Both students and staff can benefit from nutrition education. Education does not only have to happen in the classroom. Students and staff can learn in the cafeteria, the wellness center, and through trips off-center. More information is available on this topic on the Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles website.
Explore the many interactive opportunities to learn about nutrition with the sections below:
Formal Nutrition Education
One of the goals of this guide, is to help you integrate nutrition education into the academic career technical curriculum, as well as into recreational and residential activities. Educating students about healthy eating will benefit them now and in the future and will contribute to independent living success. Education is more than supplying students with facts. Students need to learn why healthy eating is important and how to make it a part of their lives. Several options are included to incorporate nutrition lessons and activities into all phases of Job Corps and in clubs and groups. While this program will be most effective if all portions are implemented, time constraints may prevent this. Centers have started with a few of these suggestions, such as starting a cooking club, and gradually added to their education program.
Conduct Nutrition and Food Lessons and Groups
In order for students to make healthy food choices, they must learn about nutrition and food preparation. These lessons can take place in a classroom setting, in dormitories, in the Health and Wellness Center, in a grocery store, or as part of a club or organization. Suggestions are outlined below. Some of these suggestions, such as basic nutrition lessons and cooking clubs, can be combined.
- Cooking or Food Clubs - All students can benefit from learning about different types of foods. This class can be deemed a cooking club or a food club and given a creative name such as "Foodies". Cooking demonstrations and hands-on instruction methods can be employed as well as taste testings. Students can also have meetings where they sample recipes from different ethnic groups or versions of American cuisine that they would not normally be exposed to such as seafood or vegetarian entrées. Students should be encouraged to find recipes for foods that they would like to share with the group.
- Survival Cooking - This course could be incorporated in the Career Transition Phase (CTP) or could be an elective club. Many Job Corps students will move into their own apartments after transition from the program. A "Survival Cooking" class can help students learn to prepare easy, healthy, and inexpensive meals when they are on their own. The food service or culinary arts departments can develop recipes or simple recipes can be printed from websites, such as FoodNetwork.com or allrecipes.com. Other topics, such as strategies for grocery shopping on a budget and choosing ripe, in-season produce can be discussed.
- Integrating Nutrition in Academics and Vocational Curriculum - Nutrition education can be integrated into lesson plans in a variety of ways, including:
- GED Mathematics: Bring in food labels, measuring cups and spoons, plain white sugar and food consumption statistics. Have students measure out the sugar in a can of soda, then calculate how much sugar they drink from soft drinks a day, a week, a month, etc. Or use food consumption statistics to measure out how much sugar Americans consume. Students can draw comparisons, use fractions and learn about nutrition at the same time. You can expand this activity to caloric intake and weight gain. Follow-up with a discussion about sugar and health. (See the WebMD article "The Hidden Ingredient That Can Sabotage Your Diet" for inspiration).
- Writing: Sponsor a nutrition essay contest complete with prizes. (Do your best to award non-food items, especially candy). Students can be asked to write about the importance of healthy eating, how to make healthy choices, or a range of other nutrition related topics.
- Other activities for any classroom:
- Track all food eaten in a day and compare the nutrients with recommended nutrition. (Use USDAs FoodData Central for reference.)
- Palate Education: Have students research and present about an unusual fruit or vegetable. The presentation should be designed to persuade another person to try the fruit/vegetable. Include interesting facts, nutritional value, history and origin of the fruit/vegetable. A tasting or cooking party may follow, as feasible.
Students who are interested in making dietary changes can benefit from group support. They will learn from one another and should be able to talk about successes and failures with one another. Lessons can be set up to involve group work and small group discussions. Students should be instructed to have contact with each other outside the group. This helps students form a support system and surround themselves with people with similar goals.
Group leaders/instructors should serve as role models. Leaders do not have to be at an ideal weight, but should be willing to work along with students to make changes. A study conducted at Atlanta Job Corps Center recommended that individuals who have overcome an overweight problem serve as staff leaders. Other staff and students who have successfully changed their habits can serve as guest speakers to encourage participants to do the same.
