Pulses and food and nutrition education in schools

Nutrition, health and education are three essential pillars of development. Various types of intervention are commonly quoted when discussing life improvement measures in developing countries. They often correspond to one of the following areas:  infrastructure, production methods, policies (e.g. related to trade and agriculture) and environment.

Surprisingly, food and nutrition education is less often mentioned in the framework of important intervention methods to improve life quality. Yet, food and nutrition education, particularly in schools, can indeed contribute significantly to sustainable advancement in developing countries: it can play an essential role in tackling malnutrition, improving diets and food-related habits and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

Food and nutrition education can play a key role in addressing some of the most crucial diet-related issues which are affecting especially developing countries as follows:

  • Unhealthy dietary patterns and practices;
  • Persistent rates of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies;
  • Increasing levels of overweight and obesity and related chronic diseases.

It must be said that a holistic approach is crucial.  Diets and food-related practices are influenced by many factors, from personal preferences and beliefs to cultural and social aspects, to national food policies. Therefore, children’s freedom of action and existing preferences have to be considered;   giving nutritional information is not enough to change unhealthy practices, but rather different types of learning need to be tackled, including attitudes, skills, routines and life skills, as well as knowledge; and all coupled with an enabling environment and adequate social support (from families, peers, community, etc.).  The role of families, the main controllers of food quality, is particularly important.

Why work through schools?

Especially in developing countries, schools are a natural setting for food and nutrition education, particularly if food is consumed on the premises. They are one of the main social contexts where food-related practices and attitudes can be developed and shaped. Children of school-going age develop their behaviours through the interaction with other pupils, teachers, parents, siblings and peer groups. They are mostly influenced by their family homes, their communities, the mass media – and school.

Primary schools in particular are ideal for food and nutrition education inside and beyond the classroom; that is learning to use school gardens, canteens and from farmers, community role models, peers and families.

Young children whose habits are still being formed, are more likely to adopt a healthy balanced diet in the future if school food, school education, family and community all play their part. Primary school education can also reach a larger proportion of the population –particularly girls in some countries who tend to leave school at an early age to work or to support their household.

What is the role of pulses?

In a balanced and diverse diet, the nutritious seeds can be consumed every day alongside fruit, vegetables, herbs, cereals and other fresh foods. Pulses provide an affordable alternative to animal protein. Additionally, they are rich in dietary fibre, vitamin B complex, and minerals, such as calcium, zinc, and iron.

Food and nutrition education can promote the consumption of pulses as part of a healthy diet.

Food and nutrition education programs are also important for teaching adequate pulse consumption in order to maximize the absorption of nutrients: For example, matching pulses with cereals to obtain a complete protein, consuming them with vitamin C (e.g. ascorbic acid) in order to increase iron absorption and avoiding to eat them with tea or coffee which, in contrast, would limit it.

Although global pulse production has increased by over 20 percent in the past 10 years, there has been a slow but steady decline in consumption, in both developed and developing countries. 

This declining trend could be caused by the following: the inability of pulse production to keep pace with the world’s growing population and a global trend to a more meat-centric diet. Food and nutrition education, particularly in primary schools, can help reverse this trend and encourage an increased consumption of pulses, highlighting their benefits as part of a healthy and sustainable diet. 

 

Read more about Nutrition Education in primary schools.

27/09/2016

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