For the majority of my teaching career, I taught science at a private school and was lucky enough to have some flexibility with my curriculum. Exercising that flexibility, I weaved together eighth grade standards on measurement, graphing, and the scientific method into a unit on health. In an effort to keep learning engaging and relevant, I created what came to be one of my favorite lessons of the health unit: a nutrition lesson called “The Perfect Snack”. I always hoped that my students would take away some healthy habits.
For “The Perfect Snack” I brought in all sorts of food and drink options and gave my eighth grade students a list of requirements for the snack they were to create. A few of the stipulations were: a maximum of 300 calories, a maximum of 20 grams of sugar, and a minimum of 8 grams of protein. There were also bonus-point criteria, such as: no high fructose corn syrup and no artificial flavors or colors. After a brief training session on how to read and analyze the nutrition facts and ingredient lists, the students were set free to build their ‘perfect’ snack. To avoid any snafus, they had to create the snack on paper with careful planning and calculations prior to actually serving any of the food and drinks.
Most kids made a b-line for the table with gummy worms. I cannot believe how many looks of disappointment and anguish I observed when they realized that incorporating gummy worms would prevent them from getting bonus points, and that they would have to take a fraction of a whole serving if they wanted any at all. It was interesting to see students’ reactions when they learned they couldn’t have a huge serving of grapes to stay within the sugar limit as well. It made me so happy to see the final products that the students created, often with combinations of choices they knew they could enjoy. While some built plates with only cheese, nuts, fruit, and veggies, others couldn’t resist making a little bit of room on their plates for gummy worms, even if only a few.
At the end of the activity, the kids of course got to enjoy their ‘perfect’ snack, but we also engaged in a class discussion that led to two more weeks of study on nutrition. The purpose of this activity was not to teach the kids that they always had to measure out servings of foods and drinks, but rather to give them perspective on what appropriate servings were and what a healthy snack looked like.
Each year I taught this lesson I had at least two or three students who really seemed to value the lesson and make changes in their eating habits. Even though I wished the students would remember all of the information from the unit of study, I truly hoped they would make some smart choices when grocery shopping and even rummaging through their pantries and refrigerators at home. It is so important for teens to be educated on healthy habits and for them to begin to take responsibility for their own health.