At the beginning of any education class or program, students should be encouraged to set short-term and long-range goals. Goals should be measurable, specific, and realistic. Short-term goals can include behaviors such as eating at least of three servings of vegetables each day for a week, only having dessert two nights per week, or moderate (one to two pounds per week) weight loss. Long-range goals can be slightly larger, but should be attainable. For example, students should be discouraged from setting a 60-pound weight loss goal over the course of a 12-week program.
Students who achieve their goals should be rewarded. Food should not be used as a reward. Rewards can include activities such as a trip to the movies or a fun and active outing or small tangible rewards such as a T-shirt. Praise should also be given to students to reward them for a job well done and to motivate them to continue their positive behaviors.
Help Students Build Self-Confidence
Instilling self-efficacy, or the belief that the student can make lifestyle changes and follow through with these changes, is one of the most important predictors of behavior change. Each lesson, discussion topic, and activity should help to increase the students' confidence that they can make healthy decisions in the future. Self-efficacy can be improved though a series of positive outcomes. For example, a student who loses five pounds may feel more confident in their ability to make healthy food choices.
Make Learning Interesting
Job Corps students spend most of their day in the classroom learning their trade or working towards their high school diploma or GED. It may take some creativity to drive home the importance of good nutrition amongst all of the other information they receive everyday. Nutrition lessons can go far beyond facts about portion sizes and calories. Utilize the classroom, cafeteria, and community to teach nutrition. Activities may include:
- Field trips - Take interested students to a grocery store to teach them how to compare products based on food labels and how to pick fresh produce. If a farm that offers tours or fruit picking is available in your area, take students on an outing.
- Practicing making healthy food choices - Set a time for a group lunch or dinner. Ask students to make healthy choices. Discuss items that were selected and what makes these items healthy.
- Food and activity tracking - Students can apply all that they learn in the classroom to their daily lives through tracking their food intake and activity. Activities in a class or discussion can be focused around student's results. Most websites designed for this offer a lot of information beyond calories and fat. Discussions can center around how much fiber, vitamins, or minerals students receive based on their results.
- Students with access to a computer can track their progress using an online tracking system (search "Food Tracker" in the iTunes or Google Play stores)
- If students do not have access to a computer or prefer to use pencil and paper, they can track their progress through:
- Point system (TBD)
- Playing games - Students can learn while they have fun. Create your own game or order a commercially available nutrition game. Nutrition games that appeal to all ages, including Food Pyramid Bingo, are available for order online. To increase student activity, try hosting a field day event complete with three-legged races and tug of war.
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Informal Nutrition Education
Perhaps the most meaningful opportunities to teach and learn happen on an informal basis in the hallways, dormitories, and dining hall. Informal education is an easy, no-cost, and relationship building method to engage students in nutrition topics. Some centers support their formal nutrition education, such as lesson plans and fieldtrips, through teaching moments or situations that arise that seem to be optimal settings to discuss nutrition and health. Some of these occasions may be:
- During new student orientation. Food service and health and wellness directors and other staff members can take a few minutes to address the importance of developing healthy eating habits and how this can affect employability. Use real-world examples in your talk.
- In the cafeteria. Students can benefit from the presence of staff members in the cafeteria. Some centers have reported that when staff eat and socialize with students, student behavior and the dining environment improve. Staff can use the time that students are eating to discuss each others' food selections and ideas about food and nutrition. Use examples of items on each person's plate or beverage choice to illustrate nutrition concepts. Encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables during this time and to limit their sweets and sugary beverages.
- During organized sporting events or in the gymnasium/fitness room. Students who enjoy playing sports or working out on their own may have questions about how food may help them reach their fitness goals or ways to improve their eating habits. Ensure that the recreation supervisor is armed with correct and age-appropriate nutrition knowledge. A good source of nutrition facts can be found on the HealthFinder.gov website. Note: Do not recommend nutritional supplements, controversial nutrition practices, or fad diets to students. If a student is interested in safe nutritional supplements, refer them to the Health and Wellness Center and/or to the Office of Dietary Supplements' Dietary Supplements Fact Sheets webpage.
In addition to staff-taught nutrition education, students can be exposed to nutrition knowledge though print materials. See the Promotion page of this site for ideas for table tents, newsletters, and posters.
