3 - 5
Students will develop an awareness that food preferences and cooking styles may be based upon geographic, ethnic, and/or religious/family customs, but all food choices fit into the groups of MyPlate.
- MyPlate Activity Poster
- Pictures of various food items (a Food Models Kit is available for purchase)
- Restaurant Menus
- Report Sheet
- State Agricultural Facts for your state
- The Utah Agriculture Activity Map is recommended for Utah teachers
- Nerf ball
- 2 swim noodles
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
MyPlate: a nutrition guide from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that serves as a reminder to eat from all five food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- Calories are units used to measure energy in food.1
- A calorie is defined as the amount of heat necessary to warm a kilogram of water (about one liter) by one degree Celsius.1
- A 120-lb person burns about 91 calories running one mile in ten minutes.2
Background - Agricultural Connections
MyPlate is a nutrition guide from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that serves as a reminder to eat from all five food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. Eating a variety of foods from all five food groups is suggested.
The MyPlate guide recommends that half of the food on your plate be fruits and vegetables. Include plenty of red, orange, and dark-green vegetables. Fruits should be used as snacks, salads, and desserts. Grains are foods that come from plants like wheat, corn, and oats and include bread, cereal, crackers, rice, and pasta. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. Protein foods include seafood, beans, meat, poultry, eggs, and nuts. It is suggested that you eat a variety of protein foods, choose lean meats, and eat seafood twice a week. Milk and yogurt are examples of dairy. It is best to choose skim milk or 1% milk and water to drink instead of sugary drinks. Limit the consumption of foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium, also referred to as “sometimes” foods.
There are six main groups of nutrients that a body needs to stay healthy—carbohydrates, protein, water, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Carbohydrates give you energy. Along with providing energy, protein also builds muscle, skin, and bones. Water helps your body stay cool when it sweats and also helps your body move nutrients to where they need to go. Fats provide you with energy, healthy skin, and an ability to absorb vitamins. Vitamins can help you heal and maintain strong bones and teeth, keep your blood healthy, and help your muscles and nervous system function properly. Each food group provides different nutrients, and no single food group can supply all the nutrients our bodies need. Eating from all five food groups helps to ensure that your body is getting necessary nutrients.
A healthy lifestyle also includes physical activity. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. Increasing activity increases health benefits.
Good health depends on good nutrition and physical activity. Using MyPlate as a guide to identify healthy food and fitness choices will provide students with an awareness of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Ask students to name foods that are healthy and nutritious (or that adults say are “good for them”). Discuss why they think certain foods help them grow and stay healthy while other foods should only be eaten sometimes. Talk with students about nutritious foods and non-nutritious foods, making sure they understand that foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and energy are better for developing bodies, helping them grow healthy and strong.
- Show students the MyPlate Activity Poster and introduce them to each food group, noting the colors on the plate and how each one represents a food group. Information about each food group is available at Choosemyplate.gov.
- Distribute the pictures of various food items to students, either individually or in small groups. Allow students to arrange the food pictures on the MyPlate poster according to food groups. Discuss the health benefits of the various foods.
Activity 2: Ethnic Foods
- Lead a class discussion about different kinds of foods Americans enjoy (e.g., Chinese, Mexican, Italian, French, Japanese). If students are struggling with “types,” encourage them to begin by naming restaurants they like. You may use this as an opportunity to introduce the concept of culture and how food preparation varies from one country to another. Provide copies of the three restaurant menus for student review. Explain that the restaurants chosen represent American versions of regional/national cuisine. Note that people from various national, ethnic, and religious backgrounds enjoy special dishes originating from these backgrounds. Emphasize that, regardless of ethnic origin, all food items can be found in the five food groups of MyPlate and all food originates on farms through the efforts of farmers.
- Allow students to work individually or in small groups to select menu items to compare to MyPlate. Provide students with a “Report Sheet” to record data regarding the number of food groups included in the selected menu items. Instruct students to research the caloric content, the number of fat grams, grams of carbohydrates, etc. in each menu item. Discuss the importance of knowing about calories, fat grams, carbohydrates, sugars, etc.
