Healthier eating is an essential topic

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Thanks to documents and acts such as 'Healthy Eating in Schools: A Guide to Implementing the Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2008', which gives guidelines on the "nutrient standards for school lunches" (Scottish Government, 2008) and Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Act 2007, which outlines the health promoting duties of schools, including their role in the provision of meals, it is easier than ever before for a child to make healthier choices regarding food, however it is still necessary to give children the facts that lie behind what they see in the school dinner hall and to give them opportunities to put what they know into practice so that they can live a healthier life outside of school (Scottish Government, 2007).

The first area of Healthier Eating that would usually be looked at in schools is the Food Groups. These are demonstrated in a child friendly way by the Eatwell Plate (see appendix 1). The plate displays the five different food groups and the proportions that we need to eat in order to have a balanced diet. The plate divides foods into five groups as follows.

Fruit and vegetables are recommended to make up about a third of your daily diet, working out to around five pieces a day. A portion is about eighty grams and this can be made up in a variety of ways, from whole pieces to juice and from tins to frozen (Food Standards Agency, 2009).

Eating a variety of different fruits and vegetables provides us with the necessary vitamins and minerals that our body requires for essential processes. One of these is vitamin A which is needed for the "normal structure and function of the skin and mucous membranes such as in the eyes, lungs and digestive system" (British Nutrition Foundation, 2009). Found in carrots, green leafy vegetables and orange-coloured fruits, vitamin A is also known as retinol which is necessary for healthy eyes.

An essential mineral also found in fruit and vegetables, especially dark green, leafy vegetables is, surprisingly iron. It is required for the formation of haemoglobin in red blood cells and has a role in the immune system.

Other than not smoking, eating lots of fruit and vegetables is regarded as the best protection against cancer, heart disease and stroke (Department of Health, 2004, cited in Robinson, 2006).

Bread, Rice, Potatoes and Pasta (and other starchy foods)

Just like fruit and vegetables, starchy foods are recommended to make up one third of your daily food intake and as a result you meals should be based around them (Food Standards Agency, 2009). The foods included in this group, i.e. bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, are rich in carbohydrates which are broken down by our body into glucose - the substance that the body uses as fuel (Albon and Mukherji, 2008).

The two main types of carbohydrates are sugars and complex carbohydrates. The sugars are found in food such as fruit, vegetables and in fruit juice and honey. Complex carbohydrates can them be divided into two main types. The first is starch which is found in the foods that were mentioned earlier; bread, rice, potatoes and pasta. The other is fibre, now renamed as non-starch polysaccharide (NSP). Unlike the sugars and starches, NSP is not absorbed by the body, instead it aids in digestion by binding waste together helping to prevent constipation. "Wholegrain food, such as wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread and pasta are good sources of NSP" (Robinson, 2006, p.5).

Milk and Dairy Foods

Milk and dairy foods such as cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais provide the body with excellent sources of protein, vitamin A and vitamin B12. They are also an important source of calcium, which is a vital mineral in childhood, adolescence and later life. Calcium is needed by the body to build strong bones and teeth and plays a regulatory role in muscle contractions, for example the heartbeat. It is also required in the body's cells in order for them to carry out their specific functions and is essential in the clotting of blood (Theobald, 2005).

It is important to be aware of the fat content of particular dairy products, especially in milk and cheeses. In full fat cheeses, for example, there is a high amount of saturated fat and often added salt which should only be consumed occasionally and in small amounts. There are lower fat versions of both foods available, which contrary to popular belief, does not lower the calcium content, "so an adequate calcium intake can still be obtained from lower-fat dairy products" (BBC, 2008). It must be remembered though that low fat milk is not suitable for children under the age of two due to the lower calorie content of the milk (Food Standards Agency, 2009).

Meat, Eggs, Fish and Beans (and other non-dairy sources of protein)

As well as the dairy products mentioned above, meat, fish, eggs and beans are excellent sources of protein which is required for growth, repair of body tissues and maintenance of good health. It is therefore essential for growing children. Excess protein becomes a source of energy, or is stored as fat (Robinson, 2006).

Protein gained from animal sources i.e. meat, fish and eggs contain all of the eight essential amino acids required by humans (British Nutrition Foundation, 2009). Protein from plant sources do not provide all of these amino acids therefore vegetarians and vegans have to ensure that their diet is balanced and varied enough to acquire these. However it is possible to do this without consuming any animal products (BBC, 2008).

