School Food: What Did You Have For Lunch?

Warm-up: What Are Healthy Foods?

1. Ask the students what types of foods are healthy.

a. Are French Fries healthy? Why or why not?

i.Potatoes are healthy, but when they are fried they become fattening.

b. Are apples healthy? Why or why not?

c.  What about Pizza?

              i. Tricky Question- explain that it can be made healthier by using certain ingredients, like making the dough out of whole wheat, making the cheese with 2% fat (just like 2% milk) and using fresh tomato sauce that doesn’t have extra stuff in it to make it last longer in the jar at the grocery store.

2. Ask the students what they had to eat yesterday and if they thought they ate well.

                          a. Lead the students to wondering how they can tell whether or not the food they eat is healthy.


Activity One: What is a Food Pyramid?

1. Put Reproducible #1 – USDA Food Pyramid on the overhead projector, or pass out a copy to each student or table.

2. Explain to your students that the government was having a tough time deciding how they could distinguish healthy food from non-healthy food too, so they made a food pyramid.  The food pyramid is a diagram that represents a healthy diet by placing food groups in a pyramid according to the number of servings from each group to be eaten every day.  Each section is color coded for the food group they represent: orange for grains, green for vegetables, red for fruits, blue for dairy, and purple for proteins like meat and beans.

3. Show that certain sections are bigger than others, and explain that it is because one needs more of certain groups per day than others.  Show how green (vegetables) is larger than the purple (meat and beans) section, and explain that it means you need more servings of vegetables than meat per day.

4. Explain that the amount of food you should eat per day per category is called a serving size.  To better illustrate to your students what a proper serving is explain that 1 slice of bread is an ounce, which is the measurement by which grains are counted.  For girls 9-13, eating 5 slices of bread would be their daily portion of grains, and for boys 9-13, eating 6 slices of bread would equal their daily portion of grain. Boys typically need more energy per day, therefore need more servings.  Vegetables are measured in cups.  If you are eating baby carrots, usually about 12-13 are in one cup, therefore girls need about two cups (24-26 baby carrots) a day and boys need two and a half (30-32 baby carrots) a day.

5. Have students read Reproducible #2 - Kids Heath Food Pyramid Article (from the USDA website) and explain that the article has more information about the food pyramid as well as the rest of the suggested serving sizes per day.  Each student should answer the follow-up questions provided on Reproducible #3 - Response Questions to Kids Health Article.

Activity Two: Does Your Lunch Make the Cut?

1. Ask your students questions about what they normally have for lunch, and if they think that they are eating the right foods.  Explain that schools provide at least one, and most of the time, two meals a day.  Most of these meals include at least some healthier options for students to choose.

2. Explain that most times, schools do not want to waste food, so they tend to serve more of the unhealthy food because that is often times the most popular food with the students.

3. Hand out the Reproducible #4 and 5. If you have your school’s lunch menu, hand this out now. Otherwise, use an example found here:

4. Ask the students to choose a meal they have eaten (or would normally eat) from the school’s menu and put each part of the meal on the list under the section of the pyramid to which they think it belongs. Tell them to use a pencil.

5. Once they have done this, have them look at their meal and see if it is balanced? Do they think they could have eaten healthier had they chosen different things?

6. Allow the students to redo their chart, erasing bad choices and picking healthier items to make their lunch more balanced.


Activity Three: Healthier Living

1. Have the students brainstorm ways to eat healthier (i.e. bringing lunch from home, choosing the healthier options, trying to eat more fruit / vegetables) and explain why that’s healthier.

Ex: Eating more fruits and vegetables is healthier because they are rich in nutrients that help you grow and stay healthy.  They are also a good option to eat when you want a snack, instead of eating an unhealthy snack like chips or candy.

2. Ask the students what they should do if they didn’t get their full serving of fruit at school? Suggest that they tell their parents to have at home more of the food that they typically don’t get a much of at school so they can get their daily requirements.

3. Ask the students if they think the food that’s served in the dining hall is healthy. How could it be healthier? Steer them towards having fresher foods and not so much of the processed food choices such as pizza or hot dogs. Consider getting fresh food from local farms, healthier options like pizza with whole wheat crusts, or grilled chicken instead of chicken fingers.


Wrap Up:  Healthy Eating Discussion

1. Ask students if they remember what the food pyramid is for, and to name the different sections of the pyramid.  Which sections are the biggest, and which are the smallest?  Why are the sections narrower or wider?

2. Ask why we need a certain amount of servings per day and which food groups are better than others.  Get the students to talk about healthier options for vegetables, i.e. broccoli instead of potatoes, whole grain/whole wheat instead of white bread. 

3. Encourage your students to use their new understanding of what foods are better for them to pick out healthier daily meals. 


Extension: Eating Right Challenge!

1. Give students the food pyramid worksheet (Reproducible # 6) from the USDA and tell them they can use this to help keep track of their healthy eating.  Explain that eating sweets and junk food are sometimes ok, but only in small quantities. Ask the students to fill out the sheets for a week and see how they do! Also see if any of them feel healthier.

2. Based on your class discussion about food in your school’s cafeteria, have your students consider other options (i.e. local food, organic food, fresh food, etc.) and do research to see if any of these options could be available to your school. Write letters or petitions to the principal, district administrators or school board asking them to bring these options to your school!



In this lesson, students learned what the food pyramid is and how it works.  Students applied this knowledge to deciding their everyday lunchtime meals and making healthier choices.  The lesson is intended to encourage students to take responsibility for what they eat, and explain the benefits of making good choices.  Through these activities, students have learned the importance of eating right, and how to do so on a daily basis.