I’ve been debating whether or not it’s a good idea to have students keep a food journal. It’s really quite a chore to keep track of everything one consumes on a daily basis, it might detract from the enjoyment of meals, and as with any sort of diary, it could feel like an invasion of privacy. Nevertheless, I think there are some benefits to the exercise.
When I received this very same assignment in my sixth grade home ec. class, our teacher specified that we should make an effort to eat food from all of the basic food groups (back then, the categories were broadly drawn: grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables, and dairy). After a couple of days I remember my teacher commenting in the margin something to the effect of: “Tang does not count as a fruit. Please try to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables for breakfast and lunch.” (I guess the tomatoes and lettuce on my tacos and tomato sauce on my spaghetti didn’t really count.) I ended up really taking that advice to heart. Being the diligent student I was, I made a conscious effort to improve my diet. Remarkably, even though I quickly gave up the habit of keeping a food diary, I continued the general practice of eating well-balanced meals, and today I often feel like something’s missing if I don’t have enough fruits or veggies during a meal.
I understand that people will have vastly different reactions to this type of assignment, so I’m trying to figure out how to make it as appealing to as many people as possible. It might be fun, for instance, if students were allowed to make their journals more visual. They could take photos of their food or tape in (clean) food wrappers in a scrapbook fashion.
When I undertook this exercise, it was set up to be quick and lean: Write down your food and drink for each meal, making sure to break down the components into the basic food groups. I’d like to bulk it up a bit by having everyone reflect, for example, on how they felt (emotionally and physically) during and after each meal; how much control they had over what they ate (whether they had options to choose from, whether they prepared the meal themselves, etc.); and also whether they had to pay for their meal out of money from their pocket. The point is to give participants a fuller picture of their individual eating habits, and the impact they have on their mood, health, and budget.
If participants take to the assignment, it might be nice to extend the exercise over a few weeks. This way, it might tie in to a final project that would require them to reflect back on how their knowledge and perspective on food and nutrition has changed over the course of the program, using their journals as evidence.
I’d be interested in knowing other people’s opinions and concerns about food journaling. Have you ever kept a food diary or assigned one to others? I’d love to hear about your experiences.