Healthy Eating Away From Home (Grades 9-12)
9 - 12
This lesson highlights awareness of consuming nutrients and calories away from home, and where to find the calorie and nutrition information for foods available in fast food restaurants. It also highlights how to determine individual calorie needs, as well as the number of calories in a typical fast food meal, and it focuses on dietary goals for saturated fat and sodium. Grades 9-12
Two 45-minute activities
- Copies of menus from local restaurants
Activity 1: Eating on the Go!
- Internet access
- Copies of FDA’s Fact Sheet: Calories on the Menu: Information for Consumers OR Copies of FDA’s Slide Presentation: Calories on the Menu: Information for Consumers
- Menus from various fast food restaurants
- Eating on the Go!, worksheets, one copy per student
Activity 2: Check Your Snacks
- Check Your Snacks student worksheet
- Empty snack packages
Note: All worksheets can be downloaded as a fillable PDF.
added sugars: sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), corn syrups, and artificial sweeteners that are added to food to increase sweetness
calorie: the "energy" supplied from all food sources (fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol)
Food and Drug Administration (FDA): a federal agency in the United States responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, and the safety of our nation's food supply
Did You Know?
- When eating out, you can ask which ingredients are being used to prepare your meal. You can also ask to see nutrition information and then choose menu options that are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and sugars, as well as higher in nutrients to get more of (e.g., fiber).
- Throughout the past century, rates of chronic diseases (many of which are related to poor quality diet and physical inactivity) have increased.
- Today, 60 percent of adults have one or more dietrelated chronic diseases.
- Following a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level helps to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
- Consuming too many calories can contribute to a variety of health issues such as obesity and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Tweens and teens who have healthy eating patterns are more likely to perform better at school.
Background Agricultural Connections
Restaurants & Stores
Many people enjoy eating meals away from home or the convenience of carry-out food. Studies show that Americans consume a third of their daily calories from foods prepared outside of their homes at restaurants, fast food establishments, and other food venues. This can make it diffcult for families to eat healthy, nutritious meals. How often do you eat food prepared from a restaurant or other venue? Some restaurants now provide a great deal of information to help consumers make more healthy choices when eating out. Listing calories is required on certain restaurant menus and menu boards to help consumers choose healthier options. Menu labeling is required for restaurants and other similar retail food establishments that are a part of a chain of 20 or more locations and meet certain other criteria. Establishments that are covered by the menu labeling regulation are also required to have additional written nutrition information available upon consumer request. This menu labeling is consistent nationwide and provides easy-tounderstand nutrition information.
FDA requires restaurants to include a statement on menus and menu boards to remind consumers that “2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice, but calorie needs vary.”
Why is reading calories on the menu important?
Your body needs nutrients to grow and develop. Many foods that are high in calories are high in saturated fats and/or Added Sugars. Whether you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight, the key is to balance the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses (“burns”).
Where is calorie information located?
Calorie information is located clearly on menus and menu boards next to the name or the price of the food or beverage. For buffets and salad bars, calories are shown on signs that are visible when selecting the foods. Calories are not required to be listed for:
- Condiments that are available for general use (such as ketchup packets on the counter)
- Daily specials (such as a chef’s soup special)
- Custom orders (such as a burger with no bun)
- Temporary/seasonal menu items (such as eggnog-favored latte)
- When combinations of more than one food item are listed together as a meal, such as a hamburger, fries, and a drink, and there are three or more options (e.g., more than three drink choices), the calories are shown as a range: for example, 400 - 750 calories.
- When there are only two choices of the variable component of that combination meal, such as fries or a side salad, the calories are displayed with a slash: for example, 150/200 calories.
Is there additional nutrition information? If so, where can it be found?
The additional written nutrition information must be available on the premises of those establishments that meet the criteria, and it must be provided to customers upon request. This information may be in the form of booklets or on computers (supplied by the establishment), counter cards, handouts, kiosks, posters, tray liners, or signs. The nutrition information may come from nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, or other similar means. The nutrition information must include:
- Total Calories
- Calories From Fat
- Total Fat
- Saturated Fat
- Trans Fat
- Total Carbohydrates
- Dietary Fiber
Sometimes when you are hungry or skip a meal, you might look for something quick, easy, and convenient. Vending machine snacks may be the answer—but are they good for us? Snacks make up more than one fourth of the daily calories consumed by tweens and teens. It’s important that those snacks are healthy.
Calorie information is required for vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines. Vending machine operators who are not covered by the requirements can voluntarily register to be covered. Unless calories are already visible on the actual snack package before purchase, the calorie labeling may be shown on a:
- Small placard
- Electronic or digital display near the food item or selection button
The calories must be declared for the entire item as sold (not per serving). This includes vending machines that sell:
- Soft drinks
- Packaged snacks
- Hot-and-cold cup beverages
- Refrigerated prepared food (such as those sold from turnstile vending machines)
- Handfuls of nuts or candies (such as those sold from bulk vending machines)
Game machines (such as claw machines in arcades) are not covered, even if they sometimes dispense candy or other edible items as part of the game.
