A nutritious diet is essential to health. Food contains nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, and fats), which are necessary for the growth and maintenance of the cells that make up the body. Eating provides the body with the nutrients it needs to survive.
Different foods provide different kinds of nutrients, and some foods are more nutritious than others. It is important to eat a varied and healthful diet to supply one's body with all the nutrients it needs. Proper nutrition is especially critical during childhood—a period of rapid growth and development. Furthermore, children’s attitudes toward food and exercise can be strongly influenced by their environment, and it is prudent to establish healthy habits at a young age. Obesity, diabetes, and other health problems can be prevented with healthy eating and exercise practices.
This lesson begins with an activity in which students consider two plates of food: one composed of healthy choices and one composed of less healthy choices. Students then learn about the importance of nutrition, watch a video about healthy eating habits, and discuss the role of fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. Next, students investigate snacks and learn about the difference between "everyday" and "sometimes" foods. They watch a video about how to choose healthy snacks, and then participate in an activity that challenges them to make healthy choices while preparing a plate of food for a friend. Finally, students learn about where to find both "everyday" and "sometimes" foods.
- Understand that nutrition is an important part of keeping one’s body healthy
- Describe healthy food choices as those that contain nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and not too much sugar or fat
- Explain that good nutrition requires eating a variety of foods
- Identify where to shop for, or possibly grow and harvest, healthy foods
- Understand that although less healthy foods are easily available, it is better to seek out healthier options
Grade Level: K–4
- One class period
- Paper plates (enough for all students)
- Two large sheets of poster board
- Real food, toy food, or illustrations of food. Grocery store newspaper advertisements are a good source of pictures. You should have a selection of:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Healthy dinner components (such as rice, pasta, grilled chicken, and fish)
- Less healthy dinner components (such as fried chicken, french fries, and onion rings)
- Healthy snacks (such as yogurt, fruit and vegetable slices, raisins, and water)
- Less healthy snacks (such as ice cream, cookies, candies, chips, and soda pop)
Before the Lesson
- Gather all materials.
- Prepare two plates of food to illustrate a healthy and a less healthy dinner.
- Arrange buffet stations with real food, toy food, or illustrations of food. You may want to divide the class into small groups and have several stations.
Part I: The Importance of Fruits and Vegetables
1. Introduce the lesson by showing students two plates of food: one plate composed of a balanced dinner (including, for example, different-colored vegetables, rice, and grilled chicken), and the other composed of less healthy and less varied foods (such as fried chicken, french fries, and onion rings). Discuss the foods on the plates.
- What foods do they see?
- What colors are the foods?
- Which plate would they rather have for dinner?
- Which plate do they think would make a healthier dinner?
- How could they change the less healthy meal to make it healthier?
2. Ask students to discuss which foods they think are most nutritious. Explain that different foods supply different types of nutrients and some foods provide more nourishment than other foods. Fruits and vegetables contain lots of nutrients, such vitamins and minerals, which are important for good health. Meat and fish also contain good sources of vitamins and minerals and other essential nutrients, such as protein. However, some of the nutrients that we need are only found in plants. Eating a balanced and healthy diet provides the body with the nutrition it needs to grow and to protect it against diseases.
3. Watch the Healthy Eating Habits video. Remind students that fruits and vegetables are grown and come from plants.
4. Ask students to identify examples of fruits and vegetables. For younger students, it may be easier to show them examples (using either real fruits and vegetables or illustrations) than to have them brainstorm a list. For each example, discuss the color of the fruit or vegetable, what it tastes like, and/or ideas for how to eat it. For example, a peach is orange colored, sweet, and juicy; celery is light green, crunchy, and tastes good with peanut butter.
5. (Optional) Because of their family's ethnicity or culture, some students may eat foods at home that are different from those just discussed. Have students discuss some of the other types of foods they eat. For example, what would a plate of healthy Indian food look like? What about a plate of healthy Mexican food or Korean food? What about a plate of healthy vegetarian food? Discuss the cultures or practices represented by the students in the class.
Part II: Everyday and Sometimes Foods
6. Discuss the differences between snacks and meals. Remind students that snacks are also an important part of a healthy diet.
7. Explain that some foods do not have many nutrients. Ask students how they think their bodies would be affected if they only ate foods that are low in nutrients. Explain that eating foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat does not provide the body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy; too much sugar and fat can make a person sick. Show students examples of not-so-healthy snacks, such as ice cream, soda pop, and potato chips.
8. Watch the Healthy Snacks video. Explain the difference between "everyday" and "sometimes" foods. Ask students what someone should do if they really like "sometimes" foods. When could they eat those foods? How much should they eat?
9. Have students put together a balanced snack or meal at the buffet station that you prepared. Tell students to imagine that they are preparing the plate for a friend. They should choose foods that they think their friend will enjoy but that will also keep their friend healthy. They can use both "everyday" and "sometimes" foods, but should remember to use only small amounts of the less healthy foods.
10. Ask students to describe what they put on their plates. Why did they choose each food? Which foods are "sometimes" foods and which can be eaten every day?
(Optional) Older students can research the nutritional content of various foods and report what their plate provides. For example, which vitamins and minerals are provided by their selections? Which foods contain protein? Which foods have high amounts of fat, sugar, or sodium?
11. Ask students to discuss where they could buy the foods that they chose. Can they be found at a fast food restaurant? a farmer's market? the corner store? the supermarket? Does their family have a garden or farm, or are there community gardens nearby? Be prepared to discuss the options that are available in the local area and the types of foods that can be found at each location. Explain that "sometimes" foods can be easy to find, but that does not mean they should be eaten every day.
(Optional) Older students can discuss the pricing of foods in addition to accessibility. Explain that, in addition to being easier to find, "sometimes" foods are often less expensive than more nutritious options. Ask students to consider whether it is a good idea to spend money on foods that are low in nutrients.
Check for Understanding
Work together as a class to create two posters: one for "everyday" foods and one for "sometimes" foods. Ask students to list examples for each category. As they brainstorm, write down each example on the appropriate poster and illustrate it with a drawing or photo, if possible.
Have students follow along and make their own miniposters to take home. Encourage them to hang up their posters in the kitchen to remind everyone in their family about the difference between "everyday" and "sometimes" foods.