In this lab experience students get the visual and tactile experience of measuring their typical portion size. Later they read nutrition labels to calculate how many calories are in their typical portion.
This is one of my favorite nutrition activities- I can’t believe I haven’t shared it yet! Learning portion sizes is one of the most important things students can learn whether in a Family and Consumer Sciences class, Health class, or elementary classroom. I do this activity with my high school students but it would be meaningful in a middle school exploratory or health class as well.
Here’s how the activity goes…
Students make an outline on a sheet of lined paper. They list the food and 1-4 underneath.
- 1. My portion
- 2. Serving size
- 3. Calories per serving
- 4. Calories in my portion
Students visit a variety of stations to measure what their typical portion would be. Students must still try each station even if they don’t like the food. In the example of steak, I ask students how big they would expect a steak to look, not necessarily how much they would serve themselves if they don’t like steak.
I had real fruit loops left over from an activity where students walked off the calories in a variety of foods, but in the past I have used popcorn kernels as a stand-in for cereal. Students pour themselves cereal into a variety of bowls and measure how many cups of cereal they actually poured.
I cook up a batch of pasta and rinse it in cold water. Students have a variety of plates and bowls to choose from. They weigh the plate or bowl, tare, and serve themselves a portion of pasta. They record the weight in ounces.
Students have scratch paper and scissors and cut the shape they think a steak should be.
I have a variety of sizes of take out cups. Students fill the cups with water to show how much soda they would drink. They record the amount in fluid ounces.
Students write down that if the dice were cheese, how many cubes they would eat in a serving.
After the students have visited the stations and recorded their portion we read nutrition labels to find the size and calories of one portion. Then students calculate the calories of their portion.
I show students a variety of visuals to help them guess portion sizes in the future. This slide show from the Mayo Clinic is a good guide.
This activity brings up a lot of important discussion.
- We tend to eat however much is served to us. Choosing a smaller plate, or a plate instead of a bowl, will help us control our portions.
- It’s okay to eat more than one portion, in fact, most teenagers should eat more than one portion to get the calories they need. The trouble is when we mindlessly eat or overeat, which is how extra body weight sneaks up on us.
- I don’t encourage calorie counting, but I do encourage attentive eating. Starting with a small portion and having a second serving if you are still hungry is a good habit for everyone.
- Extra calories are wasted whether you put them in the compost or in your body. It’s a hard concept to grasp for those of us who were encouraged to clean our plate as children, but we have to learn that it’s okay to quit eating when we feel satisfied. One way we can prevent the guilty feeling of not cleaning our plate is to start with small portions.
I hope you and your students enjoy this activity! Comment to let us know how it goes.