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Teaching Strategies about Healthy Eating

Janelle Cox

During the holidays, it’s hard to remember good eating habits. For children, the lure of a Christmas cookie is difficult to resist.

Food is always around us, and the media doesn’t make it easy. We are constantly seeing images of unattainable body figures, and we are being bombarded with celebrities telling us what we should eat and drink to look like them.

As teachers, it is our job to create informed citizens: Citizens that can make educated decisions about what they are putting into their mouths. While nutrition is a “hot topic” in the news and with the First Lady, the furthest teachers get in discussing nutrition with their students is usually the food pyramid.  We can change this by creating teaching strategies that promote heathy eating. Here are a few of these teaching strategies to try with your students.

Food Diary Teaching Strategies

The first step in teaching students about heathy eating is to have them examine what they are eating. You can do this by having them keep a food journal for the entire nutrition unit. This will make them aware of their daily food choices and will help them to determine what they need to take out of their diets, as well as what they need to add to them. At the end of the unit, have students look back into their journals to see how their eating habits have changed.

Food Labels

Examining food labels is a great way for students to learn about nutrition facts. For this activity, have students compare food labels for breakfast. Pair students with a partner and give them two breakfast cards with the nutrition facts of all the items in each breakfast. Their job is to look at the fat content, calories, fiber, sodium, etc., and determine if it is a healthy breakfast or not. Next, discuss with students how they could improve the “unhealthy” meal: For example, replacing whole milk with skim milk or substituting turkey sausage for regular sausage. You can even have students conduct a taste test so they can see for themselves that the healthy alternative is actually quite tasty.

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Food Advertisements

The media plays a huge (and important) role in communicating what is healthy and what is not. For this activity have students examine several advertisements (on the television and in magazines) to see if they can pick out the dubious techniques the media uses. For example, have students look to see if an athlete is promoting a sugary cereal, or a celebrity is discussing how the breakfast bar they are eating tastes like real fruit. Then, for homework, challenge students to watch for commercials to see which they saw more of: Ads that promote healthy foods or ads that promote unhealthy foods. Then have them create graph of their findings. As a follow-up project, have students create their own advertisement. Pair students together and ask them to come up with a healthy advertisement that doesn’t use any of those questionable techniques that they see in the media.

A Balanced Diet

To encourage students to eat healthy meals, have students create a balanced meal. Have them search through grocery ads and magazines to find a balanced meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Instruct students to cut out photos and glue them onto a paper plate. Before sending them off to search for a balanced meal, discuss how our bodies need a variety of foods. Show students what a balanced meal looks like by going to choosemyplate.gov. Once students have made their meals, have students try and guess who made each plate and if the plate was balanced or not.

Taste Test

This activity is sure to be a hit in your classroom. With the help of parent volunteers, ask each student to bring in a healthy meal to share. Some ideas are popcorn, a veggie platter with yogurt dip, fruit, string cheese, etc. Make sure that you check for food allergies before you send a list home asking for parent food donations for the taste test. This is a great way to create excitement about healthy eating.

A unit on nutrition must emphasize healthy eating without overemphasizing a diet that is too restrictive.  Remind students that being fit and eating right is important, but it has to be done the right way. Essentially, it is their responsibility for keeping themselves healthy. So as much as students may love to eat their sugary sweets, it all has to be in moderation.

Do you have any fun activities to promote health and nutrition that you would like to share? Please share with us in the comment section below, we would love to hear your ideas.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.