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School and food is such a loaded, wearying combination that it’s easy to miss the small things that boost our kids’ food literacy every day. So, in the spirit of giving thanks and honoring allies on the front lines, I present five ways my daughter’s first-grade teacher rocks her classroom’s food IQ:

1. She read Rosemary Wells’ “Yoko” the first week of school. Written as an ode to multiculturalism, “Yoko” is equally a tale about respecting different food choices. Whether your kid has food allergies or eats ethnic fare or just likes green-and-brown things that her classmates don’t, that’s a good lesson for all.

2. The classroom theme this fall has been sustainability. Reduce-reuse-recycle, of course. But the kids have also gardened, composted and learned about local, seasonal foods.

3. As part of afternoon choice time, right before dismissal, kids can choose to eat leftovers from their lunch or morning snack (there’s no cafeteria in our small school). Anyone who’s witnessed a post-school hunger meltdown knows what a beautiful thing this is. And kids learn that food affects how they feel and behave.

4. Before Thanksgiving, when one of my daughter’s fellow veg classmates brought in Ruby Roth’s “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals,” Ms. S read it alongside the turkey books. Yes, Roth advocates for vegetarianism (and, I think, does so without judgment), but the book’s strength is that it presents the reality of factory farming and environmental destruction in an entirely age-appropriate way. Even omnivorous kids get a takeaway.

5. Our class Halloween party had nary a colored edible monstrosity in sight. By design. And of course the kids had a great time, anyway, with wholesome sweets, fruit, veggies, and cheese and whole-grain crackers. And the Thanksgiving feast?  Ms. S suggested a Native American Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) theme. Not only did the kids learn about the benefits of companion planting, and do art and math projects with dried beans. They also scooped and roasted the squash, and mixed cornbread from scratch. (I cooked the beans at home in a crockpot.) They churned butter, too.

Seriously, she rocks, right? Thanks, Ms. S, for making this parenting thing easier.

Spreading the love a little further, here are three more examples of food literacy in action:

  • Jenna Pepper, who blogs at Food with Kid Appeal, wrote this guest post at Kelly the Kitchen Kop in which she discusses her “eat to learn” project at her sons’ school. What’s impressive is how Jenna reconciled her personal whole-food standards with the importance of small steps and the greater good. She knew the cafeteria fare was unlikely to ever measure up to how she and her family eat. But rather than use that as an excuse to disengage, she focused on one bright spot on the menu — fresh produce — and created a program to get kids thinking about how food affects their bodies.
  • I’ve been sitting on this one awhile, planning to delve into it deeper, and I will. And I’ll follow-up here when I do. But, in the meantime, I wanted to at least mention the Nourish middle-school curriculum, an exciting new tool to engage students in discussion (and action) about food and food systems. The beauty of Nourish — aside from its emphasis on food sustainability and critical thinking — is that it can be used in whole or in part, with elements suited to social studies, science, health or English classes, or general study.
  • An Open Food Revolution is an example of how crowdsourcing, used thoughtfully, can work. An “open innovation challenge” from Jamie Oliver and the design firm IDEO, it produced nearly 600 ideas in response to one question: “How can we raise kids’ awareness of the benefits of fresh food so they can make better choices?” Download a book of the best ideas here, or discuss the concepts here.

Any food literacy stories to share? Teacher tales? Who are your allies in the fight against food insanity?

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