- After analyzing the selected menu items, allow students to consider which ingredients of the menu item are produced as agricultural commodities in your state. For example, a taco contains corn in its shell, beef for its filling, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes for toppings. As a class, using your State Agricultural Facts or the Utah Agriculture Activity Map, identify the ingredients in the selected menu items that are produced by farmers in your state.
- Further challenge students to research other cuisine with a geographic, ethnic, or religious connection and compare it to the guidelines set forth by MyPlate (e.g., Thai, Vietnamese, Jewish/Kosher, Caribbean, Scandinavian). They can also conduct an investigation into which ingredients of the menu items are produced in your state.
- Have students write about a time when they enjoyed a meal that included menu items from a culture other than their own. Include a description of their experience eating the new foods.
Activity 3: Run the Rainbow Challenge: Meatball Hockey
- Discuss the importance of physical activity. All children need at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. Activity levels will directly affect the amount of food needed to maintain a healthy body.
- Share with the students that a person must walk the length of a football field in order to burn the number of calories contained in one M&M candy! Explore the concept that calories consumed and calories spent through physical activity affect a person’s weight. For an overview of the number of calories burned for a variety of activities, have students go to the Fitness Partner: Activity Calorie Calculator. By putting in their information, they can receive a personalized activity guide.
- Ask students to name a food they associate with Italy. When spaghetti has been named, ask the students to name the ingredients in spaghetti. Explain that the activity in which they are going to participate involves the meatballs and noodles found in spaghetti.
- Before play begins, mark the goal lines on each end of the play space (see Figure 1).
- Use a Nerf ball to represent the meatball and swim noodles to represent the noodles. In a large, open space divide the class in half and form two lines facing one another. Have one line of students number up from right to left and the other line number up left to right.
- Place the Nerf ball in the center of the court and a noodle on the floor on each side of the meatball. Play begins when the teacher calls a number from the container with numbers inside. One student from each team races to the center, picks up a noodle, and tries to sweep the meatball over their designated goal line. Their opponent tries to keep them from scoring while trying to gain control of the meatball and sweep it over the opposite goal. Play continues until all numbers have been called.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Some foods are more healthy and nutritious than others. A healthy diet includes a variety of foods from all five food groups.
- Regardless of ethnic origin, all food items can be found in the five food groups of MyPlate and all food originates on farms through the efforts of farmers.
- Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
- Provide information for accessing the website Choosemyplate.gov. Have each student follow the directions on the website to obtain their personalized dietary plan, “MyPlate Daily Checklist.” Visiting the website can be a class activity, or information can be shared with parents to be completed at home. Individual nutrition needs, along with portion sizes, can be obtained for children and adults at this website.
- Read Issue 2 of Ag Today titled Food, Keeping us Fueled for an Active Lifestyle. This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. Learn about the healthy and tasty food that farmers grow to help humans maintain a healthy diet. Follow the process from farm to plate and learn about serving sizes, food safety, and USDA's MyPlate.
Suggested Companion Resources
Fill MyPlate Game (Activity)
Midday Meals Around the World (Book)
The Tortilla Factory (Book)
The Hungry Planet (Book)
Mama Provi and the Pot of Rice (Book)
Everybody Bakes Bread (Book)
What is a Fruit? What is a Vegetable? Bulletin Boards (Poster, Map, Infographic)
Utah Agriculture Activity Map (Poster, Map, Infographic)
The Power of Choice Bulletin Board (Poster, Map, Infographic)
MyPlate Activity Poster (Poster, Map, Infographic)
Eat Happy Project video series (Multimedia)
Eat & Move O-Matic (Multimedia)
Ag Today (Booklets & Readers)
Hungry Planet Resources from Social Studies School Service (Teacher Reference)
How to Teach Nutrition to Kids (Teacher Reference)
Choose MyPlate (Website)
This lesson was updated and adapted by Utah Agriculture in the Classroom in 2016.
Louise Lamm and Ellen Gould
North Carolina Agriculture in the Classroom