in the new GCSE specification but the following listed below and the removal of design orientated topics demonstrate the extent to which a greater emphasis will be placed on health and nutrition in the future.
Students must know and understand:
- The functions, the mains sources effects or deficiency, dietary reference values, the effects of excess of fat, proteins and carbohydrates, fat soluble, water soluble vitamins and minerals in the diet.
- The role of antioxidants in preventing cell damage.
- The importance of hydration in the diet and the functions of water in the body
- The current guidelines for a healthy diet e.g. eat well plate.
- The nutritional needs for the following life stages: young children, teenagers, adults and the elderly.
- How to plan a balanced meal for specific dietary groups: vegetarian and vegan, coeliac, lactose intolerant and high fibre diets.
- To plan, prepare, cook, modify, and create recipes to meet different dietary groups and life stages.
- The basal metabolic rate • (BMR) and physical activity level (PAL) and their importance in determining energy requirements.
- Factors which affect the BMR such as age, gender and PAL. Their importance in achieving energy balance.
- The percentage of recommended energy sources from nutrients.
- How to plan and modify recipes, meals and diets to reflect the nutritional guidelines for a healthy diet.
- How diet can affect health and how nutritional needs change in relation to obesity, cardiovascular health, coronary heart disease (CHD) and high blood pressure, dental health, iron deficiency anaemia, Type 2 diabetes
- Food choice related to religion, culture, ethical and moral beliefs and medical conditions.
- How processing affects the nutritional properties of ingredients.
(Source: AQA Food Preparation and Nutrition Specification).
In food lessons we use interactive methods of learning such as using animation, flash cards, quizzes, board games, Prezi, silent practical’s, self and peer assessment worksheets, mini demonstrations and exam practice questions. We have a stretch and challenge wall and a calm wall in our classroom and proudly display the work of our students for others to see.
Many of the students who study food and nutrition are interested in careers in food science or industry, catering, nutrition, dietetics, psychology, medicine, teaching, nursing and dentistry. They choose to study food at GCSE and A Level because they enjoy it and they understand its importance in giving them a wealth of knowledge on the impact of diet, nutrition and eating habits on health. It also allows them to apply health messages in a practical and independent way which is often more meaningful.
The specification itself allows students to apply health and nutrition messages in a practical and independent way which is often more meaningful. Not only does it ask students to plan, prepare, cook, modify, and create recipes to meet different dietary groups and life stages it also asks them to plan a balanced meal for specific dietary groups such as vegetarian and vegan, coeliac, lactose intolerant and high fibre diets. We often use nutritional ICT programmes which allow students to create recipes and modify them in terms of nutritional content and costing and to create an informative nutritional label to apply to products they make.
The food curriculum also crosses over with the PE curriculum in that we teach students about the basal metabolic rate and physical activity level and their importance in determining energy requirements. We often analysis the dietary habits of sporting heroes and students have an opportunity to reflect on how diet can impact on energy levels and sporting performances such as improving performance and recovering from injuries.
Combined with other subjects such as PE, Science and PSHE, the subject of food lends its self well to the teaching of health and nutritional messages. Students at WGHS are encouraged in an interactive and cross curricular way, where possible to reflect on their health. They are empowered to make informed choices to care for themselves and others which ultimately can help them to achieve their goals in life. Afterall, good health is our real wealth.
So the next time, someone says that Food Education in schools is just about baking cakes, show them this!