Teacher's Voice | November 18, 2019

Using Snack Time to Foster Healthy Attitudes Around Food and Food Waste

by William Fulbrecht

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday of the year. As the fall chill begins to creep in, we are beckoned indoors to enjoy the warmth of family, friends, and a wonderful meal. As a kid, one of the best things about Thanksgiving was the left-overs! A big turkey dinner meant there would be a delicious turkey sandwich in my lunchbox every day for at least a week of school (a welcomed break from bologna and cheese). Fifty years later, I still enjoy the holiday and all the cooking. Trouble is, the kids are grown and out of the house, but we still seem to cook the same amount of food! That means the left-overs are less likely to get eaten up and more likely to end up being thrown out – and that’s a shame. I am reminded of what my kindergarten teacher told us at snack time, “Take as much as you like, but no more than you need.”

Nearly one third of the world’s food and up to 40% in the US is lost or wasted – this translates to approximately 403lbs of food per person in the U.S. annually.  In Cyberchase, PBS Kids STEM series for children 6-8 years old, the characters come up against this very problem.  A major point made in the Season 12 special, Giving Thanks Day is that people often pass over perfectly good produce because it is deemed “ugly” or because the package “sell by” date has expired.

The price we pay as a society for wasting this much food is enormous. It isn’t only the food that is wasted. Think of all the fossil fuel used to harvest and transport all that food and the forests being cut down to make room for crops – all of it contributing to climate change. Clearly, we need to change our habits.

As teachers of young children, it is our responsibility to help cultivate healthy habits around food in our classrooms. This is often very difficult, given the constraints of busy school schedules and curriculums that allow less and less time for things like taking a snack break or lingering over lunch. A high-pressure schedule often contributes to poor eating habits and can even encourage more waste as children are shuttled through lunchtime to make room for the next onslaught of kids. But the classroom can still be a place where healthy habits are practiced – and early childhood is the place to start.

“Snack Time” is an opportunity to share and learn

If you are lucky enough to still have snack time in your classroom, begin here. How you structure snack time is important. Children need to have as much autonomy in the process as possible – they need to actively participate in order to develop healthy attitudes and they need to practice often. Some suggestions:

  • Make snack time a valued activity by giving it a place in your daily schedule
  • Give kids specific jobs and make sure everyone knows what that job entails. Jobs do not all have to be done during the designated snack time – for instance, kids could have the job of “Snack Preparer” and perform their task sometime before snack is served. The jobs of “Snack Server” and “Snack Cleanup” are other possibilities.
  • Make it a social time. Snack time can be a time when kids talk together in small groups. Be sure to include yourself in the conversations – you will not only learn a lot about your students, you are also providing a model for them to follow.
  • Make it a time when you share ideas about food – which foods are good for you, which are not, trying new foods, learning what other kids like or don’t like – the list is up to you!

Once you have established a comfortable routine for setting up, eating, and cleaning up, you can begin gathering questions together as a class about things you may be noticing. Questions kids might come up with include:

  • What should we do when there is not enough snack to go around?
  • What should we do when we have some snack left over?
  • What should we do if someone doesn’t like the snack?
  • Should everyone get the same amount of snack, even if they don’t want it?
  • Is it fair that some people take more snack than others?
  • What if some people are still hungry when others are not?

These are all questions that the teacher and children can work on together, seeking a consensus and reaching an agreement going forward. This process teaches kids about democracy, it gives everyone a voice, and will most likely lead kids to conclude that food should not be wasted and should be shared according to need (I’ve seen it happen!) The important thing here is that children are learning about food through the very human process of eating and sharing, and they’re doing it every day.

And, oh yes, about those “ugly” fruits and vegetables… why not try having an “Ugliest Fruit Contest” as a special event during snack? It could be spotted bananas one day and bruised apples another (they make good applesauce). Challenge the kids to try some and see what it tastes like. Eat some yourself! And always remember… Take as much as you like, but no more than you need!

For more classroom resources on food waste and other STEM topics, visit the Cyberchase collection on PBS LearningMedia and download our latest lesson plan: “Ugly” Food and Food Waste.  And be sure to tune in on November 22nd @ 7pm ET to PBS KIDS to watch “Giving Thanks Day”!

Have a happy Thanksgiving!