Understanding MyPlate (Grades K-2)
K - 2
Students explore appropriate serving sizes and determine how to make healthy dietary decisions by identifying the components of nutrition as illustrated by MyPlate. Grades K-2
- MyPlate Activity Poster or MyPlate Image
- Pictures of various food items (a Food Models Kit is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com)
Activity 1: Portion Size Guide
- Portion Size Guide
- Portion Size Guide Answer Key
- Items for grab bag (computer mouse, 7 cotton balls, baseball, cupcake liner, tube of chapstick, 9-volt battery, deck of playing cards, ping pong ball, postage stamp, 1 cup measuring cup, 1/2 cup measuring cup, 1 tablespoon measuring spoon, 1 teaspoon measuring spoon)
Activity 2: Choose MyPlate
- Paper plates, 1 per student
- Glue or glue sticks
- Crayons or colored pencils
- Grocery store ads, magazines, or anything else with pictures of food for students to cut out
- Food Models Kit (optional)
Activity 3: Think Your Drink
- Variety of beverage containers
- Think Your Drink chart
MyPlate: nutritional guide published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); icon depicting a place setting with a plate and glass divided into five food groups
portion size: the amount of a particular food eaten during a meal or snack
serving size: the amount of a particular food listed on that food's Nutrition Facts label along with the calorie and nutrient content
Did You Know?
- Using the Nutrition Facts on food labels will enable you to eat healthier and make wiser food choices. Select foods that are low in fat and sodium.
- Water can be your best friend. Flavored teas, sodas, sports drinks, and juices can add as much as 400 calories to your meal; whereas, water has no calories at all and helps you feel full.
- Meals that are cooked and prepared at home rather than purchased at a restaurant have less calories and can be monitored more closely for healthier options.
Background Agricultural Connections
The USDA MyPlate icon uses a familiar and relatable image to help us balance our diets, eating from all five food groups proportionally. MyPlate identifies each of the food groups with a different color and a proportional section of the meal setting. The icon provides a visual reminder to make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. The USDA dietary guidelines include a few more basic recommendations to help Americans make healthy food choices: eat a variety of different fruits and vegetables, make half of your grains whole grains, eat a variety of protein foods, and choose low- and nonfat dairy products. Foods with added fats and sugar should be eaten only occasionally, and processed foods should be eaten in moderation.
The dietary guidelines recognize that the number of servings an individual needs to keep his or her body healthy will vary by age, sex, and physical activity. In addition to energy (calories), the food we eat also provides us with a variety of vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are important for our bodies to grow and develop in a healthy way. Each kind of food provides some, but not all, of the nutrients your body needs. For this reason, it is difficult for foods in one group to replace foods in another group, and it is important to eat a variety of foods within each group. In addition, the more processed a food is, the fewer nutrients it is likely to have. Some highly processed foods like potato chips and donuts contain lots of calories but few nutrients, so it is best to limit consumption of processed foods.
Though "portion size" and "serving size" are terms often used interchangeably, there is a difference. Knowing the difference makes it easier to compare what you eat to MyPlate's daily recommendations. Portion size is the amount we eat during a meal or snack. Portion sizes can be bigger or smaller than MyPlate serving size equivalents. Serving sizes are listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of food nutrition labels, along with the calorie and nutrient content for a serving. Serving sizes may be, and often are, different from MyPlate recommendations. While a nutrition label tells us what people might typically eat, it is not a recommendation for how much we should eat. The number of servings in a package is also listed on the nutrition label. It is important to keep in mind that many packages look like single servings but contain two or more servings.
What you drink is as important as what you eat. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar in American diets. Sugary drinks contain added calories which may contribute to weight gain and health and dental risks. Nutrition fact labels help us to identify the amount of sugar, calories, and nutrients in our drinks.
A healthy lifestyle also includes physical activity. Children and adolescents should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day. Increasing activity increases health benefits.
Good health depends on good nutrition and physical activity. Using MyPlate as a guide to identify healthy food and fitness choices will provide students with an awareness of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Ask the students to name foods that are healthy and nutritious (or that adults say are "good for them"). Discuss why they think certain foods help them grow and stay healthy while other foods should only be eaten sometimes. Talk with students about nutritious foods and non-nutritious foods, making sure they understand that foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and energy are better for developing bodies, helping them grow healthy and strong.
- Show the students the MyPlate Activity Poster or project the MyPlate Image onto a large screen and introduce them to each food group, noting the colors on the plate and how each one represents a food group. Information about each food group is available at myplate.gov.
