By Teachers, For Teachers
National Nutrition Month is celebrated each year in the month of March. This is a great time for educators to help their students understand why it’s important to make informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. Here are a few classroom activities to help students develop healthy habits they can carry over into adulthood.
Nutrition education is necessary to build a child’s knowledge on the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, school plays an essential role in establishing a child’s healthy eating behavior. Nutrition education can empower children with the knowledge and skills to make informed, healthy food choices. By providing specific nutrition education in school, research has shown a decrease in obesity as well as a decrease in BMI and waist circumference among elementary students. There is also an increased likelihood that a child will create healthy habits at a young age, which can carry over into adulthood.
Just as an automobile needs gasoline to run, our bodies need food for us to stay alive. As children get older, they will have to start making their own lifestyle choices; that is why it’s so crucial for children to learn at a young age the effect that proper nutrition has on their overall health. Here are a few classroom activities about food and health.
The first step into diving into nutrition education is to educate students on the pattern of digestion and how the foods they eat are broken down. It’s best to use a visual when discussing digestion that you can refer to while talking. If you don’t have one at your disposal, you can point to your body as you talk. Discuss how when food is chewed in the mouth, it is broken down and partially digested before it enters the stomach. Talk about how the stomach squeezes it even more and adds water, enzymes, and hydrochloric acid to break it down even more. Next, discuss how different foods act as fuel for your body. Some foods provide your body with energy, while others make you feel weak and sluggish. Then, challenge students to choose a food and write a short story as if they were the piece of food going through their body.
To encourage students to eat a properly balanced meal, have them create a balanced meal of their own. For this activity, students will need to search grocery ads and magazines to find a balanced meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Students can cut out photos and glue them onto a paper plate. Be sure to first discuss how our bodies need a variety of foods. Demonstrate what a balanced meal looks like by going to Eatright.org, or you can download the choosemyplate.gov app to help students learn how to eat the “MyPlate way.” Once students have made their pretend meals on their paper plates, have students try and guess who made each plate as well as determine if the dish was a balanced meal or not.
A food diary is a great tool to use for students to visually see how healthy they are eating on a regular basis. Ask students to keep a daily food diary of the foods that they eat for five days straight. They should keep a record of everything they consume, including what they drink. On the next school day, have students compare their five-day food diary to the national guidelines of recommended eating. Then, have students see if they need to modify their diets in any way. Remind them that a balanced meal means we’re getting all of the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need to be healthy.
It’s important to mention that when you are educating children on healthy eating that you remind students that being fit and eating healthy is essential, but it also has to be done the right way. That means eating healthy and exercising without overemphasizing a diet or exercise plan that is too restrictive. While everyone loves to indulge in eating some sugary sweets every once in a while, eating in moderation is the key to a long-lasting healthy lifestyle.
Janelle holds an MS in Education.