by Marion Nestle
May 19 2010

Here’s a thought: bring back Home Ec

Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig and Tufts professor Alice Lichtenstein team up in a JAMA commentary with a novel idea.  How about re-introducing home economics into the school curriculum!

Girls and boys should be taught the basic principles they will need to feed themselves and their families within the current food environment: a version of hunting and gathering for the 21st century. Through a combination of pragmatic instruction, field trips, and demonstrations, this curriculum would aim to transform meal preparation from an intimidating chore into a manageable and rewarding pursuit.

…Obesity presently costs society almost $150 billion annually in increased health care expenditures. The personal and economic toll of this epidemic will only increase as this generation of adolescents develops weight-related complications such as type 2 diabetes earlier in life than ever before. From this perspective, providing a mandatory food preparation curriculum to students throughout the country may be among the best investments society could make.

Comments

I had a home-ec class in high school, and I took a couple cooking electives…What did we learn? How to make chocolate chip cookies, orange juleps, cheesecake, and other junk. What else did I learn? How little so many students know about cooking. I definitely think classes like these could help so much, but specific guidelines should be mandated and enforced in order to actually teach kids how to prepare food that will truly keep them healthy.

  • Anthro
  • May 19, 2010
  • 11:17 am

Wow! I’ve said this many times, but thought it was just another of my pathetic bouts of nostalgia!

It was in a home-ec project called “family living” where we had to:

- Choose a spouse (loads of fun and I even got picked by my secret crush).

- Make a budget, pay bills (we even had real checks to write, though no “real” account)

- Make a shopping list and take a trip to the supermarket to “shop”. We wrote down each item and the price and wrote a “check”.

- Prepare a balanced days meals in the home-ec lab.

By the time my kids were in high school, home-ec consisted of making cookies for some event or other and sewing a pillow cover.
Just for comparison, in the seventh grade, we made pajamas with buttonholes and flat-felled seams, studied nutrition and prepared full meals. It was food pyramid nutrition, but emphasized variety and balance.

Why did we stop doing this? The sewing doesn’t matter as much, but the food aspects were invaluable. Personally, I’m happy I can sew, but I’m even happier that I was prepared (at home as well as at school) to care for and feed my family.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Peg Boyles and fadsandfancies.com, Melissa Joulwan. Melissa Joulwan said: I love this idea! Bring back Home Ec. http://bit.ly/cKwpeY [...]

HA! That’s both the name and the purpose of my blog! Needless to say, I totally agree. :)

Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue, Marion. We’ve been chronicling all the strategies Dr. David Ludwig has proposed to fight obesity, including bringing back home ec.

Check out this archive to read his thoughts on a soda tax, school lunches and improving the urban food environment: http://childrenshospitalblog.org/category/childhood-obesity/

Marion,

This is a great idea. However, we live in a world that is upside down. Instead of adding classes, we are firing teachers.

People are going to have to take action on there own. Once I learned how horrible the American food system is (and you were very helpful in that regard), I got mad and made changes on my own.

Thanks, and keep up the good fight.

Ken Leebow
http://www.thepissedoffdiet.com

Interesting idea… in cooking I learned how to make chocolate frappes and cakes… if we could change gears – maybe combine with nutrition classes – and teach students what produce is in season, how to pack a nutritious lunch, etc.!

  • Cathy Richards
  • May 19, 2010
  • 12:24 pm

In the past, I’ve had to work to convince our School Board to keep Hmec classes. They are still optional, which is crazy, but at least they kept them available.

I’ve heard Michael Pollan say that cooking at home can help minimize the impact of the main Determinents of Health (income, housing, education, etc). Haven’t been able to find good research on this, but it is a very interesting concept. Not sure if it is consequent to the benefits of family meals, or if it is a benefit in and of itself — of course it makes sense that it would be, since home cooking typically has less sodium, less fat, more veggies, etc than take out, restaurants, and frozen dinners.

  • Renee
  • May 19, 2010
  • 12:32 pm

I graduated high school in 1981, and even way back then Home Ec was a joke –I took it, the only class I ever got a C in. We had some interminable sewing project and then made cookies. We didn’t actually learn any theory or background –just some basic skills about how to use a sewing needle and mix dough.

Any new home ec classes should be a combination of nutrition and hands-on cooking of main meals.

However, I have to agree with the post above –our schools don’t even have the funds or teachers for the basic academic subjects, much less teaching life-skills.

  • Sarah Karnasiewicz
  • May 19, 2010
  • 3:02 pm

Hi Marion:

Coincidentally (I hadn’t heard about the JAMA release!) Babble.com just published my piece on this subject today — encouraging parents to push for the reintroduction of mandatory Home Ec classes for all students.

