Kids in Control — Teaching Students to Make Healthy Choices

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

We have all seen our students bring chips and cookies for snack time and throw out their apples at lunch.  As we make our way into the testing season — and National Nutrition Month — we start talking to our students and families about making healthier choices. While we do this, we tie in as many standards as possible. Besides using resources from Scholastic, we also borrowed lesson ideas and printouts from Chef Solus at Nourish Interactive.


The Food Groups

We start our healthy living unit by introducing each of the food groups.  We give examples of foods from each group and talk about what makes these foods healthy.  We teach our students that the healthiest foods come straight from nature and not out of a package. 


Where Healthy Foods Start

Since healthy foods come from nature, why not take this opportunity to teach the life cycle of a plant?  Ask your students where lettuce comes from and see how many answer, “The grocery store!”  We plant seeds in paper cups and place them on the window ledge. The students love to watch their seeds blossom into real plants. An idea we picked up from Kris Holmes, one of our 3rd grade colleagues, was to plant the seeds in sandwich bags full of soil, leaving the bags open at the top. We tape the bags to the window ledge. This allows students to see how the seed opens and sprouts through the soil. 


Sorting It Out

Using a variety of Scholastic Printables, we have our students color, cut, and sort foods several different ways. 


We sort them by food group, by "anytime snacks" vs. "sometime snacks," and even by meal.  We sort them whole class, with partners, and independently.

This repetition allows for lots of oral language practice and reinforces the lessons.


Lap Attack

Knowing what to eat is only half the battle. Getting kids moving is the other.  We do a “lap attack” to encourage our students to exercise.  We dedicate the first ten minutes of every day to walking or running laps.  We do this for a few reasons. First, because it gets blood flowing to the brain before we get started in the classroom, and second, so we don’t have to try and squeeze in P.E. time once the day gets started. After our day starts, P.E. can so easily be overlooked.  We also want to show our students that P.E. isn’t just a fun Friday activity. 

To keep track of how many laps they can do, we give them a popsicle stick each time they finish a lap. 

We have a chart in the room to keep track of how many popsicle sticks they have collected. Students are not racing each other, but themselves. They love to see their number of laps go higher. 


Make a Commitment

Students will have much more “buy in” when you have them sign a contract.  There are several different contracts you can do.  You can choose to do contracts to watch “No TV/Limited TV,” to eat one veggie every day, or to engage in physical activity. Whatever you decide, it is always best to get the parents involved and have them sign the contract with their child as homework. 

We have done this for several years, and it has always had very positive results.  Last year a parent actually thanked us because her son started asking for fruit instead of chips to take for his snack time. One way to keep track of their progress is to give them a calendar printout for the month. They can draw a picture of what they did that day to show how they met their goal. 


Wrapping It Up

Wrap up the month with a writing project! We make a "My Nutrition Book!" using a template from Scholastic.  We write one to two sentences for each food group, and each food group gets its own page.  Each page of the book has a sentence starter. The students need to fill in the blank and finish the sentence.

For example, one starter is: “My favorite food in the _______________ group is __________________because________________________________________________.”


We would love to hear your thoughts on and ideas for teaching nutrition and healthy living habits. Please comment below!


LOVE the "snack party" idea Candice! I think you are right about kids wanting to impress those around them by liking the same things. I love that book too! As a matter of fact, I was just noticing today that I need to buy a new copy...mine is looking pretty ragged! :-) I have done this lesson for several years and I have had great support from most parents. I have had notes come to school asking me what type of bread they should buy or what type of snacks should they pack for their child. Sometimes, I think we need to educate beyond the kids in our class. :-) Thanks for the comments!

My book looks like it has been roughed up also. All the pages are taped back together because they're falling apart at the seems. The students really enjoy the comical pictures and silly words.
Thank you for replying to my response. I hope that you have a great school year :)

Hello :)
My name is Candice and I'm a first grade teacher. I loved your idea of the "Lap Attack" chart. It helps to get the students motivated to take part in physical activity. For most students it might be the only major activity that gets their bodies 100% engaged.

Our school has tried to push for more healthy lifestyles. We have converted the lunch menu to incorporate healthier ingredients and monitor portion sizes. We have also encouraged "snack" parties to contain mainly healthy snacks. Most recently we celebrated observed "green day". St. Patrick's Day is near and the students are learning about the various types of green fruits and vegetables. Today we had a "green snack party" where the students brought in food items such as green grapes, broccoli, celery sticks, cucumber sticks, green beans, soy beans, green apple wedges, etc. It was a very interesting sight to see for two reasons. The first is that majority of the students (13 out of 16) requested for more healthy snacks or as they call it "2nds". The second thing is that as soon as I mentioned that I loved to eat green apples, many hands raised into the air asking for that specific item. I believe that the students wanted to impress me by liking the same food that I did. This makes me wonder about how much influence parents have on the food their children like or dislike. As a teacher, if I mentioned that I didn't care for green apples I wonder how many other students would follow my lead. The book entitled "A bad case of stripes" by David Shannon is a prime example in which this girl did not want her friends to ostracize her for liking lima beans so she acted like they revolted her.
I love the idea of allowing students a healthier alternative while at school, however I think that we’re fighting an uphill battle if the adults who are responsible for the students after the day is done encourage fast food and junk eating habits.

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