Smart Snacks in School
All food and beverages sold in school vending machines during the school day must meet nutrition standards. The USDA Smart Snacks in School regulation applies to school foods sold à la carte, in the school store, and from vending machines. To qualify as a Smart Snack, a snack must frst meet the following general nutrition standards (from the regulation):
- be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight (be whole grain-rich/have a whole grain as the frst ingredient); or
- have as the frst ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
- be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; and
- contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of one of the nutrients to get more of (calcium, potassium, iron, vitamin D, or dietary fber), and
- the food must meet the nutrient standards for calories, sodium, sugar, and fats.
- Display the menus from various fast food restaurants around the room, and begin a conversation with these questions:
- Do you like eating out?
- How often would you like to eat out?
- What meal might you choose if you ate out?
- Once students have identifed a restaurant meal, continue the discussion by asking:
- Do you know how many calories are in this meal?
- Do you know how many calories you need each day?
- Are you aware of how much sodium and saturated fat are in the meal?
Explore and Explain
Activity 1: Eating on the Go!
- Give each student one copy of the Eating on the Go!, worksheets.
- Instruct students to follow the directions on the worksheet. They should use the internet to research a meal from a restaurant and record the data on the worksheet. If internet access is not available, provide hard copies of menus from local restaurants.
- Make available (digitally or in print) FDA’s Fact Sheet: Calories on the Menu: Information for Consumers OR Copies of FDA’s Slide Presentation: Calories on the Menu: Information for Consumers
- After completing the worksheet, summarize with a class discussion while sharing the following tips for eating out:
- Know your calorie and nutrient needs. Visit MyPlate Plan to determine your personal daily calorie and nutrient needs.
- Compare foods. Check posted calorie counts or check calorie counts online before you eat at a restaurant.
- Choose smaller portions. When appropriate, choose a smaller portion size such as a small order of French fries instead of large, or an appetizer instead of a full-sized entrée.
- Manage larger portions. Split an entrée with a friend or take home part of your meal.
- Limit add-ons. Ask for syrups, dressings, and sauces to be served “on the side”—and then use less.
- Choose healthy options. Choose dishes that include more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit foods described with words like creamy, fried, breaded, battered, or buttered (these are typically higher in calories).
- Watch your beverages. Choose such options as water or fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) milk more frequently than options that are high in calories but have few or no benefcial nutrients such as energy drinks, fruit drinks, soft drinks, and sports drinks.
Activity 2: Check Your Snacks
- Determine if you'd like your students to work individually or in groups.
- Collect empty vending machine snack packages with the Nutrition Facts label that are sold in schools.
- If your school has vending machines for students, use packages from items that are sold in those vending machines.
- Consider including a snack package that contains more than one serving, to use during class discussion.
- Use the following questions to have a class discussion about snacks:
- What are some of your favorite snacks? Are they healthy?
- How do you know if your snack is healthy?
- Have you read the nutrition information for the snacks?
- Do you eat the snacks that are provided in school vending machines?
- Why should you follow a healthy eating pattern?
- Give each student one copy of the Check Your Snacks student worksheet.
- Provide access to a variety of empty snack packages for students to complete their worksheet.
- Write letters to restaurant chains thanking them for providing useful nutrition information or offering suggestions about how their information could be provided differently to make it easier to use.
- Make posters that show the nutritional information for the two versions of their meal (original and healthier option), including the calorie total of both meals compared with their daily calorie needs. Display posters for others to see.
- Display images of vending machines. Discuss with classmates the snacks that may be found in a vending machine; do a web search on various snacks to calculate the saturated fat calories.
- If your school has vending machines, critique what is offered and make additional healthy suggestions.
- Use the Smart Snacks Product Calculator to determine whether your snack is a Smart Snack.
- Invite your school district’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services to talk with your class about the school lunch program and vending machine selections.
- Watch HealthWorks! Healthy Living Series: Healthy Snacks.
Use the following review questions:
- Why are calories important? (Calories provide nutrients and energy for your body. Whether you are trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight, the key is to balance the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses [“burns”].)
- Where will you find calorie information that is required for vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines? (The calories will be shown on a sign [such as on a small placard, sticker, or poster] or on electronic or digital displays near the food item or selection button and the calories must be declared for the entire item as vended [not per serving]. Calories may also appear on the food package itself— for example, by showing the Nutrition Facts label or a declaration on the front of package before the item is vended.)
- What makes a snack a “Smart Snack” in schools? (To qualify as a Smart Snack, a snack must frst meet the following general nutrition standards [from the regulation]:
- Be a grain product that contains 50 percent or more whole grains by weight [be whole grain-rich/have a whole grain as the frst ingredient]; or
- Have as the first ingredient a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food; or
- Be a combination food that contains at least ¼ cup of fruit and/or vegetable; and
- Contain 10% of the Daily Value (DV) of one of the nutrients to get more of (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or dietary fiber), and
- The food must meet the following nutrient standards for calories, sodium, sugar, and fats:
Summarize the following key concepts:
- Menu labeling by restaurants can help consumers make informed and healthful decisions about meals away from home.
- Calorie labeling on vending machines can help you make informed and healthful decisions about snacks.
The Science and Our Food Supply: Using the Nutrition Facts Label to Make Healthy Food Choices (2022 Edition) was brought to you by the Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Recommended Companion Resources
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
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