What's in This? Investigating Nutrition Information
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Encourage children and teens to make healthful food choices by having them explore the foods they eat and the ways those foods are advertised. By studying the labels on their favorite foods and analyzing their commercials, children and teens can determine which foods are best for them and how food companies successfully get shoppers to buy their products. Once children and teens have a better idea about which of their favorite foods are healthful, they can go on to make advertisements of their own that promote healthful foods for their friends and family.
Why This Is Helpful
Children and teens are bombarded with a variety of consumer messages on a daily basis. These messages-whether they are commercials on TV, food labels at the store, or jingles on the radio-affect the choices they make about what they buy and how they eat. By actively questioning the foods they eat regularly, children and teens learn to analyze these messages and become more informed consumers. This important media literacy skill is one they will use again and again in and out of school.
This activity was modified from the ReadWriteThink lesson plan "Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt: Researching Nutrition to Advertise for Health."
What You Need
- Access to foods that have nutrition labels, either at home or at the grocery store
- Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt Guide
- Advertisement Analysis
- Access to food advertisements on TV, in magazines, on the Internet, and so forth
- Art supplies such as paper or poster board, markers, colored pencils, scissors, and glue, or a computer with design software such as Publisher or PowerPoint for making the advertisement
- Access to the Nutrition Data website
Here's What To Do
- Using the Grocery Store Scavenger Hunt Guide, ask children and teens to choose two foods they eat regularly and two foods they think are healthful. Have them record their answers on their guides.
- Then, either at the grocery store or at home, children and teens can find these foods and read their Nutrition Facts labels. Have them record their findings on their guides.
- Once they have examined the foods on their lists, invite them to do the same thing with the junk foods that are listed on their guides. If they are unable to find certain foods, they can try looking them up on the Nutrition Data website.
- Discuss which foods are more healthy and how they can tell using the food labels. Encourage children and teens to go to the Nutrition Data website to look up information about the foods being discussed and find out the effects of different foods on their bodies. You may wish to explore questions such as
- How do foods high in saturated fat affect the body?
- What about foods high in protein and iron?
- What do different vitamins do for the body?
- Which foods have those vitamins?
- Have them finish their guides by examining the packaging of the junk foods they found, paying attention to the colors, images, slogans, and so forth, in order to better understand how the sellers of the products makes them stand out as attractive foods to purchase.
- Discuss their findings. What about the packaging catches their attention? How are characters or celebrities used? How might that affect shoppers who see this product? Who does it seem like the product is for? How do they know?
- Now that they have practiced analyzing the food packaging and have discussed the effects of nutrition on their bodies, children and teens can find commercials or advertisements for different foods. They might search on the Internet or watch a few minutes of TV to find them.
- After they watch or look at the advertisements, they are ready to complete the Advertisement Analysis. The goal of this activity is for children and teens to think critically about the ways foods are advertised. In order to encourage this type of analysis, it is a good idea to talk about the parts of the advertisements and how they are put together to create a feeling or to make the products seem good for specific types of people.
- Have teens or children discuss these questions:
What are the parts of the advertisements? These might consist of music, color, and placement of the products being sold.
- What types of people are in the ads? How old are they? How do they dress and behave? What does this make you think about them? Are they cool? Are they sophisticated?
- What are the slogans associated with the products?
- What level of movement and excitement do the ads convey? Do the ads seem full of energy or slow and calm?
- What are you told about the products through narration?
- How do the parts of the ads work together? Based on these parts, who do you think the advertisements are speaking to? Do the products seem appropriate for their audiences?
- Now children and teens can make advertisements or commercials of their own: Children and teens can choose healthful foods that they would like their friends and family to try eating more often. They can create advertisements or commercials using some of the most effective techniques they noticed in professional food advertisements. Encourage them to write scripts, create props and backdrops, and include friends as the actors if they are making commercials. If they are making print advertisements, encourage them to focus on using effective images and words. They might start by brainstorming lists of possible slogans for their healthful foods and building the advertisements around these.
More Ideas To Try
- Nutrition Data Scavenger Hunt: Use the Nutrition Data website to discover more about nutrition and healthful eating. Children and teens can find out their own Body Mass Index (BMI), learn about cholesterol and saturated fat using the Nutrition Glossary, or understand why protein is an important part of everyone's diet. To make it a challenge, invite children and teens to compete to find the most interesting, strange, or surprising information about food and health on the site. They might even want to create quizzes for each other and test their friends' food knowledge.
- Keep a log of all the foods eaten in a week. Explore the Nutrition Data website to see how healthful these foods are. Make a plan to replace any unhealthful foods with fun-to-eat, healthful foods.
- Measure Your Options: Once children and teens have found several unhealthful foods they want to replace with healthful foods in their diets, have some fun with math by showing them how to measure how much more they can eat of a healthful food like carrots than an unhealthful food like potato chips. Use the serving measurements on the packages to determine how much they would get of each food. Then talk about the difference in nutrients. Go to the Nutrition Data website and compare the vitamins, protein, and types of fat in each kind of food.
- Letter writing campaign: Did children and teens find something shocking, disturbing, or encouraging about one of the foods they have researched? What about the commercial that advertises the food? Does it lead viewers to believe the food will be different from how it really is? Consider writing a letter to the food company pointing out an issue about their food or praising them for producing a great food. Is this an issue that all consumers should know about? Write a letter to the editor to your local newspaper informing consumers about this issue.
- Healthful cooking class: Using some of the healthful ingredients that children and teens have found, they can find or create a recipe for a healthful meal and cook that meal with friends and family. They might also want to turn this into an opportunity to teach others about nutrition. Encourage them to create a menu that gives a delicious description of the meal and why it is healthful.