A common issue with food choices…
Typically, the young ones do not choose the best foods available to them. As teachers, we may not have much control over what our little ones eat every day; however, we can teach them how to be healthfully selective of foods during our lessons on colors and food names. From classroom experience, it seems that we can successfully begin introducing these concepts as early as around 2 to 3 years of age. Our brains are made and maintained by the nutrients that we consume. Well-balanced nutrition, especially good quality fats, help create healthy neurons. Healthy neurons are efficient neurons; they can transfer information more readily. Healthy neurons also have the potential to create better synaptic connections; they are typically better at making optimized networks. There is also fascinating research on how the gut influences brain health. So, we should get our kids in on it early, and have them stick with it!
Not the brown palette!
Choosing a set of colorful foods leads to the consumption of more of the essential vitamins and minerals which may be lacking if the “brown palette” is the norm for the child. What can be wrong with a brown palette of food? Not all brown foods are bad for us, but… brownish foods chosen by children are often junk foods that are one of, or a combination of, these three: carbohydrates, protein (processed meats), or fat (deep fried foods). Carbohydrate loading can cause high blood sugar—which may cause sugar crashing (reactive hypoglycemia) and even diabetes down the road. Fatty and processed meats are famously unhealthful, and the worst is of course the trans fats in fried foods—among other issues, they cause neurons to have weak membranes, faulty communication, and cognitive decline. And so, the teaching of good eating habits could make a huge difference in our little students’ future lives. Talk about teachers making a difference!
Advice for the classroom
If you teach young ones, you will recognize that teaching colors and food names is an integral part of the job for most of us. The next time you chose food words to teach, intentionally select them from the seven colors of the rainbow— red, orange, yellow, green, blue/indigo, and violet —and work them into your lesson plan, as below.
These are two pages out of the five-page PDF lesson plan that you can download. Here’s the link for the worksheet PDF. Download, print, and feel free to use it in your classrooms.
How does this work in a lesson?
The aim of the activity is to raise consciousness of students’ food intake.
- First, ask students their favorite food(s) for lunch. Let students draw freely on Page 1 of the worksheets—with crayons/color pencils. This makes it easier for them to contrast it with what they will produce later in the lesson.
- Second, teach the food names on Page 2. Speed/style depends on how well they already know these words.
- Then, elicit the colors of the foods on Page 2 such as “What color are these fish?” “What color are these apples?” (For more mature learners, “What color should this apple be?”)
- The students go on to coloring the foods and then cutting and pasting them on Pages 3 and 4 to match the food colors and color icons.
5. If the students are mature enough to build a rudimentary understanding of neurons, blood sugar levels, and the importance of vitamins and minerals, then the next step is helping them make the connection between better food choices and healthy brains; this essential content could/should be done in the native tongue. If the students are not yet ready for these scientific concepts, just let them choose food from each color and be happy with making a beautiful rainbow set of foods.
6. Page 5 is a poster page for them to make their understanding visible (as a poster presentation). Ask students to choose at least one food from each color of the rainbow and make the plate as colorful as nature is. Make sure their plates display multiple colors from the rainbow and then discuss their choices. This validation is important for the students.
7. Older students might be able to think of some multi-colored foods (such as salad) and go on to investigate the ingredients based on the colors they remember. That is fantastic learning, so integrate that into you lesson plan if you teach mature students. Don’t forget to provide validation through a nice discussion of what they come up with.
8. At the end of the lesson, have the students show the poster to the class and introduce what they currently chose to eat for lunch. It can be as simple as pointing and saying, “red apple” and “orange carrot.”
9. The great aha moment comes when they explain the differences between their Page 1 favorite lunch (typically a brownish palette) and the new colorful poster at hand. It is a great aha moment for parents, too!
Good learning comes more efficiently with a healthy body. Food is deeply culture-oriented and so there is always something more to teach and learn about. If the students get interested in foods from around the world, they might have higher motivation to learn languages as well. This may be another aha moment for them. After all, food is our fuel. Eating is living; living is eating. Why not incorporate all of that into our lessons and help the young ones make better choices? I hope you enjoy teaching this in your classrooms/homes and please do contact me with questions and your success stories! (Email: [email protected])
(All photos are from Murphy School of Education—lessons with children.)
Ai Murphy teaches children ranging from one to fifteen years of age at the Murphy School of Education. Ai also counsels parents regarding bilingual education in Japan and child rearing. Because she was raised by a restaurant-owning family, Ai is into proper cooking–with healthy ingredients.