Talking about nutrition to young people is a turnoff for young people.  For the majority, lecturing them about cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes is just too long term.

In my research, young people living away from home and cooking for themselves made no mention of wanting to know about nutrition in terms of their short or long term health.  Instead, they were keen to know about nutrition to help them make effective food purchase decisions as they felt that food shopping was confusing.  They wanted nutritional knowledge about food additives, food portion sizes, vegetarian diets and making healthier food options tastier.

Younger school-aged youth said that eating healthily was not appealing to them nor was it a priority (Chapman G & Mac Lean J, 1993).  Instead,  they were motivated to eat well to boost their body shape, stamina, sports performance and overall wellness (Contento IR et al., 1995).

Only 66.5 per cent of teachers in my research study agreed or strongly agreed that links to sporting performance was a good way to motivate young people to prepare healthy meals.  Instead, most teachers agreed with recommendations that they could stimulate their students’ interest in nutrition if they included recipes that appealed to young people’s taste (Backman et al., 2002; Neumark-Sztainer D et al., 1999) and matched them with their motivational goals (Contento IR et al., 2002).

Therefore, teachers need to identify strategies that they might use to encourage their students to produce healthy meals and eat healthily, and without mentioning the word ‘nutrition’.  Whilst teachers were evenly divided over whether technical skills were more important to teach than nutrition, the majority agreed (81.1 per cent) that the best way to teach nutrition was students cooking healthy meals.  And while the majority (97.1 per cent) felt that linking student wellbeing to cooking healthy meals was a good way of teaching healthy eating (and accommodating technical proficiency), they were less certain  (64.2 per cent) about linking the cooking of healthy meals with ‘looking good’.  Teachers’ reticence to link cooking healthy meals with appearance is understandable and conforms with the findings of a large study of 8355 primary and secondary school-aged boys and girls in schools across Australia (O’Dea JA, 2007).  In this 2006 study of children, it was found that a focus on body weight coupled with inappropriate nutritional messages may exacerbate fears in those young women already concerned about weight gain.

So if not healthy eating, then what? Dieting – but then diets don’t work, right? So poses the question by Dr Rick Kausman who has pioneered ‘if not dieting, then what? which focuses on a person-centred and sensible approach to eating.  Kausman uses strategies that bring self-awareness back into people’s thinking about eating. These strategies include

  • recognising a hungry continuum – hungry, peckish, satisfied, full, overfull
  • hungry and non-hungry eating
  • influences on our eating patterns

This last point invites participants to reflect on their relationship with food due to their past , usually early childhood experiences.  Kausman shares his personal story of his father being a speed eater due to missing out on a sausage roll! You can read more in Rick Kausman’s guide If not dieting, then what?


Backman, DR, Haddad, EH, Lee, JW, Johnston, PK, & Hodgkin, GE. (2002). Psychosocial Predictors of Healthful Dietary Behaviour in Adolescents. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, 34, 184-193.

Contento IR, Randell JS, & Basch CE. (2002). Review and analysis of evaluation measures used in nutrition education intervention research. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behaviour, 34(1), 2-25.

Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Perry C, & Casey MA. (1999). Factors influencing food choices of adolescents:findings from focus group discussions with adolescents. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 1999(19), 17-40.

O’Dea JA. (2007). Are we OK or are we not? Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia, 14(3), 6-14.