Healthy living and eating habits taught at school combats childhood obesity
By Lillian W.Y. Cheung, Hank Dart, Sari Kalin, and Steven L. Gortmaker
Whole-grain products, vegetables, and fruits are key parts of a varied and healthful diet. They provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other substances that are vital for good health. They are also generally low in saturated and trans fat, depending on how they are prepared and what is added to them at the table. Most Americans eat fewer than the recommended number of servings of whole-grain products, vegetables, and fruits, even though the consumption of these foods is associated with a substantially lower risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and possibly some cancers.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in unhealthy fat and provide many essential nutrients and other food components important for health. These foods are excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin B6, carotenoids (including those that form vitamin A), and folate. The antioxidants found in plant foods (e.g., vitamin C, carotenoids, vitamin E, and certain minerals) are of great interest to scientists and the public because of their potentially beneficial role in reducing the risk for some cancers and other chronic diseases. Scientists are also trying to determine if other substances in plant foods (phytochemicals) protect against high blood pressure, heart disease, and possibly some cancers.
The Get 3 At School and 5+ A Day promotion, which encourages students to eat more fruits and vegetables, can be used as an extension of this lesson. See lesson 28 in part III, Promotions for the Classroom, for details.
- They are major sources of vitamins and minerals.
- They are important sources of fiber.
- They are low in saturated and trans fat.
- Research has shown that they reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and possibly certain forms of cancer.
The availability of fresh fruits and vegetables varies by season and by region of the country, but frozen and canned fruits and vegetables ensure a plentiful supply of these healthful foods throughout the year.
The Principles of Healthy Living promote the consumption of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day; more is always better. In this lesson, encourage students to choose vegetables other than potatoes to meet this goal. Potatoes contain vitamins and minerals, but they are digested quickly and are similar to refined grains in their effects on blood sugar. They should only be eaten, at most, a few times a week, and in small portions. (For more information on potatoes and refined carbohydrates, see the background section of Lesson 2, Carb Smart, pp. 26-27)
Estimated teaching time: 50 minutes
Related subject areas: math, science, language arts, music
- Students will design a day’s menu of fruits and vegetables, making sure that their menu choices include at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
- Students will identify the nutritional values of certain fruits and vegetables.
- Handout 1, What They Do for Me
- Worksheet 1, Plan a Menu
- Worksheet 2, Create a Frozen Food
- Transparency 1, Principles of Healthy Living
- Transparency 2, Vegetables and Fruits
- Solutions to worksheet 1
- Green and orange crayons or markers
- Tape recorder or digital recorder (optional, to record students’ songs and raps about the fruits and vegetables)
- Have the students form pairs. Distribute worksheet 1, Plan a Menu, and explain to the students that each pair will plan a healthful, full day’s menu of fruits and vegetables.
- Display transparency 1, Principles of Healthy Living, to the class. Review the recommendation to eat daily at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors; remind the students that more is always better. Explain that they will evaluate their menu to determine if they are reaching their goal.
- Ask students why potatoes are not the best choice for reaching this goal. (Answer: Potatoes are not the best choice because, like white bread and white rice, potatoes are digested quickly and give us a quick boost of energy that does not last. Most other fruits and vegetables provide a longer energy boost because the sugar and starches in the food take longer to be digested and enter the blood stream. Potatoes should only be eaten, at most, a few times a week, and in small portions.)
- Display transparency 2, Vegetables and Fruits, to the class. Encourage the students to think of creative ways to include several fruit and vegetable servings in their menus. Encourage students to pick whole fruit rather than juice, since whole fruit contains more fiber and is easy to grab on the go. Note that students should limit 100% fruit juice consumption to no more than 8 ounces per day, since juice is high in natural sugars.
- Explain to the students that some dishes are mixed dishes-dishes that contain fruits or vegetables along with other foods. Mixed dishes may include stir-fries, vegetable pizza, and chicken salad. The fruits and vegetables in mixed dishes can add up to a serving (or more). For example, the vegetables on two slices of vegetable pizza are likely to equal 1 serving of cooked vegetables (1/2 cup).
- Give the pairs 10 to 15 minutes to design their menus and record their selections on worksheet 1, Plan a Menu. If desired, students can plan an entire week’s menu on a separate sheet.
- After 10 to 15 minutes have passed, distribute handout 1, What They Do for Me, which lists the benefits of some of the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables (iron, calcium, vitamins A and C). Go over the chart with the class and discuss why we need these vitamins and minerals.
- Have the students score their menu selections by using the How Do You Rate? evaluation scale on the Plan a Menu worksheet. Have the students color in the Vita-Miner Meter, using green crayons or markers to represent the number of vegetable points and orange crayons or markers to represent the number of fruit points.
- Have the students review and discuss their rating and decide whether they need to increase the number of fruits and vegetables in their menu. Have the students set a goal for increasing (or maintaining if they already eat at least 5 servings a day) the number of fruits and vegetables they eat daily.
- Distribute and review worksheet 2, Create a Frozen Food.
- Have the students write their own songs or raps about fruits and vegetables. Ask the music teacher to suggest well-known songs that children can write new lyrics to, or to help come up with new melodies. If possible, record the songs or raps so they can be played in the cafeteria during the Get 3 At School and 5+ A Day promotion (see lesson 28).