Teach your students the nuances of carbohydrate
This is an excerpt from The Healthy Eating and Active Time Club Curriculum by Christina Economos, Jessica Collins, Sonya Irish Hauser, Erin Hennessy, David Hudson, Erin Boyd Kappelhof, Sandra Klemmer, Claire Kozower, and Lori Marcotte.
You have probably heard about the debate over the value of carbohydrate, fueled by popular diets that drastically reduce foods with carbohydrate to promote weight loss. All types of carbohydrate break down into sugar, which is then taken into the cells for energy. Carbohydrate is present in virtually all foods except proteins such as meat, poultry, fish, and oils and fat. Carbohydrate is necessary in the diet; it is the only source of energy that the brain will use. Grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy are natural sources of sugar, and these foods also provide many important nutrients for the body. Foods high in simple sugar, such as candy, jelly, and sugar-sweetened beverages, provide only empty calories (calories with no vitamins or minerals). Sugary foods typically take the place of healthier alternatives, such as drinking soda instead of water.
Learning the nuances of carbohydrate is too complicated for most first-graders. Instead, they will learn to identify foods that have a lot of sugar and to recognize that sweets can be enjoyed every once in a while but that their growing bodies need better foods with more nutrients in order to grow strong. Students in grades 2 and 3 will calculate the amount of sugar in various foods (soft drinks, cookies, sugar-added versus low-sugar cereals, and doughnuts) and measure out teaspoons of sugar for more dramatic results.
- Identify sources of added sugar in their diets.
- Understand that four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon.
- Understand that some healthy foods, such as fruit, naturally contain sugars along with other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
- Activity books
- Sugar, teaspoons, plates, food labels from a variety of sugary foods (and a lower-sugar example, if desired, such as flavored yogurt vs. plain yogurt or chocolate milk vs. plain milk)
Cool Moves (WR)
Tableside Dancing—With music playing softly in the background, students skip in place eight times to the beat of the music. Mix it up by having them hop and march in place. Then ask them to turn slightly to the left and (pretend) to kick a ball three times with the right foot. Then tell them to do a whole-body shimmy down and up. They then repeat by turning slightly to the right and kicking with the left foot. Once everyone has practiced all the movements, tell them to practice their routines until they can perform them without help. Extend the activity by asking students to come up with new moves to include.
Refer to the web resource (WR) to learn more Cool Moves.
Key Talking Points
- Sweets and foods with a lot of added sugar taste good but usually lack the nutri
ents (vitamins and minerals) we need to make our bodies strong.
- Sweetened foods should be saved for special occasions.
- It is better to choose foods that are naturally sweet, such as fruit, because these foods also have nutrients (vitamins and minerals) that our bodies can use.
- Integrate Cool Moves before, after, or during the lesson to get your students
- Direct students to page 19 of the activity book: What Do You Eat? For each meal or snack, have them circle the foods they like to eat. Then write the list of foods on the board and tally the responses to identify the most popular foods for each meal.
- Discuss the most popular foods. To which MyPlate groups do these belong? To which MyPlate groups do the less-popular foods belong? Are there items that do not fit into a MyPlate group?
- Explain to students that sweets and foods with a lot of added sugar (e.g., cakes, candy, soda) are “sometimes” foods. There is no place for them in MyPlate because even though they taste good, our bodies don’t want or need a lot of these types of foods.
- Remind the class that though sweets taste good and can be fun to eat, they offer few nutrients for our bodies. Eating too much of these foods can give our body more energy than it needs, which can create an energy imbalance. Refer to lesson 10 in unit 1 (Energy Balance) as a reminder.
- Create a list of healthy alternatives (such as fruits or yogurt) that are naturally sweet and have nutrients that our bodies need to grow strong and healthy. Brain- storm strategies for enjoying healthier sweets. We can add berries to oatmeal or whole-grain cereal instead of choosing sugary cereal. We can add bananas to a peanut butter sandwich instead of jelly. We can add fruit to plain yogurt instead of choosing flavored yogurt. We can make a fruit salad using many fruits.
- Integrate Cool Moves before, after, or during the lesson to get your students
- Ask students to name some sugary foods and discuss where they fit in MyPlate. Can they tell you why we should save these foods for special occasions? Remind the class that foods with a lot of added sugar usually provide few or no vitamins or minerals. There is no place for sweets on MyPlate because our bodies do not want or need them to stay healthy. Sweets are considered “sometimes” foods.
