Food education programmes in US elementary schools help children become more open to trying new food and have more appreciation for fresh food even as they get older, research has shown.

A recent study looked at the impact of the FRESHFARM FoodPrints food education programme on current and alumni participants.

The programme is running in more than 20 elementary schools in an area in the eastern United States.

Food education programmes, which can include gardening and cooking lessons, have been set up to try and encourage more children and teenagers to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables they eat.

Lead study author Christine St. Pierre, from the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Milken Institute School of Public Health, The George Washington University, said: “While food education programmes are evaluated, much of the evidence of programme impact comes from evaluations less than a year after the class, and little is known about the enduring impact through childhood and into adulthood.”

The FRESHFARM FoodPrints programme was launched in schools almost 15 years ago, meaning there is now the opportunity to gauge its impact on former students who are now young adults.

The programme’s alumni were surveyed, along with children currently taking part, to evaluate their experiences and look at areas including nutrition habits and the impact of the programme on them.

This impact was divided into three areas: immediate, beyond the classroom, and sustained.

Immediate impact

This included enjoyment of food experiences, the development of practical food skills, and connection with fellow students through the shared experience.

Beyond the classroom

These benefits included how students became more involved in family food decisions, and an increased interest in the fresh food choices on offer in school.

Sustained

Increased confidence in making decisions around food was one of the sustained benefits of the programme, along with a willingness to try new food and a new appreciation for fresh food.

Christine St. Pierre said: “While we recognise the demands on education resources and the precious time of teachers, findings in this study suggest that investment in experiential food education in elementary school can provide an important contribution to the continuation of healthy dietary behaviours as children grow up.”

Read the full study in Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

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