Teens aren't exactly known for their healthy eating habits. Only about 7% of U.S. high school students meet the daily recommendations for fruit, and just 2% meet the recommendations for veggies, according to a 2017 CDC report. Another recent study found that two-thirds of teens’ calories come from “ultra-processed foods” like cookies, candy, chips, chicken nuggets, and pizza. The pandemic has only exacerbated bad eating habits. National Nutrition Month in March is a good time to hit reset.
This year’s theme—Personalize Your Plate—will appeal to teens’ individualist spirit. “There’s no universal way to eat healthy,” Su-Nui Escobar told Shaped. She’s a dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which started National Nutrition Month. "'Personalize Your Plate' is about respecting who we are and where we come from. Start with the way you like to eat, and then figure out how to make it healthy."
The trick is to add nutrition without removing the joy our favorite foods give us. "Young people should be encouraged to play with their food," Escobar says. "Keep it fun. Eating nutritiously doesn't have to feel like a diet." The ideas for nutrition lesson plans and activities for high school that follow will help students accomplish this goal.
Fresh and Fun Nutrition Lesson Plans for High School
Kick-start a commitment to healthy eating this National Nutrition Month with these nutrition lesson plan and activity ideas for high school students.
1. Meal Makeover
Dietitian Su-Nui Escobar told Shaped that she often turns traditional Mexican favorites into plant-based recipes for her family. She prepares tacos al pastor, which are traditionally made with pork, using jackfruit (a relative of figs), pineapple, and spices. To give pizza a healthy twist, teens might try topping it with plenty of veggies or simply pair it with a side salad jazzed up with roasted vegetables. To satisfy a sweet tooth, cut-up fruit with a drizzle of honey can do the trick. If potato chips and other salty snacks are their go-to, they can swap in air-popped popcorn or kale chips. Here's a list of fun and easy-to-make snacks for teens (and adults!).
Have students try their hand at transforming a not-so-healthy meal into a more wholesome option. They might choose a traditional family meal or a favorite breakfast, lunch, or snack item and come up with ideas for making it meatless, vegan, higher in fiber, or lower in fat or salt. They should present the revamped recipe along with a paragraph describing the change in ingredients and nutrients.
2. A Look at Labels
Tell students that the updated nutrition label can help them make informed choices and establish healthy eating habits for a lifetime. Have students explore the label independently using this interactive from the FDA. Or, you can share the image below to review the label changes with the entire class. Ask: Why do you think "calories" are in large, bold font? Why is it important to take note of the "serving size?" Do you think "added sugars" is a needed addition to the label? Why or why not?
Have students bring in nutrition labels from their favorite foods and drinks to analyze. Give them these tips for evaluating how healthy the foods are:
- 100 calories per serving is considered moderate, while 400 or more calories per serving is considered high in calories
- 5% Daily Value or less per serving of a nutrient is low; while 20% DV or more per serving of a nutrient is high
- Nutrients to get more of (strive for 100% DV every day): dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, potassium
- Nutrients to limit: saturated fat, sodium, added sugars, trans fat
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