In a recent analysis by Oona Hanson, a parent coach and family mentor specializing in promoting healthy relationships with food and the body, concerns have been raised regarding the impact of traditional nutrition lessons on students of all grade levels. While well-intended, these lessons, driven by state education standards, may inadvertently harm children’s eating habits and overall well-being. Hanson’s work reveals that navigating school nutrition units can be particularly challenging for parents and guardians of children with eating disorders. Many teachers may not realize the potential harm these lessons can cause, often likened to “leading an expedition into a minefield” by eating disorder therapist Zoë Bisbing. While not all students are negatively affected, there is no way to predict who might be at risk. The risk of disordered eating behaviors and negative relationships with food arises from the black-and-white thinking that these lessons promote, discouraging children from listening to their internal signals.

Teaching nutrition concepts to children, especially tweens and teens, is a precarious endeavor, as it can exacerbate body dissatisfaction and hinder essential growth and development. Furthermore, these lessons often fail to consider the diverse dietary needs of neurodivergent children, those from food-insecure households, or those with cultural diets that differ from the standard curriculum. To address these concerns, experts recommend a neutral approach to teaching nutrition, emphasizing the pleasure of eating and the social aspects of food. They stress the pivotal role of parents in shaping children’s nutrition understanding and promote open communication with teachers to create inclusive and health-oriented lessons, ultimately benefiting students’ well-being.