Food For Thought

Version 2


    Unit Summary

    Students analyze their own nutrition and then complete a project where they develop a research question, collect data in the field about students' nutrition, and analyze their data. Students use their research on nutritional requirements and student data to recommend changes in the school to improve student nutrition. Student teams use Showing Evidence to identify and summarize their persuasive arguments with the data they have gathered. They present their findings to the appropriate audience with decision-making authority.


    At a Glance

    • Grade Level: 6-8
    • Subject(s): Science, Mathematics, Health
    • Topics: Nutrition, Health, Consumer Awareness, Persuasion, Business
    • Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Critical Analysis, Interpretation of Data
    • Key Learnings: Importance of Diet, Persuasive Writing, Planning Healthy Meals, Interpreting Food Labels
    • Time Needed: 3-4 weeks, depending on the amount of out-of-class work


    Things You Need




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    Windows 8*


    Common Core Alignment

    This unit is aligned to Common Core State Standards for Math.

    • Math: 5.MD Measurement and Data, 7.SP Statistics and Probability

    This unit is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards.

    • MMS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity


    Curriculum-Framing Questions

    • Essential Question
      How can I stay healthy?
    • Unit Questions
      How healthy are our school's students?
      How can we plan and follow a healthy, nutritious, and appetizing diet?
    • Content Questions
      What is the food pyramid?
      How do I determine calories burned?
      What is the right amount of calories for me?
      How do I count a serving size?
      How do I graphically represent data?


    Assessment Processes

    View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Food for Thought Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.


    Instructional Procedures

    Unit Preparation
    Visit the Unit Preparation Checklist for a list of tasks to complete prior to beginning this unit.

    Unit Introduction
    Introduce the Essential Question (or reintroduce, if using the Essential Question over several units), How can I stay healthy? Discuss the following kinds of questions:

    • What does it mean to be healthy?
    • What contributes to a healthy body?
    • What areas of a teenage life do you think are typically unhealthy?

    When the topic of diet or eating habits is mentioned ask, "If, as the saying goes,'You are what you eat,' does that make me a cheeseburger? What does that phrase mean? Is it true? In what ways?"

    Using cell phones (see how live polls work at*), have students take a live poll on their perceived eating habits and what they consider healthy. Include questions that identify:

    • What kinds of foods do you eat?
    • How healthy do you think your typical diet is?
    • When do you make healthy food choices?
    • On average, how healthy do you think the teens eat at our school?
    • What do you think contributes to unhealthy eating by the students in our school?

    Discuss poll results and introduce the first Unit Question, How healthy are our school's students? Promote a discussion about nutrition, and record prior knowledge, interesting ideas, and questions that arise.


    Phase 1: Determining Your Own Eating Habits

    1. Pass out a Nutrition Learning Log and a Learning Log Rubric to each student. Explain to students that they will be writing in their learning logs throughout the unit to reflect on questions, record information, and document their thinking. The learning logs are an important part of the unit and assessed at the end of the unit. Therefore, the learning log rubric outlines expectations and guidelines for students to refer to while they write entries in their learning logs. Review the rubric with students and consider drafting an entry with them as an example.


    Direct students to answer the question, What factors influence my food choices? in their learning logs. When writing is finished, ask students to voice their ideas, and cluster the ideas under logical categories. Some answers may include reasons such as hunger, taste, visual appeal, health, convenience, habit, novelty, cultural tradition, cost, and advertising.


    Students track all they eat for seven days using the USDA MyPyramid Tracker (*), an online dietary and physical activity assessment tool to keep track of and assess food intake and physical activity. For extra credit or to support deeper learning for gifted students, students may choose to also track their daily physical activity. Students can use either a paper Food Diary or an application on their cell phone to keep track of what they eat throughout the day and then enter the information into the USDA MyPyramid Tracker. Have students set up their accounts and enter their height, weight, age, and food already eaten that day.


    2. During this week, hold labs to understand serving sizes, portions, and how to count composite foods, like sandwiches, which may account for one meat serving, two bread servings, one vegetable serving, and one fat/other serving. Help familiarize students with the food groups by having them create large food group posters that can be posted around the classroom. Create a bulletin board area that displays in big letters the following labels:

    • Milk/Dairy
    • Meat
    • Vegetables
    • Fruit
    • Grains
    • Others


    Have students cut out pictures of food from magazines, circulars, and newspapers and glue them to the appropriate banner.


