Fun, interactive lesson ideas for teaching Choose MyPlate nutrition to students
Even if you have a standard lesson plan for teaching Choose MyPlate, it’s nice to alter, modify, and pivot things when you have a different groups or classes.
I find the best way to not feel like I’m bored teaching is mixing up the activities that go along with the lesson. Activities play a large role in the participants’ engagement and ultimately what they take away from the lesson.
Even if it’s a short time that you have with a group, using an activity in my experience can be a great way to help them learn and apply the main points.
To help ease planning activities I’ve come up with a variety of activities for different levels, complexities and situations. Learning should be fun and these activities will help your participants have fun while learning about nutrition.
Fun Activities for teaching nutrition in the classroom or clinic
- Have either paper cut outs of food or food models in a basket and have people match them to the food groups, you can make it a competition and have two sets with people competing to see who gets the most matches correct. (If you need one, I have two pages of printable food in this free lesson plan download here)
- Take the matching to the next level by focusing on the nutrients commonly found in each food group. People often hear they need to eat more of certain nutrients but are confused when it comes to applying that to actual foods. Matching the nutrients will help them learn which foods contain those nutrients but also recognize that a balanced diet provides all the nutrients needed. Because there is some overlap with some nutrients you can have multiples of some like protein, potassium and vitamin A, allowing people to match them in two groups.
- Serving size is a part of MyPlate that is often overlooked, there is definitely a difference between the 9” MyPlate recommendation and a 14” serving plate at a restaurant. Understanding the serving sizes recommended for Choose MyPlate will help individuals better apply what they learn. Three ideas to talk about serving sizes:
- What you’ll need: some common sized dishes such as a plate, bowl and glass, spoons, measuring cups, a jug of water, some cereal in the box, cooked pasta and slices of chicken. Have individuals dish up different items such as pasta with chicken, a bowl of cereal or glass of juice(use the water) using the dishes. Once they have dished up their normal serving, have them measure out using the measuring cups to see just how much they actually dished up. Having individuals use real food helps them have a realistic experience and helps them see what a serving size looks like.
- This is perfect for a health fair setting or even a class. Have some food items dished up on plates, such as a salad, glass of milk, apple slices, chicken breast. Then have individuals guess on how many serving sizes of the food group each are. This is a fun way to help people learn about serving sizes using real food.
- A very simple one that will help people when they don’t have measuring cups on hand is to review serving sizes in comparison to common products of parts of a hand, such as 3 oz of meat being the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. You can set up a display with the common object and the compared food covered up, have the individual guess and then display the food. You can also teach this as an introduction to another activity using this portion size handout.
- It is one thing to piece together a basic meal using food models and a MyPlate diagram, but it can often be difficult to recognize the food groups within a combination meal, and on top of that recognize the serving sizes. A full plate of pasta with three pieces of shrimp and a few slices of mushrooms can look very different when broken down. There are a few ways to go about this activity.
- First option, have a combination meal such as lasagna with a green salad and bread by using food models, photos or paper cut outs etc., then have individuals use their worksheet to break down which food groups the ingredients belong in. For this example people will notice there are no fruits, very little vegetables and two types of grains, multiple servings of grains.
- The second option is to have individuals use the worksheet to write down common combination meals they eat and then break down the ingredients into their food groups. Use this printable to do this activity!
- A great way to engage with kids is to introduce them to new foods. Fruits and vegetables are a great place to start with so many different colors, tastes and texture, but you can also include other food groups, such as different types of grains, dairy products, and legumes. Set up a display of new foods and give some information about what benefits they have. You can take it a step further and provide samples for kids to try while you talk about the benefits of the foods.
- Sample ideas: Purple carrots, fennel, beets, dragon fruit, persimmon, goji berry, cooked millet or barley, crackers made of different grains, kefir, ricotta or another type of cheese, green or red lentils, or roasted garbanzo beans.
- This one also includes reviewing food labels. For a field trip, take a trip to the grocery store and review different items, and have individuals try and find products they’ve never eaten before and talk about how they can be used, such as different types of breads, or meats. It is a great way to compare products. You can compare types of pasta by reviewing nutrition labels. Some are whole wheat, others have added fiber and some are made of other grains. If you aren’t able to go to the grocery store you can set up a mock store, or section of the store. Have a display of cereal boxes, breads or yogurts and let people practice reviewing labels and finding the important parts of the packaging.
- In a more advanced activity, have individuals either use a favorite recipe, find one online or in a recipe book and have them use the worksheet to decide how they can modify or add to the meal to make it fit the MyPlate recommendations. Maybe it’s adding zucchini and bell pepper to chili, or adding a side of steamed vegetables to baked chicken. This activity is a great way to help individuals build confidence in their ability to apply MyPlate principles to their diet and they’ll leave with one meal they have modified to their likes and MyPlate recommendations.
All these activities are flexible and can be altered to meet the specific needs for your lesson.
I would love to hear how these activities go and what changes you make.