Activities & Lessons

8 Nutrition Activities for Elementary and Middle School Students

A student's diet is an important component of his or her self-care. Learning the importance of eating right, regularly exercising, and understanding nutrition terms can help students make decisions that can affect their health.

Nutrition is a topic that can be explored year-round, but there's a particular push for lessons during National Nutrition Month, which takes place every March. The campaign was established by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate in your classroom. The 2021 theme is "Personalize Your Plate."

Nutrition Activities for Kids and Teenagers

Here are seven classroom activities that you can use to teach your students about nutrition, whether during National Nutrition Month or at other times during the school year.

1. Crossword Puzzle

Distribute this crossword puzzle to your students to test their knowledge of nutrition vocabulary. They should read the clues and determine the word that best fits in the space provided. Finally, distribute this answer key to your students so they can check their responses.

2. Place Mats

Colorful pictures of healthy food can stimulate even the pickiest appetite. Have each student cut out pictures of their 10 favorite healthy foods from magazines or newspapers or print them from the internet. Start a discussion: Why did they choose those specific foods? Are they really healthy? How do you know? What food groups do they belong to?

Then, have students paste their foods onto a single sheet of construction paper. Laminate or cover each sheet with clear plastic so that it can be used as a place mat. Have your students present their creation to the class.

3. Math: Nutrition Fractions (Middle School)

How many calories people should eat in one meal depends on their personal needs and health. However, there are guidelines that apply to athletes for refueling after a workout. In general, athletes should eat meals that are roughly 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 carbohydrates, and 1/4 proteins. After a workout, they should eat meals that are roughly 1/3 fruits and vegetables, 1/3 carbohydrates, and 1/3 proteins. And after an intense workout, they should eat meals that are roughly 1/2 carbohydrates, 1/4 fruits and vegetables, and 1/4 protein. Have students draw diagrams that represent these different meal breakdowns. Ask them to identify a vegetable, carbohydrate, and protein they enjoy eating and then encourage them to draw meals they would eat in general, after a workout, and after an intense workout. What are different ways they could draw their meals but keep the fractions the same?

4. Building a Food Plate

Create a large food plate for your class—displayed at the front of the classroom—using different-colored papers for each of the five main categories, which should be labeled as follows: Fruits, Vegetables, Protein, Dairy, and Grains. Have students cut out pictures of at least one food for each category from magazines or newspapers or print them from the internet. (You can also have students draw their own pictures.) Then divide the class into two groups. Have one group use tape or tacks to place their pictures on the bulletin board in the wrong categories. Then, have the second group move the food pictures into the correct categories. Check the second group for accuracy.

You can use this opportunity to dive into a discussion with your students about each food group. Distribute this food plate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to your students. Have them take notes about each category. Another option is to have students conduct research on the MyPlate website and build their own healthy meal, coloring in their favorite 5–6 healthy food items on a blank food plate.

5. New Foods

Have students identify (and, if possible, bring in) a fruit or vegetable they have never tried. Then, hold a class discussion. Ask them about the taste and nutritional value of the chosen food. For example: Is it a fruit or a vegetable? How can you tell? What's the difference between the two? Why are fruits and vegetables an important part of a healthy diet?

Another way to approach this activity: Break students into groups. Provide each group with six index cards, and have students write the name of a vegetable on each. Give them a few minutes to discuss which of the vegetables are their favorites and which they would like to give a try. Then, challenge each group to research the nutritional content (e.g., vitamins, proteins, or calories) of each vegetable, sort them by nutritional content, and share their findings with the class. Older students can organize their data in a chart or graph.

6. Math: Opening a Restaurant

Have kids imagine they are going to launch their own health food restaurant. Begin by having them think through where their restaurant would be, what food they would serve, and how much staff they would need to hire. What decisions would they make to ensure their food is healthy? Now give them a pretend investment of \$300,000 and have them create a budget! Encourage them to research the costs of buying equipment (both kitchen equipment like ovens and sales equipment like cash registers), advertisements, staff, decorations, and of course, food. How do students differ in how they would spend their money? How can they spend money in a way that maximizes how much they will earn back in return?

7. Math: Post-Workout Smoothie (Grades 4–6)

Have students consider how the role of nutrition changes when thinking about the athletes who compete in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Everyone should think critically about the food they eat, but for the world's most elite athletes, the right diet can be the difference between a silver and gold medal! In this activity, students design an athlete, research the nutritional information of different ingredients, and use that information to make the perfect post-workout smoothie for their athlete. This activity is part of our Math at Work web series that showcases the real-world math involved in high-interest careers.

8. Analyzing Food Labels

Food labels are loaded with information. Have each student bring in the labels from one or two of their favorite foods. Then, have students answer questions—either individually or as a class—about the labels to give them a better understanding of the information provided. For example, you can have them define each of the key terms on the label (e.g., total fat, calories, carbohydrates, cholesterol) and use serving size information to determine the total number of calories in a food product.

This activity may also lead to interesting discussion questions, such as: What are the differences between saturated and unsaturated fats? What is percent daily value, and how is it calculated? Finally, you can also ask students to write an analysis using all of this information to determine whether their food items would be considered "healthy."

More Nutrition Month Ideas for School

There are many more activities that teachers can incorporate into their curriculum available on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Among them are a National Nutrition Month quiz, nutrition sudoku, a word search, and coloring pages. There are also several guides that you can distribute to students or encourage them to read on their own with tips for a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Have more ideas for nutrition classroom activities or lesson plans? Email us at Shaped@hmhco.com or tweet us at @HMHCo.

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Looking for hands-on science lessons and activities for Grades K–5? Explore HMH Into Science, a phenomena-based science solution.

This blog, originally published in March 2020, has been updated for 2021.

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