    3. Introduce the concept of food as fuel and the term calorie (see the nutrition notes). Show students how to find their ideal daily calorie levels as recommended in the nutrition notes calories chart. View and compare calories for various typical foods eaten from an online calorie counter or cell phone application. Ask students to reflect on one day's diet from their food diaries entered into USDA MyPyramid Tracker by using the site's analysis of their nutrient intakes, and then answer the following questions:

    • What is the right number of calories for me?
    • Do I eat the proper number of calories, too few, or too many?
    • How can my diet be altered so I consume the right amount of calories?
    • How can my activity level be altered?

    Reflect on the previous day and estimate how many minutes were spent engaged in different activities during waking hours. Record the activities in the learning log. Activities might include sitting in class, sports practice, watching television, walking to school, PE class, and doing specific chores. Use an online activity calorie counter (such as Activity Calorie Counter* or a mobile phone application) to convert the length of time for the activity multiplied by the type of the activity to get the calories expended.


    4. Have students discuss their analysis of their daily activity.

    • What was your most common activity?
      • What was the most common activity of the class?
    • What was your most strenuous activity or activity burning the most calories?
      • What was the most strenuous activity recorded of the class?
    • How much energy did you expend for the day?
      • Who expended the most energy?
    • How many hours did the whole class spend in front of the television?


    Have students enter one day's activities into the USDA MyPyramid Tracker and then analyze their physical activities and energy balance using the site's tools. Create a large classroom chart that shows common activity categories and the calories they expend. Have students create miniature versions of the chart in their learning logs.


    5. Discuss food choices and the impact of small changes in diet over time. For instance, a person can choose to have a glass of milk or a can of soda with lunch-How do these drinks compare nutritionally? Have students choose two foods, research their nutritional value (using print or electronic sources), and compare them. Provide students with the Food Comparison Instructions to guide them through using spreadsheet software when creating their Nutritional Food Comparison Graphs. Students may practice interpreting each other's graphs and record their interpretations in their nutrition learning logs.


    6. After one week, students use USDA MyPyramid Tracker to help analyze the nutrient content of the foods they entered each day and compare it with dietary guidelines, nutrient intakes, and food category recommendations. They use the online graph of their eating over the week to analyze their general eating habits. Direct them to resources available at*. In their learning logs, students answer the question, What have I learned about my eating habits? and include specific data from the USDA MyPyramid Tracker (including the graph of their eating habits over the week) and nutritional guidelines data from the Choose My Plate Web site. Direct students to analyze their data and consider questions such as:

    • Did my eating and nutritional values change on any specific days, why?
    • How did my eating change over the weekend versus week days?
    • What was surprising about my eating habits? Give specific examples.

    In small groups, have students share and compare their eating habits and nutritional intake. Hold a class discussion to discuss similarities that they found in their groups and what they learned about their own eating habits.


    7. Revisit the Unit Question, How can we plan and follow a healthy, nutritious, and appetizing diet? Have a brief discussion to share ideas. Using the food group banners, "Choose My Plate" graphic depicting recommended percentages of food categories, nutrition charts from packaged food labels, and cafeteria menus from various schools as resources, students plan a day's menu for themselves that meets nutritional guidelines. Discuss with students the Essential Question, How can I stay healthy? Have students use the USDA MyPyramid Tracker and other sites to identify consequences of consistently eating an imbalanced diet.

    Phase 2: Analyzing and Improving Student Nutrition

    1. Introduce the project that they will undertake by focusing on the second Unit Question, How can we plan and follow a healthy, nutritious, and appetizing diet? Discuss their views on the food available on campus and possible ways it could be improved to promote healthy eating. Explain that in small groups, they will be:

    • Developing a research question around the Unit Questions
    • Collecting and analyzing data in the field needed to answer their research question, such as:
      • Determining the average students' nutrition
      • Analyzing the nutritional value of the cafeteria food
      • Identifying the effects of on-campus vending machines on student eating habits, and so forth.
    • Using their research to determine healthier alternatives that could be implemented in the school.
    • Creating persuasive presentations to present to the appropriate audience such as students, principal, school board, and/or district nutritionist and suggesting changes to promote healthy eating (for example, a revised cafeteria menu offering healthier choices that students would eat).

    Introduce and discuss the Project Rubric. If you have created a project wiki or collaborative document site, introduce the site as one location for project files, calendar, and student team files and plans. Provide students with their login information.


    Introduce the research process that students follow during the project and distribute the Project Checklist to help students monitor their progress:

    a.  Identify a Question or Problem
    b.  Collect Data or Evidence
    c.  Analyze Data
    d.  Draw Conclusions
    e.  Share Findings


    2. Discuss what makes a good research question. First, start by considering questions that relate to nutrition at school:

    • What do I notice?
    • What do I wonder?
    • What interests me?
    • Why does...happen?
    • What causes...?
    • Can my question be answered by collecting the right data?


