I recently had the opportunity to educate a grade 4 class about healthy eating for their age with a presentation and grocery store field trip. It was such a great experience, so wanted to share it with you!

So far, majority of my clients have been adults, many of which face multiple health issues today based on habits learned as young children that are difficult to break at this stage in life. Children’s eating habits are heavily influenced by their parent’s behaviour, peers, the environment in which they eat in, exposure (or lack of) to various foods, advertising, and education. Education is the one area that teachers and dietitians have some control over! Yes, there is a health curriculum implemented at most schools, but there is still a lack of awareness and knowledge surrounding food and nutrition. Enforcing the principles of a healthy, balanced lifestyle to children from a young age will allow for proper growth and development, fostering a positive relationship with food, and form healthy behaviours that will be continued into adulthood. That’s why I was so excited to be able to educate this class through a fun, hands-on activity, and get them excited about healthy living. By encouraging children to be involved in their food choices, including choosing recipes, grocery shopping, preparing and cooking meals, and packing their lunches, it allows them to feel a sense of independence and control, enjoy what they’re eating, learn new skills in the kitchen, develop a taste for new flavours, and gain a wealth of knowledge that can’t necessarily be learned in a classroom setting.

It was very funny to hear some of the students say that they “laughed in their teacher’s face” when they heard they were going to the grocery store for a field trip. They thought it was going to be boring and didn’t understand the point, as they have all been to the store before (often not willingly). I mean, I was probably a rare 9 year old child who would have been ecstatic to go to the grocery store (still feel that way today), but totally get that this may have seemed “super lame” compared to a field trip to the science centre. That being said, the response during and after the trip was amazing and really surprised me in the best way!

We began the day with a brief presentation, focusing on general healthy eating principles and food trends popular among their age group. We discussed food groups and suggested servings, key nutrients, label reading, added sugar, and dining out. They loved guessing how much sugar was in some of their favourite products, and almost fell off their chairs when I showed them a bag filled with sugar, representing the amount found in a coke can. They all contributed their unique perspective on what healthy eating meant to them. It was also interesting to hear the types of things they had heard about in the media regarding food and nutrition (e.g. “I heard you should never eat fat because it will make you fat”).

We then made our way to the local No Frills, getting in some physical activity from the walk there and back. The field trip was designed to be like a scavenger hunt. Each student received a checklist that they had to fill out by finding different products in the various aisles of the store, reading labels, and understanding packaging and marketing techniques. We focused on the produce, bread, breakfast cereal, and dairy aisles. After the activities, we purchased ingredients to make a balanced, school-safe snack, which involved WOW butter-banana wraps on a whole wheat tortilla and piece of cheese.

It was amazing to see how engaged the children were, working hard to complete the checklists, demonstrating that they really took an interest in learning about healthy eating. It made this dietitian very happy to see how especially excited they were to discover new fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle. What I considered to be very common foods, such as avocados and pears, was not the case for many children who had never seen or tasted these fruits before. It made me realize that not every child gets to be exposed to a wide variety of foods at home, which can impact their taste preferences, comfort level with trying new foods, and nutritional status. Therefore, more opportunities and programs that allow children to learn about various nutritious and culturally-diverse foods should be offered in schools or community settings, with a practical, hands-on approach.

It warmed my heart to receive a handmade thank you card, with a lovely message summarizing what they had learned and what the experience meant to them. It is these kinds of things that remind me why I went into this profession and why I love what I do. As a dietitian, I have the responsibility to educate and empower my community to make food choices that will allow them to live their healthiest and happiest lives. That is what I strive to do with every client, group presentation, and online posts. I cannot wait for future opportunities similar to this one!

Grocery store field trips are not just for children in schools! I offer group and individual grocery store tours, where you’ll learn how to choose the best foods from each aisle to create easy meals that reflect your taste preferences, dietary restrictions, schedule, budget, and skill level in the kitchen. Contact me through the online form to schedule a tour or for more information!

Xo, Nutritious Niks

P.S. Thank you to James S. Bell Junior Middle School and Ms. Kis’ class for inviting me into their classroom.