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Time to teach home economics again?

Should education about how to budget for and prepare healthy food be a mandatory part of every child's education?

By Karen Datko Jun 10, 2010 2:07PM

Way back when, boys had to take shop, and girls were required to take a home economics class. 


Times change -- thank goodness the gender barriers came down -- but somewhere along the road, home ec was abandoned or made optional. Now, some clever bloggers ask: Is it time to bring it back in an updated format for every student to take?


Yes, why not bring it back, with some emphasis on budgeting for food and home? (All I recall from my home ec days was that we learned how to cook up a pot of chocolate goo on the stove. That was pre-microwaves. Oh, and I made an apron and a dress, and learned how to iron a man's shirt.)

Actually the idea was raised in an article (.pdf file) in the Journal of the American Medical Association, we learned from Marion Nestle at the Food Politics blog. Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University and Dr. David Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston noted that obesity in the U.S. results in an additional $150 billion in health care costs each year, a number that's bound to expand along with our waistlines. They also wrote:

A comprehensive curriculum to teach students about the scientific and practical aspects of food might include basic cooking techniques; caloric requirements; sources of food, from farm to table; budget principles; food safety; nutrient information, where to find it and how to use it; and effects of food on well-being and risk for chronic disease. This curriculum would provide adolescents, especially at the high school level, with the skills they need to become confident in selecting, handling, and preparing food.

Some of these concepts could be incorporated into the curriculum of other classes, the authors suggested. Some instruction would be hands-on in the kitchen.


Imagine: Kids could advance beyond microwave popcorn in their cooking repertoire. They might even enjoy making meals for scratch, and saving money by not eating out so much. These are basic life skills.


How is this seemingly simple suggestion going over (and a hat tip to Kris at Cheap Healthy Good for drawing our attention to it)?


At The Kitchn, Emily Ho wrote that "we think this actually makes a lot of sense. It fits well with initiatives like Michelle Obama's Let's Move! and Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution."


Many Kitchn readers fondly recalled their time in home economics, which is still available in one form or another in some school districts. Some commenters were not aware it's no longer universally taught.


"I regret that I did not have a home ec class. I'm 29 and just now learning to cook (I grew up with ready-made foods and lots of restaurants), and I still can't sew on a button by myself without it being a total mess," "cowgrad03" lamented.


Some said schools can't afford to bring it back or make it a requirement, as the authors recommended. "Unfortunately, as other commenters have noted, there are already so many 'nonessential' classes being cut (P.E., fine arts, shop courses) that I don't see a return to even optional home ec, much less mandatory home ec, anytime soon, despite the evident benefits," "omglawdork" wrote. 


If classes aren't possible, how about starting up a home ec club, another reader suggested.


If home ec does make a comeback, personal-finance instruction should be included, some said. "They taught us how to create a budget, balance a checkbook, etc.," reader "clampers" wrote. "Except they didn't go over how student loans and credit card debt worked. I think that should be a part of home ec classes too."

What do you think? Should a modern version of home economics be required for middle or high school boys and girls? Is this a practical way of teaching them some personal-finance as well as kitchen skills? Or do these lessons belong in the home?


Perhaps that's not possible. "Many parents never learned to cook and instead rely on restaurants, take-out food, frozen meals, and packaged food as basic fare," Lichtenstein and Ludwig wrote.


They also remarked:

Presently, many U.S. schools provide information and guidance about tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sexually transmitted disease, and pregnancy; they should do the same about one of the most fundamental of human activities: eating.

More from MSN Money:

May 16, 2012 11:40AM
Life skills/Home Ec should be mandatory.  Kids always ask how they are going to use the skills learned in school later on, well they should teach classes that are useful.  I work in the financial industry and am amazed how many adults are clueless which means they cannot educate their children and the cycle will only get worse.  As for cooking, sewing and the basics most people I know can barely cook let alone sew anything.  I was teased for now knowing how to cook (when I can) just because my Grandma always cooked for me.  When she passed I did cook on my own out of necessity.  Eating out all of the time kills the finances.  I've tried to make smarter choices and teach my son but having a class for it would help everyone not just those whose parents are in the know.
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