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Teaching Nutrition to Elementary Students

Posted 2 months ago - by Angie Armendariz

Nutrition: When, what and how do we teach it? Is teaching nutrition time consuming, too much work, or just simply not worth it? The answer is No! You can make a nutrition lesson as short or long, or as easy or challenging as you see fit. It’s all up to you, your class time and the other subjects or lessons you are teaching that collaborate with this lesson.

A couple of years ago, I was teaching a health lesson to my elementary students in regards to food portions. I noticed that as I spoke to them, they were not really interested in what I had to say. Especially, when I was telling them to reduce the amount of pizza slices and other types of foods they enjoy eating. I think the students pushed the ‘mute’ button on me. So I quickly over-rode the mute button by showing them a visual menu. I asked the coaches to watch the class while I ran and got my lunch from the locker room.

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I grabbed a frisbee, black marker, 4 star-shaped cut-outs I had on top of my desk and my lunch bag. This was a 5 minute lesson short and simple. First, I told students that the Frisbee was my plate as I flipped it upside down. Next, I used my black marker to make the letter T on the plate showing 4 equal compartments. I explained that we need foods from all the food groups in order to keep our bodies healthy. I then closed my hand into a tight fist and showed them a portion size. Finally, I placed my closed fist in each compartment of the Frisbee to show them that the portion did not get bigger. On each of the star-shaped cut-outs, I wrote out four of the key food groups: protein, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. I proceeded by taking out my grilled chicken in a Ziploc bag and placed in one compartment, which represented my protein. Next, I showed them my steamed broccoli in my snack bowl, which represented the vegetable group. Then, I showed them my dinner roll, which checked my whole grains off of the list! I also had a nectarine which I used to cover my fruit portion. They were amazed that all the food items fit in each compartment of the plate. During lunch, it was great to see the students making a fist and measuring the food portions the cafeteria staff had served them. As the students approached me they said, “Coach, you’re right! The food is portion size!” I said to myself Mission Accomplished!

The students really started enjoying the lessons and we used some of our grant money to buy food items. The grant money came from our CATCH grant some years back. We would talk about how to make better food choices and how to give the healthy foods a chance. It was so successful that we had aprons and chef hats made by a community member. The parent volunteers would help us pass out the snack of the day while the cafeteria staff allowed us to use some of their pots and pans. I brought all my pampered chef items from home, along with my colorful tablecloths, bowls and utensils. We designed our logo and our PTA association paid for screening on our aprons and chef hats. The students learned about Nutrition, presentation, culinary arts and portions. It’s so rewarding to hear students responses when you ask them: What they are making? Why is it healthy? How much should they eat? So give it a shot—it is lots of fun (for you and the students)!



This topic is interesting to me because many times I’ve heard comments such as: exercise grows brain cells, exercise does a body good, and active kids make better learners. So, I decided that if this is true, let’s get it going!  I knew that my students were getting quality physical education activities and lessons. So, my hypothesis was that by the end of the school year my students were going to be more intelligent. Those classroom teachers were going to be so proud of my contribution to increasing testing scores.  Well, just wait a minute; I knew that my students were getting the physical activity component yet what about the core subject criteria? Did I really know if the students were mastering skills and on task? Did they understand math, science and could they express themselves in a written assignment? No, I did not have that vital and important information.

I then questioned myself, if our students are healthy in gym class how could I bring in the healthy mind component? I knew that would come from collaborating with the classroom teachers. When the teachers brought their students out to physical education class I asked the question, “Is there a certain task, skill or subject that your students are quite not grasping?” There first reply was why and I then said that I would like to help them (teachers as well as students) by combing physical education activities with classroom subject areas. The classroom teachers were excited and volunteered the information I needed. I did explain that I would incorporate different subjects and skills depending on the physical education activity and it would not be every day. They were grateful and eager to help especially after I mentioned our goal was to increase student learning.  I shared with them that physical activity made them more alert and the students could focus more on the challenging tasks.

Like the passionate and enthusiastic person that I am, I started researching information on exercise and learning, attended conventions and discussed ideas with other physical education colleagues. This is where I learned that incorporating physical education and core subjects could be as simple and creative as you want it to be to develop a healthy mind.

I will share one game that a colleague of mine shared at an in-service that helped students with science, math, sport skills and conditioning.

The name of the activity is called $10.00 and a Bone. The activity can be used with all grades K-5 with adaptations. Before starting this activity we discussed the skeletal system and function of the bones. Next we practiced counting play money (all dollars). Then students were divided into teams of 5 or any number that accommodates your class size. Each team gets a colored, laminated skeleton that is cut into segments. They will be working together to build a skeleton. We reminded the students that there would be stations all around the gym and when they performed and completed an activity they must come to the banker (coaches) that will give them $1.00. In my class $5.00 buys a bone. So the team members can put their money together to buy a bone to start their skeleton. The first team to build the skeleton and all the bones are in the appropriate places wins! The students learn science terms, bone functions, perform math functions and a get moderate to vigorous workout. These students go back to the classroom alert and ready to learn.  So we developed a healthy mind and a healthy body by combining physical activity and core subjects. Give it a try! Ignite some minds and bodies!

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