Digging Deeper with Nutrition

By Eve Pranis

Your students' inquiring minds will provide the fertile ground for nutrition-related investigations and activities. Here are a few ideas to prompt your thinking.

  • Have students keep a log of foods they eat or foods on the school lunch menu for a week. Sort the foods by nutritional groups and compare student diets with the food pyramid recommendations.
  • Keep a running class chart of vegetables you grow or study, including the following categories: vegetable, plant part, how it helps us, how it helps the plant, ways we eat it.
  • Grow and taste different types of sprouts. Sprouting seeds enhances their nutritional value by increasing the amount of protein, minerals, and vitamins seeds provide. Consider mung bean, alfalfa, buckwheat, kidney beans, radishes, or clover sprouts.
  • Groups concerned about nutrition are calling for young people to eat at least five fruits and / or vegetables every day. Brainstorm, then create a chart featuring ways of including fruits or vegetables at each meal and snacks (fruit cup on cereal, vegetables with dips for a snack, dinner salad, fruit shakes for dessert, for instance). Have students maintain individual "five-a-day" charts.
  • Compare the appearance, texture, and taste of the same vegetable raw and cooked. Research how different forms of cooking and processing affect nutritional value.
  • Collect favorite garden recipes from home and class, then use them to create a cookbook to raise funds for your school garden program.
  • Grow a thematic garden that yields ingredients for students' favorite foods...a pizza, salsa, or taco garden, for instance. Research where the ingredients might have otherwise originated.
  • Investigate how advertising affects our food choices. Cut out magazine ads for food, or have students monitor television commercials between 5 and 7 p.m., or on Saturday mornings. Discuss what types of foods are most frequently advertised. What are their nutritional values? How do the advertisers try to influence viewers? Develop advertisements for your garden vegetables that incorporate nutritional information.
  • Brainstorm the foods you could include in your diet if you only ate what you or farmers in your region could grow yourselves.
  • Using what you know about vegetables, create and share riddles that describe and reveal nutritional information about different vegetables.
  • Research the steps that a particular food might go through to go from a distant farm field to your table. (A pepper, for instance, might go from a mechanical harvester to a packing shed to a truck to a wholesale market to a grocery store, and ultimately to your home. In the process, a tremendous amount of energy is used and more than 50% of its vitamin C may be lost.) Discuss how the amount of energy used and nutritional value of a store-bought food might compare with a homegrown food.
  • Learn about vegetarianism. Explore the cultural, moral, nutritional, financial, religious, and ecological reasons people choose to eat only plant foods. Discover what it means to "eat lower on the food chain." Learn about complementary plant proteins
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  • Research how the nutritional value of food changes as it moves from its fresh, natural state to a processed state. (A baked potato, for example, contains a lot of vitamin C, but the same amount of potato chips may have only 1/10 of the original vitamins, less fiber, and a lot more fat.)
  • Encourage students to expand their willingness to taste and ability to describe new plant food flavors. As fifth grade Tuscon, AZ, teacher Cathy Sivilli says, "Help them develop 'taste etiquette'. Cathy prompts students to try new garden foods, nasturtium leaves, for instance, then to use imaginative words to describe the flavors. "The kids moved past the immediate 'yuck' to use such descriptors as "peppery, warm, zesty", and so on," she reports.
  • Explore how human nutrition fits into the nutrient cycle. (Plants rely on nutrients in the soil to help them use the sugars and carbohydrates they make during photosynthesis. Humans and other animals get nutrients by eating plants and other animals. Plant and animal wastes are eaten or decayed by soil organisms, where nutrients are released, and the cycle begins again.)

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