Learning about nutrition at a young age can lay the foundation for a healthy and balanced lifestyle. By the time children are preschool aged, they should be able to begin to understand what a balanced diet is, and recognize the types of foods that are good for them. Guiding them through a series of activities and experiments regarding nutrition is a fun way to get preschoolers interested in their own nutrition.
Creating a garden for the entire class to cultivate allows you to extend the nutrition lesson throughout the year, as you first teach the students about the foods they will be planting and why they are important. The act of planting the garden is a lesson in measurement, and caring for it teaches children about where food comes from. There are numerous experiments that you can perform on your garden throughout the year, such as observing how different bugs help to enrich the soil.
Nutrition in the Kitchen
Few people realize it, but there is science surrounding cooking and baking. Discuss the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food guidelines with students, and challenge them to come up with a balanced meal. If you have the resources available to you, work with your students to create that meal in the classroom. If this is not possible, encourage your children to go home and make the meal you have created with their family at home. As part of their homework, they should report back how they made the meal, and how their family enjoyed it.
Analyze Your Diet
In preschool, asking your students to write a list of a normal meal in their household may be a bit advanced, but there is a way to help them analyze their diet that is both fun and at their level. First, using the USDA guidelines for a healthy meal, have them color the sections on a paper plate where fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein should go. Also, give them a small round piece of paper to go on the side for their dairy. Next, have each student draw pictures of their favorite supper, encouraging them to draw each item of food as close to their actual size as possible. Using safety scissors, they should cut out the shapes of the food, then place them on their plate in the category that they think the food belongs in. This will give them immediate feedback on how their favorite meal measures up, especially when they see their foods begin to overlap onto portions of their place where the food does not belong.
What Lies Beneath
At this age, children can begin to learn about how the foods they eat contain different nutrients such as vitamins, and how some foods are more packed with nutrients than other. To prove this, conduct an experiment that physically shows students the nutrients in their food. A simple way to do this is by having each student magnetically pull the iron from iron-enriched ready-to-eat cereal. Place ½ cup of cereal in a bag, and have the students crush the cereal. Have them mix the cereal in a bowl with one cup of hot water using a wooden or plastic spoon. Next, place a 3-inch bar magnet (that is not gray or black so that the iron is visible) in the cereal, and continue to stir the cereal for about five minutes. When the students remove the magnet, they will be able to see the iron that has separated from the cereal and attached itself to the magnet.
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