Here’s the link if you’re interested:

Teach Kids Life Skills and Confidence: Bring Back Home Ec!
http://babble.com/kid/behavior-and-development/teach-kids-life-skills-bring-back-home-ec/index.aspx#fbConnectSection

Best,
Sarah Karnasiewicz

But, of course…education! Brilliant idea! Hasn’t education always been the answer to the problematic conditions that have plagued humankind through the ages? With one in three U.S. children today either overweight or obese, such “hunting and gathering for the 21st century” education can’t start too early. Among many tribes, not only historically but in some places today, children were/are active, informed participants in the hunting and gathering process. Perhaps basic Home Ec, or “Home Ec 101″ could begin in elementary school and advance in scope in middle school, and finally in high school students could be offered classes like “The Joys of Cooking” or even chef training!

  • Beth
  • May 19, 2010
  • 6:42 pm

Actually, home Ec never left but has been transformed into Family and Consumer Sciences. NY state Ed department mandates that all students take this class in middle school for three fourths of a year. Unfortunately some districts, like NYC, disregard the mandate. I teach FACS class in an Westchester suburb. My 6th graders make turkey bolognese and smoothies and my 7th graders make chicken stir fry among other healthy recipes.

  • Gina
  • May 20, 2010
  • 1:41 am

I think this is brilliant and would love to bring a parent-supported Home Economics program to our K thru 8th grade school. Not only do I have fond memories of my own experiences in home ec class, but these are becoming lost skills with our youth. Skills that can be critical to a healthy future, physically and emotionally.

If these programs are being cut from schools due to budgetary reasons, it’s up to parents and other passionate industry folks to help move these ideas forward.

I hope that some of the readers here have ideas on going about this or can direct us to resources since there seems to be support and interest in getting home ec back into our schools.

Thanks

Home Ec was mandatory–for girls–when I was in school–five semesters! We learned sewing, ironing, meal-planning, cooking and a little budgeting. I hated it. Passionately. Railed against it. I wanted to take shop (wood and metal) and drafting, which were mandatory for the boys and off limits to the girls.

I’ve used the skills I learned in Home Ec every bit as much as I’ve used the secretarial skills I learned, and way more than the math and science, which I loved.

Every child could benefit from five or six semesters of basic life skills: shop (again wood and metal working), cooking, clothing care, budgeting, family planning, child care.

Sure, some parents take time to teach their children these basic skills, or some of them. Many more don’t. Some lucky kids these days go to schools that incorporate gardening, cooking and such in their curriculum, where they use their growing math, science, research and writing skills in practical applications.

I’d like to have attended one of those schools!

great idea. home ec got off track in the early 80s–i remember making hot dogs rolled in pillsbury crescent rolls in my home ec class! But I also remember my mom teaching me to make jam. Now that I’m into gardening and canning, where can i learn more? The extension office isn’t offering a master canning program because they’re afraid of the liability. As a kid I thought that we needed to preserve grandma’s skills, and now it’s even more crucial! There’s little pockets of groups meeting to do these activities, but why can’t our infrastructure take this on (school, extension, etc)?

My mother, sisters, boyfriend and I talk about the idea of bringing Home Ec back all the time! I think its a fantastic and much-needed idea. To echo other comments, the class I was in in the 90s did not teach us how to make too many healthy dishes and often the ingredients were pretty unpleasant (Crisco, etc.). There was also a stigma attached to Home Ec. A new iteration should focus on nutrition and balanced meal planning and creation as well as healthy treats (Kids should enjoy tasty treats, right?)

Expense is an issue but perhaps some successful pilots would set off a trend and provide the results needed to prove how vital this is? I would love to see communities bring together parents, local government, local schools, institutes of higher learning that conduct food systems and culture research and even reputable corporate partners to create a pilot curriculum.

  • Lorraine Ottens
  • May 20, 2010
  • 10:07 am

It is amazing to me that just about every one of the comments above is in agreement and has talked about this, yet the topic of Home Ec in schools is never mentioned in public discussion with regards to obesity and health. I too have talked about home ec classes for girls and boys. Start them in elementary school, high school is far too late, awful habits are long established by then. We must also figure out how to involve their parents, because very often they have not been taught basic cooking skills either.

I would guess most schools won’t even have the facilities to teach such classes. Perhaps the solution lies with Mrs. Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity. What about government grants for after school programs that would teach basic cooking skills (and shop skills!) and do them in community churches or club houses, since many of them have kitchens.

  • Sheila
  • May 20, 2010
  • 4:52 pm

A revised version of Home Ec sounds like a great idea. Maybe we could take some of this class time to teach students what various fruits and vegetables are…since they are not learning it as young children. Then teach them how to use these produce items in healthy, flavorful ways.

I teach raw food classes and cooking classes in 2 different locations. One is at our local health food store, which sponsors me at big events. That is a huge plus for better food preparation and the health food store.

Thee other place I teach is at a local high school. I had some trepidation when I went there, but for the most part, they were AOK. They liked the tofu scrambled I had made, which took me by surprise. But I love introducing new foods to these kids. And also making people think about what they are putting into their mouths.

