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Not enough focus on health in the food and health subject

80 percent of the teaching in the school subject food and health involves cooking, Cecilie Beinert's survey of teaching practices in the school subject concludes.

Picture of a child receiving help cooking from an adult.
The food and health subject consists of more than cooking, but this is not reflected in the teaching. Illustrationphoto: Pexels.com

“It is not surprising that a lot of teaching time in the school subject food and health is spent in the kitchen. However, many of the learning objectives from the National Curriculum ‘Kunnskapsløftet 2006’ are about things other than cooking. This curriculum was in use until 2020. The learning objectives include reflecting on the impact our diets have on health, climate and environment, the use of food labelling, and being a critical consumer”, says Beinert.

Beinert has written her PhD thesis on the topic ‘“An unexploited potential”. LifeLab Food and Health: Assessment and Development of Teaching and Learning Practices in the Norwegian School Subject Food and Health’. She looked at how the school subject food and health is being taught, the formal qualifications of those who teach, and developed learning materials that correspond better with the more theoretical learning objectives in the subject, which are competencies such as understanding, deliberating, assessing or discussing.

Lack qualifications

“The new curriculum that was introduced in 2020 states that ‘the food and health subject will contribute to improving public health’. Which means that cooking skills are needed, but also a whole lot of other skills. The teachers I spoke to know that the subject is about more than learning how to follow a recipe. But like most teachers, they are often short of time, and they end up talking about the health side of the subject while the pupils are cooking”, Beinert says.

In subjects such as mathematics, the requirement is that teachers must have at least 60 credits in the subject in order to teach it. In the food and health subject, the requirement is 30 credits at the lower secondary level, and none at all at the primary level.

“My survey shows that less than half of the teachers who currently teach food and health have credits in the subject. It is often a coincidence who is asked to teach the subject, and teaching appointments often turn out to be the result of scheduling issues rather than who actually has the right qualifications”, says Beinert.

Alternative teaching methods needed

Teachers she interviewed are clear that they want to explore the subject more but are impeded by time constraints. Another thing that recurred was that teaching unrelated to cooking was done in a very traditional way, with pupils as passive listeners.

Beinert wants to develop alternative teaching approaches that engage the pupils and respond to the learning objectives of the subject.

“Cooking is fun, partly because the pupils get to do something and not sit still. They are active, and we want to bring this to the more theoretical learning objectives. We developed six different learning activities. They deal with sustainability, five-a-day, the bread scale and ranking of foods by nutritional content”, says Beinert.

Cooking and theory combined

The goal was to combine the social and practical aspects of the food and health subject with theory. The feedback from the pupils was good, and Beinert and her colleagues will continue to work on these learning activities.

The new curriculum in the food and health subject states that pupils must develop knowledge about health-promoting diets by cooking and preparing meals. Beinert fears that this may reinforce the current practice where theory primarily is discussed over the cooking pots. She suggests greater emphasis on meal planning. That will give pupils the opportunity to consider dietary advice, food labelling and make other critical assessments.

“Simply being good in the kitchen is not enough to be a teacher in food and health. You must also be a skilled communicator and have qualifications in the topics the curriculum covers. This is also one of the reasons why we offer master's education for teachers in food and health at UiA”, says Cecilie Beinert.