Hot Topic Resource Cluster: University Dietetic Educators integrating SFS (2023 Dec)

Thank you to Naomi Kereliuk for starting this cluster!

Summary of key points in this cluster:
In this cluster, the term ‘educator’ is used for educators at the university level.

Dietitians and nutritionists are sustainable food systems (SFS) leaders. There is an inseparable relationship between SFS and human health as covered in ICDA SFS Learning Module 1. Nutrition and dietetics professionals have a role in addressing the interconnected challenges of ecological sustainability and human health and are well-positioned to be leaders in SFS as covered in ICDA SFS Learning Module 2.

– Only a few dietitians and nutritionists are actively and confidently working toward facilitating the promotion and adoption of sustainable diets. Many dietetic and nutrition professionals do not feel prepared to integrate SFS into practice, let alone teach students this topic and there is no SFS training standards or curriculum for educators.

– Educators play an important role in preparing future nutrition professionals for arising challenges within food systems. 

– Leadership and advocacy skills may be a critical aspect to advance learning of SFS. Many programs teach leadership and advocacy skills already, and this provides an opportunity to integrate SFS-related topics to the development of this skillset. 

– Social Justice plays a large part in SFS education because of the role that equity and trauma play in the challenges within the food system.

– The role of universities and accrediting bodies is key because if SFS is not a “priority” in nutrition and dietetic programs, it is found difficult to incorporate into the curriculum. Teaching SFS requires supportive policies, funding, engaged leaders, and staff training at universities.

– Multidimensional and systems thinking teaching approaches are essential for emphasizing the complexities of SFS. In most programs, students already develop knowledge and skills in critical thinking and problem-solving. Taking this one step further to systems thinking is a manageable step.

– One size does not fit all approach when teaching SFS. Pedagogy should be tailored towards variability in views and different perspectives of students, and highly sensitive to contextual relevance of the geography and culture of the region.

– Scaffolding content across courses to integrate SFS education in more than one course over the duration of the degree, specifically in a nutrition degree is shown to significantly increase SFS knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours in students.

– Experiential learning is important to facilitate student understanding of food system issues and can enhance creativity, and critical thinking skills. If time is a barrier, carefully constructed case studies can be helpful in this regard.



  • How do dietetics students learn about sustainability? A scoping review (2023) – Despite increasing discussion about the role of dietitians in supporting sustainable food systems, effective integration into dietetics curricula is understudied. Without clear competencies and guidance, educators are doing this ad hoc. More guidance is needed. Some evidence points to the importance of experiential learning, and scaffolded learning about SFS through integration into a number of different courses.
  • Sustainability: nutrition and dietetic students’ perceptions (2020) – The researchers report that while students showed a high level of awareness of the general importance of sustainability, their knowledge related to it was superficial. The authors also suggest that their findings of strong core beliefs and values in students related to sustainability could motivate interest in further learning about the issues. The authors discuss and suggest systemic pedagogical approaches.
  • Centering Equity in Sustainable Food Systems Education (2021) – This study is part of the “Teaching Food Systems CoP” whose goals are to convene academics and practitioners focused on SFSE, to: (1) support and grow a CoP for developing and implementing curricula in food systems courses; (2) share materials using systems thinking frameworks to teach about food systems; and (3) foster assessment tools on student learning in systems thinking.

Case studies: 

  • Red-Listed Seafood (2023 Aug) – Acadia University worked with their Food Service Provider to prioritize healthy and sustainable food on campus. In 2018, they released the Acadia Food Plan, which includes measurable targets to achieve these priorities. The Case Study describes how the Dietitian and Sustainability Manager at Acadia Dining Services worked with the students to address this target, providing them with a meaningful experiential learning opportunity.
  • Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Briefs: Dietitian-Nutritionist Roles – These briefs explore possible roles for Dietitian-Nutritionists (D-N) for a selection of key UN SDGs listed. The briefs are intended to help increase awareness of the SDGs, provide an overview of what is currently being done to meet each goal, and how D-N can contribute.

Tools for practice – all tools are found on one page using the same link:

  • Great Meals for a Change – created as part of a research project which examined the effectiveness of people hosting a meal with friends and using educational activities with a toolkit to guide and support conversation about sustainable food and food systems. It is A party-style “sustainable meal” that can be an effective way to shift norms and disseminate knowledge about sustainable food.
  • Sustainable salsa activity – To teach students about sustainability through local and season foods and provide an easy and sustainable recipe. It’s easier to talk about sustainability over food!
  • PlanEATary Quest – 🇦🇺 Australia created the PlanEATary Quest to promote planetary health, one bite at a time. The PlanEATary Quest encourages dietitians to choose their own adventure to modify their own diet-related practices in line with current evidence regarding planetary health outcomes. To read more how it was produced, visit the SFS Toolkit Grants page.

updated 2023 Dec