    Then brainstorm with the whole group some possible research questions to evaluate and/or improve nutrition at school or student eating habits, such as:

    • How nutritious are the foods served at school?
    • How active are our students in comparison with their calorie intake?
    • How balanced are our school's students' food intake?
    • How many empty calories (junk food) do our students eat?


    Place students in heterogeneous groups of 3 to 5 for the project. Have student groups meet to identify the research question they will use. Have all groups post their questions and ensure questions are not duplicated. Have students record in their learning logs their group's research question and initial ideas for collecting data.


    3. Based on students' research questions, prepare students for fieldwork. Identify best practices for creating surveys, identifying appropriate population, collecting data, and ensuring accuracy. Discuss the difference between quantitative and qualitative data and best uses of both. Identify various methods for recording data and ensuring accuracy. Provide and review the Survey Preparation and Design Tips to students. Identify online resources to support collaborative data collection such as survey creation sites (Survey Monkey*), collaborative document sites (Google Docs*), online cafeteria menus from other schools, contact information for relevant school personnel, mobile phone applications for data collection, and so forth.


    Have student teams meet to discuss their plans for data collection and begin initial planning. Circulate and meet with teams to ensure a practical and accurate data collection plan is in place. Pair up students from different teams to review their data collection plans and obtain feedback. Have each team review suggestions from peer feedback and incorporate appropriate suggestions. Students are to submit their final plan for data collection, including survey or interview questions, prior to field work. Have students write a summary of their plan for data collection in their learning logs.


    4. Conduct mini lessons during the time students are collecting data for appropriate steps in:

    • Classifying data
    • Identifying patterns in data
    • Making inferences about data

    5. After data collection is complete, provide the Data Conclusions Checklist to teams to support their analysis of the data. Have students write a summary of their conclusions in their learning logs, including any surprising findings or insights.


    6. Have student teams research possible solutions, strategies, or school changes that could support a healthy impact on student nutrition based on their data findings. Have students identify in their learning logs the changes they are proposing and their plan for full team participation in the presentation.


    7. Discuss and present samples of data presentation. Have teams identify the best audience with decision making authority for their presentations. Discuss tailoring a presentation to be appropriate for the intended audience. Review the elements of the Project Rubric again that target the presentation. Provide the Data Presentation Checklist to support teams in the creation of their presentations. Revisit the Unit Questions and discuss ideas as a whole class:

    • How healthy are our school's students?
    • How can we plan and follow a healthy, nutritious, and appetizing diet?

    8. When presentations are complete, have teams present to each other to provide and receive feedback for improvement using the Project Rubric. Schedule time for students to present and discuss their findings with the appropriate audience.

    Extension idea:
    To help with creating the student presentation, introduce Showing Evidence prior to step 8, and provide copies of Showing Evidence Tips. Demonstrate a sample Showing Evidence argument that is not based on any of the teams' specific research question. Have students create a Showing Evidence argument to identify the persuasive elements of their presentation with appropriate supporting data and possible counter arguments that they must address to prepare content for their presentation. Create peer-review teams within Showing Evidence to provide comments on the strength of their arguments. Show them how to use the print view of the argument so they can copy and paste key ideas and evidence into their presentation to create evidence-based persuasive presentations.

    Phase 3: Final Assessment

    1. Assess students' projects using the Project Rubric.
    2. Ask students to write final reflections on their learning throughout the project, including learning about nutrition, conducting research, collaboration, and critical thinking.
    3. Assess student learning with a final exam covering nutrition content such as terms, calculating serving size, the food groups, calories, and so forth.


    Differentiated Instruction

    Resource Student

    • Use online resources and tools at the appropriate reading level
    • Place students in heterogeneous groups so they can receive help from peers and provide assistance to others in their areas of expertise
    • Establish daily routines for checking progress and setting goals

    Gifted Student
    Extend learning through deeper analysis, such as:

    • Analyzing their own food intake with daily activity (calories burned)
    • Creating an eating and exercise plan to meet personal goals
    • Analyzing and comparing fast food
    • Comparing the cafeteria offerings from their school with another school

    English Language Learner

    • Use calorie counter guides with images and text
    • Encourage the use of foods from their native culture in their research and compare their nutritional value of their native food with other types of food they eat.
    • Allow use of Web sites in students' first language
    • Place students in heterogeneous groups to support language development



    A classroom teacher participating in the Intel® Teach Program developed the idea for this unit plan. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.

    Background: Based on a unit created by a teacher in South Carolina, United States

    Elementary students learn about health, nutrition, and consumerism as they create a new restaurant that offers healthy and appealing foods.