There is a lack of nutrition education and healthy eating choices for children and adolescents in Massachusetts, according to many plan participants. Lack of such educational resources and limited healthy food choices correlate with higher obesity and related health problems and food insecurity rates, especially among youth.1 To improve these health outcomes, existing federal food assistance, education, and other programs and funding streams can be improved and expanded.
The lack of early education about nutrition contributes to food insecurity, as children grow up without fundamental skills in food preparation, shopping, and budgeting. In schools, home economics, food science, and nutrition classes at the middle and high school levels are no longer required, and fewer students are taking them.2 Many schools no longer have full-service kitchens and are reduced to warming ovens and refrigerators, which greatly limits the school district’s ability to incorporate locally grown or whole food into menus. This transition to from full-service to limited-service school kitchens marks a significant change from recent, historical school practices. USDA programs exist to support school districts and childcare providers in expanding healthy food options, but in Massachusetts these are underutilized.
Schools gardens can be effective educational tools that support students in making healthy food choices. Despite the benefits of school gardening initiatives, limited funding, lack of administrative staff and school board support, staff and teacher time constraints, and difficulty integrating programming during the academic year can make implementation difficult.
These limitations are compounded by a strong culture of convenience that emphasizes prepackaged foods that require little preparation. The prevailing view among many adults and parents is that cooking takes too much time or skill, and that nutritious food does not taste good.3 Contributing to this are lack of time, limited cooking facilities, a shortage of cooking skills, and poor access to healthy food options – especially for low-income residents who lack convenient access to healthy food. Children often model their eating habits from their family. Nutrition education programs in which parents engage with their children in food and nutrition activities reinforce budgeting, cooking skills, and the connection between food consumption and health can be very effective in transferring healthy eating habits.