YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT - Examining Nutrition through Literature

Introduction | Background Knowledge | Activities | Extensions


When the daffodils start to push up through the ground and show their buttery yellow faces to the world, we know that spring is near! Perhaps you planted your garden and are looking for suggestions for using your bounty in the classroom. Maybe you are looking for ideas for a unit on healthy habits. Healthy habits are important for all ages, and students can learn about farm to table initiatives and eating local from an early age. Looking at nutrition and healthy eating is an excellent way to provide cross-curricular instruction in ELA (reading and writing), math, science, and health and physical education.

Start with Literature
Begin with I Will Never Not Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child. (ISBN 9780763621803). Featuring brother and sister, Charlie and Lola, from the TV show that aired from 2005-2008, this book takes us on a familiar journey as big brother Charlie tries to convince his picky-eating sister to try new things!

Other Options for Literature:

  • The Little Pea by Amy Krause Rosenthal (ISBN 9780811846585)
  • Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat (ISBN 9780545129312)
  • The Adventures of Junk Food Dude by Robin Openshaw (ISBN 0983111308)
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (ISBN 9780399226908)
  • Healthy Plates: Eating Healthy by Valerie Bodden (ISBN 9781628321074)

Ask a Question
Why should we eat a balanced diet of healthy foods?

  • ISTE Standards for Students: 3d Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories, and pursuing answers and solutions.
  • AASL National School Library Standards: Inquire Shared Foundation: Think Domain: Learners display curiosity and initiative by 1. Formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic. 2. Recalling prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning.

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Background Knowledge

Activate Prior Knowledge

  • Brainstorm what students KNOW about healthy foods. Ask students what their favorite foods are. Sort the answers into categories.
  • Brainstorm what students NEED TO KNOW to answer the question.
    • ISTE Standards for Students: 5c Students break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving.
    • AASL National School Library Standards: Inquire Shared Foundation: Create Domain: Learners engage with new knowledge by following a process that includes: 1. Using evidence to investigate questions. 2. Devising and implementing a plan to fill knowledge gaps.

Gather Information

  • Technology Approach
    • My Plate - (TeachersFirst review) With resources for children from preschool to high school, this website is the USDA’s official resource for healthy eating. Students can explore the games and videos to learn about healthy eating. There is also a tab for resources for parents and teachers.
    • My Plate Match Game - (TeachersFirst review) From the Dairy Council of California, this interactive game can investigate the different food groups and identify foods that belong in each group. This can be a springboard into more thorough research.
    • Kid's Healthy Eating Plate - (TeachersFirst review) Harvard has created a kid-friendly guide to eating healthy. Students can read the information on the main screen and click links to learn more about each topic.
  • Non-Technology Approach
    • Books!! Scour the nonfiction section of the school or public library and bring in as many resources about healthy eating as possible. The more pictures, the better! Try cookbooks! Students can look through the books to find recipes with lists of ingredients. Some cookbooks even have nutritional information. (Check 641 in your library’s nonfiction section!)
    • Invite a nutritionist to come and give a presentation on healthy eating.

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Weekly Snack

Class Dinner

  • In the same vein as the weekly snack, ask each family to prepare a healthy contribution to a class meal. Students can analyze the recipes and determine if the food is healthy or not healthy. Older students can look at nutritional information to create a healthy menu from the contributions.

Food Tracking

Meal Planning

  • Invite students to use the resources listed above in the Gathering Information section to plan a healthy meal. Younger students can use magazine photos or pictures from the Internet to fill their paper plate mobiles showing a day’s worth of meals or just one meal where student groups show various meals and snacks. Older students can use recipes and nutritional information to build healthy meals presenting them in a virtual essay format using Adobe Creative Cloud Express for Education (TeachersFirst review). A collaborative activity for a small group of students would be to use restaurant menus where students would put together healthy meal plans when not eating at home; students could use Flipgrid (TeachersFirst review) to record themselves with the menus as they talked about their choices.

Do an Experiment

  • Set up a good, old fashioned science experiment. In upper grades, students can run the experiment independently and can use the science investigation skills that they learned in isolation. Younger students can focus on observation. Have a junk food day. Start with breakfast and have pizza for lunch. Splurge with some soda and cookies for snacks. Ask students how they feel throughout the day and record the results. Ask them to do something physical (run to the fence or do 25 jumping jacks) and then ask them how they feel. Time them doing the task. The next day, repeat with healthy foods. Repeat the tasks and ask them how they feel. Record the results and then discuss them. A good follow up, or even instructional set would be to read aloud The Adventures of Junk Food Dude by Robin Openshaw or watch the Reading Rainbow video here.

Show What You Know

This is only the beginning! Learning about healthy eating can lead to many extension activities!

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Top 4 Ways to Extend a Healthy Eating Project

  1. Field Trip
    Field trips are a great way to make healthy eating exciting! Visit a local farm to see how the produce gets from farm to table. Do you live near a factory that gives tours? Can you take the students to see how ice cream is made or how donuts are made? Can you visit a dairy farm? Do you have families with backyard chickens? Look around your community to find experiences for your students!
  2. Different Parts of the Plant
    Explore how we eat different parts of the plant. This can tie into a lesson on the plant life cycle and plant parts. Check out Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens for a great literature connection.
  3. Plant a Garden
    Students can plant a container garden or even contribute to a school-wide garden if you have one. Doing this will give them first hand experience of how food gets from the farm to the table and students can eat what they grow.
  4. Guest Speakers
    If you cannot take your students to the experts, bring the experts to your students. Call your local 4H chapter or a health and wellness coach. Walk down the hall and collaborate with your school nutrition supervisor. You have a wealth of knowledge in your school cafeteria!

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