Tips for Teaching Human Nutrition

August 18, 2021

The way we think of nutrition has evolved over the years. One of the most infamous nutrition graphics is the Food Guide Pyramid. Introduced in 1992, this model placed carbohydrates at the base, meat and milk in the middle, and fats at the very tip. The science behind this design was not very robust, but it remained in place for many years.

As more research into nutrition emerged, the pyramid got a redesign, transforming into the MyPyramid model. This model was not without its flaws, though, and was replaced again in 2011 with the MyPlate model. Unlike the previous two models, which focused mostly on food groups, the MyPlate model demonstrates portion sizes and encourages a balanced meal.

This brief history shows that ideas about nutrition are far from static. Nutrition research and how it influences public health continue to grow and change. Older theories are continually being updated and replaced.

Nutrition is a complicated topic, and it may be difficult to teach well. The following tips can help you teach nutrition in a meaningful and engaging way.

Tip 1: Encourage Respectful Discussion

Nutrition is something that affects everyone. Each student that signs up for your nutrition course brings with them their own relationships to food and health, and they’re not always positive. Because the topic may be sensitive for some students, it’s imperative to begin the course by setting guidelines for a healthy discussion

At the start of the semester, encourage students to examine their attitudes and associations with nutrition. You may want to begin with a personal reflection assignment so students can get all their thoughts out. 

Later on, you can facilitate an open discussion so everyone can compare and contrast what they know or have been taught about nutrition. This is an opportune time for you to clear up any misconceptions, including that pesky pyramid. 

Tip 2: Get Students Thinking Critically

Nutrition is a broad topic, and many different claims may be made about what’s healthy and what’s not. It is important to get your students to think critically about nutritional claims and topics. 

When new nutritional information is presented to your students, ask them to do their own research into it. Here are some important to get your students to ask:

  • Are there credible sources that support the information? 
  • What kind of evidence is used to support the information?
  • Does the information simplify a complex issue too much?
  • Is the source of the information trying to sell something?

These questions will help students develop informed opinions and ideas. They will be able to research and investigate the current challenges, such as the world food supply, global human nutrition, sustainability, and obesity.

Tip 3: Engage Students in Activities

Nutrition can be a dense topic, so it can be helpful to find ways to make the content more hands-on and engaging. 

For in-person classes, consider getting students outside of the classroom. You can visit community gardens, take field trips to local factories or farms, or conduct taste tests in the cafeteria. 

For teaching nutrition online, you can get students to try out different recipes at home, which they can document and share. This way, instead of merely listening to lectures about macronutrients and micronutrients, they can physically interact with these concepts through cooking.

Lastly, engage your students in critical thinking exercises. You can ask your students to use everything they’ve learned to create their own visual nutrition model. You never know — one of the resulting creations might become the next go-to graphic!

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