Food and Drinks High in Fat and/or Sugar

Foods such as chocolate, cakes, pies, pastries and fizzy drinks make up the smallest section of the Eatwell plate, and therefore should be eaten in moderation as part of your daily diet. Fat is a concentrated source of energy compared to carbohydrates. This is why it can be easy to consume a high amount of calories, even when eating a relatively small amount of food (BBC, 2008).

The two main groups of fats are saturated and unsaturated. Eating a high amount of saturated fat in your diet "can raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, over time" (Food Standards Agency, 2009). In later life, you can also be at increased risk of developing heart disease. It is therefore important to replace foods that are high in saturated fats with foods from other food groups, such as fruit and vegetables.

Unsaturated fats are found in foods such as oily fish and avocados. They are better for us than saturated fats as they provide us with the essential fatty acids our body needs (Food Standards Agency, 2009).

Sugars are found naturally in foods such as milk and fruit, but also added to foods like sweets, cakes and biscuits. It is the added sugar that can be harmful to us. Added sugar is a great energy source, but provides little other nutrient. Sugary drinks, in particular, "do not trigger the same sense of fullness as food with similar calories, increasing the risk of overeating" (BBC, 2009). Excessive amounts of sugar also affect our dental health, especially if foods high in sugar are consumed between meals (BBC, 2009).

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For activities that could be done with children, see appendix two.

Section 2 - ENTERPRISE

The topic of Healthier Eating lends itself to numerous opportunities for Enterprise, opportunities which will allow children to develop a "can do, will do attitude" (Scottish Executive, 2003).

Enterprise Education "allows children to initiate and sustain a practical project" (Lecture Notes), taking responsibility for it throughout. The outcome could be a product or service, however this is not essential. The main focus is the experience, which should encourage pupils to take on roles and responsibilities, learn and apply previous knowledge about the topic within a real context and "gain skills, confidence and abilities to become the employees, employers and entrepreneurs of the future" (LTS, 2009).

Within the context of Healthier Eating there is a range of projects that could be undertaken by a class. The ultimate choice should be made by the pupils, however possibilities are: a vegetable and/or fruit tree garden designed and cared for by the pupils; inviting the school community to a 'Healthier Eating Evening' where food and drink is provided; a smoothie cafe in the classroom for other pupils and staff in the school.

Another worthwhile experience could be for pupils to devise a recipe book, with more balanced alternatives to their usual favourites. This would allow pupils to make links with the wider community when asking for suggestions for the book, something that is advocated in the Determined to Succeed document (Scottish Executive, 2003).

Appendix for sensitivities?

The first stage in this type of project would be indentifying what planning would need to be done and then assigning roles to pupils. This would, of course, be facilitated by the teacher but would ultimately be the responsibility of the pupils. The roles could be named the same as in the real business world, such as Advertising, Production and Sales etc, or could be titles more appropriate to the specific project; it all depends on the nature of the project and the stage of the children. The most important factor however, is that children have equal roles and that they are comfortable with the responsibilities that they have (Lecture Notes).

Undertaking a project such as this would give the children the opportunity to demonstrate as well as develop new skills and competencies, many of which are directly related to certain curricular areas. Among many others, pupils will more than likely be involved in "collecting, analysing and organising information" (Lecture Notes), such as collecting the recipes from around the school and organising them into categories. Another key competency is problem solving (Lecture Notes). Any enterprise project will be unlikely to run with everything going according to plan, which is why they are so valuable for children. Being responsible for their own role and for the project as a whole encourages children to devise practical solutions to any problems that may arise, and in turn determines the success of the project. It is perfectly acceptable for the children to make their own mistakes; perhaps this is where the true learning takes place, children beginning to understand appreciate that within a 'business-like' situation, problem solving is a part of everyday life.

Something that should not be overlooked in an enterprise project is the evaluation stage. Facilitated by the teacher, this enables pupils to wind down their project but with a clear focus for evaluation, such as personal strengths, skills they have acquired or things they would do differently next time. Regardless of the type of project of stage of the pupils, an evaluation must be done (Lecture Notes).

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Section 4

The lesson above is an effective and exciting one, which takes in to account the different needs of all the pupils in the class. The Health and Wellbeing experiences and outcomes state that a child's learning environment should allow him or her to "participate in a wide range of activities which promote a healthy lifestyle" (LTS, 2009). The lesson permits this to happen because of its activities. The end result is a greater knowledge of snacks and treats, and it also provides the children with the tools to make informed decisions about their health. Of course, the end result is important but the journey towards the learning objectives is just as significant. This is where different levels and learning styles can be accommodated.

The first activity involves sorting pictures of snacks and treats. Pictures have been chosen to allow all children to participate as fully as possible. Reading is not involved thus making the activity more focused on Health and the topic in hand, rather than any literacy difficulties that a child may have.

