• Staci Hemesath, RDN, LD

Culturally and Linguistically Inclusive Nutrition Education

Food is an essential part of life. Food makes it possible to grow and learn, but it means much more than that. Our food preferences and choices are personal and cultural. Culture is defined as the customs, arts, values, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. Culture is shaped by where our families are from and where we live now, what generation we grew up in, who we spend time with, and other factors. What we eat or don’t eat, when we eat, how we cook food, and more is influenced by culture.

Encouraging healthy choices takes more than just knowing what foods are good for us, we need to connect with food in a positive, meaningful way. The goal of nutrition education is to provide the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that lead to healthier food choices.

It is valuable to see ourselves and our culture in our daily sights, sounds, tastes and experiences. This makes us feel “at home." Nutrition is a great way to connect with our history and culture. It is also a valuable and exciting way to get to know others.

Here are some questions and considerations in building positive nutrition education experiences:

Do nutrition education pictures represent the children at my site and families in my community? Consider the kinds of food, people, and places in posters, books, and family communications.

Are nutrition materials positive? Emphasize that healthy habits are for all of us. Avoid negative stereotypes based on weight, ability, and other individual factors. Remember that while being from, or a part of, a certain group may influence experiences and preferences, children are unique. Try not to make assumptions about what foods or traditions families enjoy.

Is the message clear for children and families? Stick to simple nutrition messages. Eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more water are positive ways to improve nutrition. Provide information in pictures and simple phrases to encourage understanding. Provide messages in the appropriate language and literacy level for children and families. Visit this USDA resource to find nutrition education materials in a variety of languages.

How are you allowing children to engage in learning and tell their own stories about healthy food choices? Use Universal Design for Learning (UDL) concepts to minimize barriers and maximize learning for all students. Want to know more about UDL? Check out this short video.

The best way to encourage healthy habits is to create positive experiences together. Learn about healthy foods that students and families enjoy and explore new food experiences together through posters, dramatic play areas, books, gardening, cooking, farm visits, and much more.

A note about the author: Lyn Jenkins is the 5-2-1-0 Coordinator for EveryStep Community Health & Wellness. 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count! is a health-focused movement. This proven method helps prevent chronic disease by focusing on the importance of healthy habits.  The goal is to increase physical activity and healthy eating by making healthy choices easier where children and their families live, learn, work, and play.

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