March is National Nutrition Month. And as the general rules of nutrition keep changing, students are mentally tuning out. Here, Chef Weiner explains how to emphasize the first four of 10 unchanging basic facts.
By Adam Weiner, CFSE
Culinary teachers at all levels tend to be uncomfortable teaching nutrition because:
- we are expected to be experts in the field, but have spent very little time being trained about nutrition,
- when we started cooking, “healthy food” was basically food that people wouldn’t want to cook or eat, our students have heard so much about nutrition and obesity they mentally turn off when we start talking about “healthy,” and
- most importantly, THE RULES KEEP CHANGING. Just when I figured out how to use a “pyramid” they switched me to a “plate.”
So, the trick to teaching nutrition is teaching the unchanging basic facts of nutrition in a fast manner. In this month’s and next month’s articles I will explain how to do this.
We will use 10 points of nutrition. The first four are:
1. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. That simple fact should grab your students’ attention. What you need to stress to your students is that if they eat X number of calories they have to burn at least X calories to keep from gaining weight. If they want to lose weight they have to burn more than X calories. Regretfully, there is no secret to losing weight. You can’t change the law of calories.
(Note: Each student’s daily caloric needs primarily depend upon age and gender. There are all kinds of websites where the student can enter in gender, height, weight and age to get a daily calorie recommendation. )
2. You must eat a wide variety of foods. To maintain good health, a person needs to eat from each of the food groups, plus eat a wide variety of foods within each group. For example, carrots are healthy, but eating carrots as your only vegetable will leave you short on nutrients found in dark green vegetables. Vitamins are a supplement, not a substitute!
3. The closer it is to nature, the healthier the food. Generally speaking, the closer something is to its natural state, the healthier it will be for you. Eating an apple is healthier than an apple pie. Generally, the fewer the chemical additives, flavorings and preservatives the better. Teach your students to try to avoid foods where the ingredients sound more like a chemistry class then a culinary class.
4. You need fat in your diet. There is so much talk about fat that many of our students think that eating any fat is bad. The bottom line is that our bodies need fat on a daily basis. Basically, you need at least 20% (and possibly as high as 35%) of your daily calories from fat. By the way, low-fat prepared or packaged foods are not necessarily healthy foods. To make up for the loss of the flavor there are often added sugars, chemicals and sodium. The best way to demonstrate this to your students is to bring in some nonfat prepared foods and have the students review the labels.
Next month’s article contains the last six points including good and bad fats, fad diets, the empty calories of alcohol and coffee drinks, and what to do if you think a student has an eating disorder.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula.