Teaching children proper nutrition is such an important lesson that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) is willing to help you teach it! Educational resources can be found on the U.S.D.A. kid-friendly website at www.MyPyramid.gov/kids/ .
Nutrition pyramid posters, coloring pages, and the other fun information found on this site can provide many lesson plans, learning about healthy food and exercising choices. I like to take it one step farther by teaching sustainability, and help little ones learn how to grow their own food, right in the classroom.
Growing Nutritious Foods
Have your small students get their hands dirty, filling Dixie cups with soil, for starting seedlings of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Plant the seeds, cover with compost or potting soil, water, and start the fun growing process.
This should be an on-going activity, providing your kids with healthy dipping, cooking, and eating curriculum, straight from their classroom-grown veggie garden. While classroom-grown fruits and berries make delicious smoothies, when added to yogurt, and turned into freezer pops, or simply eaten fresh, for sweet healthy snacks.
Food Pyramid Posters
Use the colorful U.S.D.A. poster demonstrating the correct foods in proper proportions, copy at http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/Resources/mpk_poster.pdf and then post to your lunchroom wall for quick reference. Next print out the coloring pages found at http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/resources/mpk_coloring.pdf for your kids to color, or create personalized nutrition charts.
Personalized Nutrition Charts
Help your kids make a personalized exercise and nutrition chart, using their favorite foods and activities. Use the coloring print-out page above, and paste cut-out food favorites into the appropriate pyramid spaces.
Cut out food pictures from grocery store flyers (using safety scissors, or have your teacher’s assistant do the cutting). Separate food cut-outs by group, as per the poster above, and then allow the kids to select, and paste their favorite healthy foods into the correct part of their pyramid.
Where to Add Wrong Foods
I had my students add a section on top of the pyramid, for sugar and high-fat foods like candy, soda and chips. I would then demonstrate to the kids that eating too much of this non-nutritional food group would either give them tooth decay, or make them sick, leading to dreaded shots from the dentist and/or doctor.
This simple illustration drove the “point” home for most kids. Warning the foods at the point of the pyramid usually lead to the point of a needle, in the form of a shot!
Enlisting Parental Involvement
An excellent handout to send home with children, helping parents to be good nutritional role models, is found at http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/TenTips/RoleModelTipsheet.pdf . This will also help reinforce classroom health and nutrition lesson plans, and show parents what their children are learning.
To get parents on board, have a parent’s day once a week to eat breakfast or lunch with your class (as schedules permit), prepared from classroom-grown fruits and veggies. Mix your veggies with eggs for breakfast omelets or wraps.
Serve lunchtime baked potatoes stuffed with veggies and topped with cheese, or cheese and veggie quesadillas, cut into wedges. Create wonderful smoothies with frozen fruit mixed with milk. Show parents the health rewards, based upon nutritional pyramid posters and personalized charts.