- Distribute the pictures of various food items to students, either individually or in small groups. Allow students to arrange the food pictures on the MyPlate poster according to food groups. Discuss the health benefits of the various foods.
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Portion Size Guide
- Discuss appropriate serving sizes and how portions can be measured by comparison with common items. Distribute copies of the Portion Size Guide to the students. As a class, discuss the information on the chart.
- Using the grab bag objects, have students pull one item at a time from the bag. Challenge the class to locate the grab bag item on their Portion Size Guide. Then name the food item and the portion size unit of measurement represented by the object pulled from the bag.
- Have students fill in the "Food Group" column with the color of the correct food group—Fruits = Red, Vegetables = Green, Grains = Orange, Protein = Purple, and Dairy = Blue. Encourage students to monitor serving sizes in accordance with their findings in this activity.
- Note that serving sizes are measured using standard units of measurement for volume (e.g., cups, tablespoons, ounces, etc.). Introduce the idea that when farmers grow and sell their products, they measure using different standards of measurement. For example, we purchase milk by the pint, quart, or gallon. Farmers sell milk by the pound. The comparison of these measurements is that there are 8.6 pounds of milk in one gallon. Arrange a farm tour with a dairy farmer or take students on a virtual tour of a dairy farm.
- Have the students write about a time when they ate too much or put too much food on their plate. Ask them to conclude with some healthy ways to make sure they are eating the right amount of food.
Activity 2: Choose MyPlate
- Provide each student with materials: crayons, scissors, glue, paper plates, and an assortment of grocery store ads and other food pictures.
- Ask students to create their own replica of MyPlate by sectioning off their plate with the different food groups. Include a paper circle cut-out to the side for dairy. Display the MyPlate Activity Poster or MyPlate Image so that students can reference it to create their own plate.
- Have students cut out foods from the grocery store ads and food pictures and glue them onto their plate to create a healthy "meal."
- Discuss the importance of balance in a diet and making healthy choices. Ask students if the meals they created with food cut outs represent a balanced meal. How many servings did they include in each food group?
- Identify serving sizes of various foods in each food group. The Food Models Kit is an excellent resource for providing a visual representation of serving sizes. Additional information about portion sizes can be found on the myplate.gov and the Nourish Interactive website.
Activity 3: Think Your Drink
- Ask the students to name different drink choices and list their responses on the board.
- Show the class some beverage containers. Ask the students how we can tell if drinks are healthy or not. Show the locations of the nutrition fact labels on the containers. Explain that we can look at the nutrition facts labels to determine whether or not drinks are healthy. These labels tell us what ingredients are inside our drinks and how many calories, sugars, fats, vitamins, and minerals the drinks contain.
- Provide each student with a copy of the Think Your Drink chart or project the chart for the whole class to see. Explain to the students that when choosing healthy drinks they should specifically consider the amount of calories and sugars compared to vitamins and minerals.
- Have the student use the Think Your Drink chart to determine which drinks on the class list are healthy choices. Explain that water, low-fat milk, and 100% juice are healthy drink choices. Water is essential for our bodies and contains no sugar or calories. Low-fat milk contains calcium which is important for overall health. When we aren't getting enough calcium in our diets, our bodies take calcium from our bones, which causes our bones to weaken. 100% juice provides us with important vitamins and minerals, but also contains natural sugars. Daily intake of 100% juice should be limited to 8 ounces for adults and 4-6 ounces for children. Eating whole fruits is a better option for obtaining these vitamins and minerals.
Create a giant plate on one of your classroom walls. Ask students to cut out magazine pictures or draw pictures of the foods that belong in each group and then place them on the wall. Alternatively, you may want to attach the actual containers to the appropriate food group. Consider asking students to bring in empty food containers.
Play the American Farm interactive game Load the Lunchbox.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- A healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy.
- Farmers produce the food we eat.
- It's important to eat the right amount of each food group to obtain the nutrients our body needs.
Activity 1: Portion Size Guide was developed by Louise Lamm and Ellen Gould from North Carolina Agriculture in the Classroom and was originally featured in The Farmer Grows a Rainbow: Second Servings lesson.
Recommended Companion Resources
- Eat & Move O-Matic
- Fill MyPlate Game
- Food Group Puzzle
- Portion Size Comparison
- Good Enough to Eat: A Kid's Guide to Food and Nutrition
- How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?
- Jack & the Hungry Giant Eat Right with MyPlate
- Look Inside Food
- Plants Feed Me
- Who Grew My Soup?
- Food Models
- MyPlate Activity Poster
- Nutrition Posters
- The Power of Choice Bulletin Board
Lyndi Perry, Debra Spielmaker, and Lynn Wallin
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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