  • Joy
  • May 20, 2010
  • 11:07 pm

I began cooking up a storm around age 10, so by the time I got to Jr High Home Ec it wasn’t that useful. We made a tossed salad. After learning to cook from Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet on PBS, I took Home Ec again in high school mainly for the sewing. In the cooking part we cooked a meal, each student responsible for one dish. I wanted to cook fresh green beans and the teacher said, “I’ll put them on to boil at noon, so when the class starts at 1pm, they’ll be done.” That’s not cooking, that’s produce abuse.

Any place where people, young and old, learn to plan, shop and cook is an excellent idea. I decided that the best advocacy was through a blog, teaching people (who in turn teach their children) to feed themselves. Cooking isn’t hard, but many think it is because they don’t know even the most basic things. Children should be engaged in contributing to family meal preparation from a young age so they grow up regarding it as a vital part of life.

Cooking classes beginning in elementary school is crucial if we are to heal ourselves of the collective tragedy of not knowing how to feed ourselves. The terrible irony is that people in underdeveloped nations are eating better than we are.

After years of campaigning by groups in the UK (including our Children’s Food Campaign), the UK government finally committed to compulsory practical cooking lessons for all pupils in secondary schools aged 11-14 (http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2008_0015). While they could have gone further, guaranteeing more teaching, and applying it to primary schools (age 5-11) too, we really welcomed this move. It’s too early to see what impacts the policy may have, but we’ll be watching carefully to ensure that the new Conservative-Liberal Government don’t let this commitment slip.

  • Jlynn
  • May 21, 2010
  • 8:56 am

I agree with the importance of home economics for all children, but I think it needs to go much further than a class. What about re-thinking our school curriculum to make food and health part of each year of school. We need to begin with young children teaching them to make healthy choices (and providing those choices in schools). As the cultural changes have shifted, more two parent (or one parent) households working full time (40+) and the marketing of convenience foods we all need to do our part, schools being an important part of the process, for providing our children with the knowledge and encouragement to make healthy choices.

I briefly worked at a Montessori school and I remember how excited the children were to make fresh salsa with vegetables from a local farmers market. These types of learning experiences need to be incorporated into our public schools and made an important part of the curriculum at all age levels.

Oh yes, i completely agree. So many people I talk to cite difficulty of menu planning and/or inability to cook as a reason they don’t eat healthier. If we got back to teaching kids (both boys and girls) about menu planning, budgeting, cooking, and nutrition we’d be nurturing a much healthier next generation.

[...] HOME EC? Marion Nestle, always on top of food goings on in her blog Food Politics, reports about a editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggesting a [...]

  • Susan
  • May 24, 2010
  • 2:22 pm

Make it a true “home keepers” class. Mandatory, both boys and girls learn the basics of living without some taking care of them all the time: budgeting, meal planning, cooking, learning basic home repair (like fixing a leaky faucet or toilet), how to sew on buttons, mend and hem garments. A unit on reading nutrition labels! Now there’s an idea . . .

Home ec, or FCS as they call it in my district, is great. In order for it to be taken seriously, we need to bump it up and fully integrate it into the core curriculum.

Math, Social Studies, English and Science could easily have aspects of this curriculum. We must raise the Food IQ of our country if we want to feed ourselves and save money. We spend $187 billion dollars on preventable food related chronic illness. Why not invest some of that into food based curricula?

[...] Marion Nestle (via Apartment Therapy) quotes a paper by Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig and Tufts professor Alice Lichtenstein that suggests home economic classes be reintroduced to schools. Girls and boys should be taught the basic principles they will need to feed themselves and their families w…Read the full story on TreeHugger [...]

[...] Marion Nestle (via Apartment Therapy) quotes a paper by Harvard pediatrician David Ludwig and Tufts professor Alice Lichtenstein that suggests home economic classes be reintroduced to schools. Girls and boys should be taught the basic principles they will need to feed themselves and their families within the current food environment: a version of hunting and gathering for the 21st century. Through a combination of pragmatic instruction, field trips, and demonstrations, this curriculum would aim to transform meal preparation from an intimidating chore into a manageable and rewarding pursuit. [...]

  • Audrey
  • October 14, 2010
  • 8:54 pm

I think bringing Home Ec back into the classroom is a great idea. I took it way back in high school, and to this day there isn’t a moment I don’t put those skills into practice. As a matter of fact, since my daughter’s school doesn’t give the course I have started a Home Ec club for her and her friends to satisfy the NEED these girls have in wanting and needing to learn the BASICS.Plus, of course, it can be loads of fun! Carry on the fight to bring Home Ec back.

[...] Camp” that is also excellent for teens, or anyone who never learned the basics due to the dearth of Home Ec classes. My teens came home ready to blanch and sauté and brought samples of what they had prepared, from [...]

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