- To make this lesson interactive, ask the class to measure out teaspoons of sugar on a plate to illustrate how much sugar is in different foods. As a reference, four grams of sugar equal one teaspoon. Or use sugar packets instead of pouring teaspoons of sugar. One sugar packet equals one teaspoon (four grams). Taping the packets into a chain makes for a powerful visual aid.
- There are 16 grams of sugar in a toaster pastry (4 teaspoons or packets), so a pack of two toaster pastries has 8 teaspoons or packets of sugar.
- There are 20 grams of sugar (5 teaspoons or packets) in many pudding cups.
- There are 32 grams of sugar (8 teaspoons or packets) in a 4-ounce chocolate chip muffin.
- There are 37 grams of sugar (9-1/4 teaspoons or packets) in a 20-ounce sports drink.
Use the food labels you (or students) brought from home for additional examples. This activity is a great way to reinforce math skills.
- Direct students to pages 23 and 24 of the activity book: How Much Sugar? Students will indicate the amount of sugar in each food. Remind them that four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon.
- Explain that “sometimes” foods such as soda, candy, cake, and sports drinks (and “juice” drinks that are not 100 percent juice) contain a lot of added sugar. “Added sugar” means just what it sounds like: Sugar is added to a food to make it sweeter. Some foods are naturally sweet; they don’t need added sugar to taste sweet. Can students name foods that are naturally sweet? Examples include most fruits and some vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and bell peppers. Ask the class why it might be better to choose these naturally sweet foods over foods with added sugar. Explain that naturally sweet foods come with fiber and many other nutrients that work to keep the body healthy. Foods with added sugar tend not to have these same nutrients. Treats such as ice cream, candy, and soda are fun to eat once in a while, but if we eat too much of them we can fill up on these foods and miss out on the foods we need to be healthy and strong.
- Close the lesson by encouraging students to substitute naturally sweet foods for foods with added sugar. Challenge them to try a substitution in their lunches, after-school snacks, or after-dinner desserts.
- Integrate Cool Moves before, after, or during the lesson to get your students moving.
- Ask students to name some foods that contain sugar (students will likely name various types of sweets and candy). Ask them if they can think of other foods with sugar.
- Explain that some foods, such as sweets, sodas, and sports drinks, have sugar added to them. Other foods such as fruits or milk naturally contain sugar. Ask students which types of foods they think we should choose—foods with added sugar, or foods that are naturally sweet. Ask them to explain why.
- Emphasize that naturally sweet foods are better choices because along with sugar they also contain vitamins, minerals, and sometimes fiber—all good things! Foods with added sugar usually don’t offer these same nutrients.
- Direct students to page 31 of the activity book: Find the Sugar! Start with the label for chocolate cake and highlight the line for sugars.
- Repeat for other foods. Compare labels and rank foods from the least amount of sugar to the most. Look again and identify other differences (for example, point out the vitamins and minerals and note that some foods have these nutrients whereas others do not). What can students tell you about these differences?
- Instruct students to turn to pages 32 and 33 of the activity book: How Much Sugar? Explain that they will calculate the amount of sugar in various foods. Tell the class that four grams of sugar equal one teaspoon.
- Explain that sugar is found naturally in some foods. Berries, grapes, and other fruits are naturally sweet. There is even some sugar in plain white milk. We don’t need to avoid these sources of sugar because these foods offer many other important nutrients. Explain to students that they can make smart choices by using the nutrition labels on packaged foods to find options that are lower in sugar. This is a good thing to do when choosing a breakfast cereal, for example.
- When we eat smart, we choose naturally sweet foods such as fruits over foods with added sugar. Challenge students to try a substitution in their lunches, after- school snacks, or after-dinner desserts. Remind them that it’s OK to enjoy a sweet treat once in a while but that they should emphasize foods that are rich in nutrients.
Ask students to bring in empty cereal boxes. Pass the boxes around the room, and ask students to use the Nutrition Facts panel to record the amount of sugar per serving, in each type. As a class, discuss which cereals seem like the better choices.
Go Green Connection
- Whole foods (foods with nothing added or taken away and that haven’t changed much since leaving the garden or farm) are better for you and better for the environment.
- Choose whole foods that are naturally sweet, such as fresh fruit, rather than processed foods with added sugar, such as some juices.
- Processed foods can have more sugar than natural foods and often have more packaging, which creates more waste.
- Compare the packaging for foods that are naturally sweet, such as fresh fruit, with that of processed sweet foods, such as fruit roll-ups.
Learn more about The Healthy Eating and Active Time Club Curriculum.