Mathematics and numeracy are quite a large part of the lesson, but at different levels to make the learning experience suitable for all the children. Most children will feel comfortable with the measurement of the sugar as the amounts are given for them. Pupils who require a greater challenge could be responsible for the rounding of the numbers. This is not to say that other pupils will not be able to do this, it just provides a form of differentiation suitable for each pupil's stage of learning. For pupils working at the early and first levels (level A), they could be involved in the counting of the teaspoons of sugar. This allows reinforcement of number sequences and encourages a feeling of participation with the rest of the group. As well as this, the graph worksheet will have less information to be filled in, allowing the pupils to fully concentrate on the numbers. All too often there are certain children who are repeatedly left out of a group, so it is important that everyone feels included.

The group work itself encourages active learning, a very current theme being promoted within Scottish schools (LTS, 2009). Doing rather than being told results in children recalling and understanding the information better, and ultimately a more enjoyable experience for all (Petty, 2004).

Participating within a group helps to develop invaluable skills such as

co-operation and consideration, as well as the ability to work as part of a team. The children's motivation with be positively affected because of the active nature of the lessons. Group work also allows pupils to learn from each other, especially if the groups are made up of mixed abilities. For this lesson, this would be the case, providing the perfect setting for Vygotsky's social constructivist theory, where children learn by interacting with a more knowledgeable other. In this situation, pupils are learning from peers working at a more advanced levels than themselves (Jarvis, 2005).

The lesson also accommodates different learning styles. Pupils will participate in class discussions, the activities described above, and an individual activity all allowing for maximum learning opportunities and therefore, fulfillment of the learning objectives.

Challenges

The aforementioned lesson is an extremely active one and as a result confronts the teacher with some challenges regarding classroom management and organisation, organisation of resources, group dynamics and mixed abilities.

Before the children are allowed to begin the measuring activity, clear instructions must be given in order to make the activity a fair experience for all. Any child whose behaviour does not meet up to the standards set out by the teacher would be subject to the usual disciplinary actions such as a warning, then removal of golden time. If deemed necessary by the teacher, the child could even be removed from the activity.

In order for the activities to be effective in achieving the learning objectives, some forward planning has to be done. Valuable time will be wasted if the resources (e.g. sugar, scales and teaspoons) are not in place before the lesson begins. This is the reason why it would be beneficial for this part of the lesson to be carried out in a suitable area outside of the classroom.

Another challenge that must be considered is the group dynamics. The lesson states that the children will work in mixed ability groups which may well place them out with their usual group of friends. Of course, it is the responsibility of the teacher not to place children together who may cause conflict, however it is of the children's benefit to learn to co-operate with others and this should be explained to the pupils.

Mixed abilities working together could easily cause problems amongst pupils. It therefore must be stressed that the activities are a team effort, where everyone plays an equal part. The differentiation within the activities will accommodate the differing stages; beyond this it is up to the pupils to be "effective contributors and responsible citizens" (LTS, 2009) and work together to complete the task successfully.

Sensitivities

Health and Wellbeing is an extremely sensitive topic, with Healthier Eating being no different. The lesson involves the children being reasonably close to food such as chocolate and fruit. If there were allergies of any type in the class, how the food is presented must be considered. Especially with nut allergies, even being close to a food containing nuts can provoke a reaction

In order to combat this, the food at the beginning of the lesson will either be kept in the original packaging or in sealed plastic bags. The food will be kept on a tray on a table in front of the children to prevent anything from going missing and being eaten by a child. Once the discussion about the foods is finished, they will be removed from the classroom.

It is also possible to have an allergy, or intolerance to sugar. This is rather uncommon and symptoms do not usually occur until the food is actually eaten (Allergy UK). Despite this, if there was a child who suffered from sugar intolerance it would be in the interests of the child to substitute the sugar for a similar substance, for example salt.

Even if there are no children with sugar intolerance, it would be necessary to remind the children that under no circumstances should they eat the sugar.

When the discussions are about treats and snacks are taking place, the teacher must be aware of any Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or Jewish children within the class who are fasting, such as any Jewish children who are fasting for the festival of Yom Kippur (Cole and Morgan, 2000). If this is happening, it wise to schedule the lesson, if possible, out with times of fasting so that every child can participate in the discussions as fully as possible.

In conclusion, there are many challenges and sensitivities that must be considered when planning and teaching any Health lesson. It is the responsibility of the teacher to ensure that these sensitivities are catered in order for each child to fulfill their potential.

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