3 Ways to Step Up Your Nutrition Game in the Classroom

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Choices Editor Kim Tranell is at the SXSWedu Conference in Austin, Texas, where she’s soaking up everything she can about the most innovative approaches to health education and social-emotional learning. All week, she’ll be sharing tips you can apply to your classroom and curriculum.

When you’ve been teaching nutrition (or in my case, producing educational content about nutrition) for years, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of the same old exercises, worksheets, and lessons. Of course you must teach things like MyPlate and energy in vs. energy out—but even then, something as simple as a fresh activity or new analogy can help your students cross that bridge of understanding.

Yesterday afternoon, we attended an interactive Nutrition Education Teacher Workshop from the folks at the Whole Kids Foundation and Common Threads, who were full of bright ideas and instructional strategies. Here are three of my favorite takeaways that can help you hack your nutrition unit. (I’ve ordered them from least ambitious to most challenging, because I know not everyone can plant a school garden!) Try them in your classroom and let us know what you think.

1. Use the Nutrients App.

Formerly called Foodle, this app’s amazing bank of nutrition labels can really spice up your label-reading lessons. What we love most: You can even access nutrition-label information for foods that don’t usually have them, like fruits and vegetables, making comparisons between fresh and packaged foods even easier. (Psst, use it with our Label Liars story!)

2. Try This Whole Grains Experiment.

Break the class into groups, and provide each one with two plastic cups of vinegar, a small square of white bread, and a small square of whole-wheat bread. Instruct them to submerge each in a cup of vinegar continually, and watch what happens next. (Spoiler alert: The white bread breaks down much faster!)

This experiment is a fantastic way to help your students see a higher-fiber food’s staying power with their own eyes, so they can understand how it functions inside their stomach. (Bonus points: Prepare a list of low-fiber vs. high-fiber snack swaps to run through afterwards, which will arm them with healthier, hunger-satisfying alternatives for their favorite low-fiber foods, like chips and pretzels. There are a couple of great ideas in our Junk Food, Why Can’t I Quit You? story!)

3. Apply for a Garden Grant.

Did you know that the Whole Kids Foundation has $2000 School Garden Grants up for grabs every fall? The application period is open in September and October, but you can head to the site now to learn more about the program—and to get tips for applying.

Is a school garden a huge commitment? Sure. But if you start planning now, you can round up a team at your school that can help shoulder the load—biology teachers, culinary arts classrooms, even cafeterias can benefit from this incredible experiential learning tool. (Need inspiration? Check out our current Choices Changemaker story, which highlights four teens making a difference through gardening projects.)