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Culinary Arts Education
A culinary arts program gives students a unique perspective on food service. Culinary arts students can benefit from working in a real food service operation, like Job Corps'. The center can benefit from students' creativity and the added manpower they can provide. The following list provides suggestions for integrating the culinary arts program with food service:
- Immerse culinary arts students in food service. Many Job Corps centers have already intertwined the food service and culinary arts programs. New culinary arts students can learn the ropes of food service by working in the kitchen, chopping fruits and vegetables, and washing dishes. When students become more involved in the program, they can assist the cooks in meal preparation and taking inventory. Before graduation, they can work directly with the food service manager to learn about food procurement, menu planning, and management skills.
- Encourage culinary arts students to listen to feedback from other students. Whether during a special event or a normal day in the cafeteria, students can benefit from formally or informally interviewing other students and staff who eat in the cafeteria. Hearing feedback about the food and beverages available and dining environment can help students learn the concept of customer service in a relevant environment.
- Develop projects for culinary arts students in the center cafeteria. Project ideas include:
- An effective learning experience used by some Job Corps centers is having culinary arts students open a mock restaurant on center as part of their training. Designate a room separate from the cafeteria for this restaurant. The room should be close to the culinary arts classroom so culinary arts students can easily transport food and keep the food warm. Depending on the size of the culinary arts program, students, under the supervision of the culinary arts instructor, can open the restaurant for business for lunch or dinner once or more each week. Tickets to this event can be sold to staff and students prior to the meal. Each week students should be assigned rotating positions in the restaurant such as dining room manager, sous chef, dessert chef, dishwasher or server. Students can develop a balanced and nutritious menu or use menus developed by the culinary arts instructor. This activity will give students experience in a variety of positions in which they will work after leaving Job Corps.
- Some centers have culinary arts students demonstrate cooking techniques in the cafeteria. Set up a stir-fry, sandwich or salad station. The station can serve more than one purpose: culinary arts students will have an opportunity to practice, while food service staff can test a new food item at the station. This allows culinary arts students to show off their talents and exposes other students to different foods and cooking techniques.
- Let culinary arts students create special events in the cafeteria. Students can host cultural events or holiday celebrations. Allow students to pick decorations, within budgetary limits, choose and test menu items, and promote the event.
- Allow culinary arts students to develop and test menus within the parameters of nutritional guidelines. Have them develop a menu for a meal, a day, or an entire week, depending on time constraints and students' abilities. Allow students to use various websites to search for recipes or develop and analyze their own menu items to be included in a menu. Feature this menu in the cafeteria. Note: This could be a final project for students to complete before they graduate.
Note: Ensure culinary arts students are food safety certified and abide by all applicable food service rules and regulations.
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Nutrition-savvy staff are excellent role models for students and other staff and help support healthy eating campaigns. In supporting student nutrition education, also focus on staff knowledge and attitudes about food. Health-conscious instructors, residential advisors, counselors and support staff have more time with students than health and wellness staff. Instilling sound nutrition knowledge in staff can help all staff promote good nutrition to students and may improve staff health as well. Staff education can take place in a variety of ways, including:
- Incorporate nutrition education into an annual training plan, as feasible. Nutrition can be an interesting training topic to introduce during winter and summer breaks. During this training, ensure staff learn science-based nutrition information. Refer to reputable websites like HealthFinder.gov, ChooseMyPlate.gov, Nutrition.gov, or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A plethora of nutrition information is available to consumers, including Job Corps staff, on the internet and through magazines and books. Unfortunately, not all of this information is reliable or safe. It is important to be knowledgeable about nutrition misconceptions like fad diets to ensure that students receive sound nutrition information.
- Suggest staff/student discussion topics that focus around nutrition. Several nutrition-related discussion topics are introduced in the formal nutrition education section. These topics can be used in staff training as well as in formal student education.
- On their own. Food is a personal choice with cultural and social ties. Often times, people prefer to learn about nutrition on their own and this is completely acceptable. There are many resources about nutrition that staff can study for their own edification. However, in order for staff to understand nutrition for the purpose of supporting center efforts to improve nutrition, staff should read about the effects of food on learning, behavior, moods, and overall health of the Job Corps age group.
- Food service staff in particular can benefit from education on portion control, professionalism, and food display. (See the Dining Environment page)
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