Should Cooking Be a School Requirement to Improve Health?

Not Without this Component.

I just finished reading this New York Times Piece —Reading, Math and Sushi: Cooking as a Health Lesson

Students at P.S. 333 in Manhattan made kale Caesar salads on March 7 through the Wellness in the Schools program. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

I’m all for this type of integrated learning in the classroom. I use cooking as math lessons for my kids — simple counting and addition right now since they are only 3 and 4 years old.

Cooking is also being studied as a way to ease depression, anxiety, and ADHD among others. One benefit is it keeps people engaged and focused on completing a task. They feel a sense of accomplishment and other positive emotions that could be lacking.

In my book, Body Kindness, I encourage mindful cooking or what I call finding “Zen in the Kitchen”. As typical, busy overbooked and overworked American, I don’t always look forward to cooking, (despite being a dietitian — gasp!) When I started using cooking as a way to unwind my mind, I got an immediate benefit. I also framed up the task as something that mattered because I care about eating well, saving money, and sitting down as a family (which some days is just one parent, but we make it work!) This has been shown to be helpful to kids’ well-being no matter what’s on the table.

Back to the schools… I’m sure health is lacking in schools ed like it was when I was younger. BUT… a BIG BUT… I think it’s crucial to focus on well-being for all bodies in the context of health education. What I mean is that we should not continue to oppress bodies by telling kids that cooking will prevent obesity. There have always been fat people. We should be giving kids reasons to care about food and their bodies outside of weight concerns. I believe this will help reduce the oppression of people in large bodies, and in turn, will encourage everyone to feel welcome to participate in the joyful benefits of cooking.

We also need to expand the conversation of “health” to include mind and body health. This can include lessons in mindful eating, associating eating all foods with pleasure — including cookies and ice cream. (Let’s be real. People are going to eat sweets. Let’s help them do it without shame. Let’s help them make choices that fit them best and help them learn balance and moderation.)

I challenge these types of programs to be truly helpful they must be inclusive of the concepts and science that shows weight does not determine health, how to prepare delicious and nourishing meals (at all budgets), how to enjoy the cooking and eating process, WITHOUT the crazy food rules that is so pervasive in the “eat healthy” rhetoric that persists in our culture today.

I’m curious… what type of programs have been taught in your schools. Are they leaning inclusive, helpful, and positive or are they leaning oppressive? Share in the comments below.


Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN is author of the book Body Kindness, which Publisher’s Weekly calls “a rousing guide to better health and the New York Times calls “simple and true”. Take her free Body Kindness e-course and read a chapter of her book at www.bodykindnessbook.com.

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