To investigate the new MyPlate to understand the importance of eating healthy foods and exercising regularly.
Americans are getting fatter—kids and teens as well as adults. We are sitting in front of computer screens or watching T.V. instead of working at active jobs or walking from place to place. Understanding and making the right food choices is difficult for teenagers. The government updated the U.S. Food Guide in June 2011. MyPlate is a symbol to prompt people to think about building a healthy plate at meal times.
This lesson is designed for middle-school students to investigate the new food guide using Choose MyPlate, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It helps students know what foods they should eat, what nutrients their bodies need, and how much to eat to maintain a healthy weight. Students also learn the value of combining exercise with their diets to improve life-long eating habits. After exploring the website and understanding the importance of eating healthy foods, students can extend their interest by evaluating their own eating habits using other subject links within the program.
In this lesson, students will investigate the differently sized colored sections of MyPlate. They will explore the food guide through the website and understand the importance of eating healthy foods. And, they will explore how to combine exercise with eating well to stay healthy.
Introduce students to MyPlate by sharing copies of The Food Guide Pyramid Becomes a Plate from the KidsHealth website. Students also could use their MyPlate student esheet to go to and read this article. After students have read the article, ask them general discussion questions to gauge their understanding.
Now, ask students to use their student esheet again to go to the ChooseMyPlate.gov to view the graphic of the food plate in the middle of the page. This graphic is clickable so students should examine the different colored sections used on the plate to show how much of a particular food group a person should eat each day. Discuss what the food plate means with students.
Divide students into five different groups and assign one food group to each student group. Hand out one of the five different colored Food Group Question Sheets to each student, depending on the food group he/she will investigate. Each group should investigate its particular food group by answering all the questions on the question sheet in writing. Have each student fill out a question sheet.
Students can use their MyPlate student esheet to go to the ChooseMyPlate.gov site to research the food group they’ve been assigned. They should read Steps to a Healthier You before going on to the Food Groups section of the site for this lesson.
Then students should go to Food Groups. Once to that page, students will see a table of the food groups, which is divided into five clickable sections. Students should research their food group by clicking on the subject they were given:
- Orange for the grain group
- Green for the vegetable group
- Red for the fruit group
- Blue for the dairy group
- Purple for the protein group
Students should work in their groups using the website and clicking on the section that is mentioned on the question sheet, reading information and answering the questions stated.
Once the groups have completed their research, they should report back to the class on the information they learned from researching their food group. Have each group create a transparency with information gathered in its research by including these topics:
- A generalization about the food group
- Food examples
- Daily recommendations
- Health benefits to eating foods and nutrients
- Tips to eating foods from this group or tips for making wise choices
Next, ask students to give class presentations about the information they learned. To make the presentation more interesting, students can use the food models that you may have in class and the transparency they created.
Students should take notes on each of the food groups that are presented. Hold a class discussion about the information students have learned about the various food groups.
As an assessment for this lesson, have students develop individual plans to change their eating and exercise behavior.
First, though, have them go home and keep a food diary for three days, including what they ate and estimated portion sizes (size of your fist, or palm of your hand, etc.). The reason to do a diary is that eating is rather complex and peoples’ recall is poor. Students can use the MyPlate Daily Checklist for this. In order to get a personalized checklist, students should first go to the MyPlate Checklist Calculator and put in their information. This calculator will provide them with a link to a PDF of the MyPlate Daily Checklist. Students can print out this checklist and fill it out for three days.
Students should report back how well they follow the USDA guidelines. If they didn’t follow the guidelines well, ask them to write down why. Discuss as a class and look for common themes. Discuss ways to overcome these things that stop them from eating well.
Do the same thing for exercise (a diary is probably not necessary since it’s less complex than eating; just ask students to record how often they exercise). Ask them what stops them from exercising regularly and discuss as a class what they can do to overcome it.
Now, help them develop individual plans to change their eating and exercise behavior. This can be done in small groups so they can help each other (peer-led programs are highly effective).
It would be best if you encourage them to follow this for two months (or some other convenient time period, but an ample amount of time). Check back to see how everyone is doing. Reward groups who made the most changes (exercised the most hours or ate the most broccoli, etc.).
Students can use the ChooseMyPlate.gov site to print out an individual plan for age, gender, and physical activity.
Students can explore the For Kids section of the site to check out some interactive activities and online materials specifically designed for kids age 6-11.