Most every senior high school offers a school lunch and has a vending machine from which students are faced with a nutritional decision. The choices that students make are usually influenced by culture, the media and their peers. Often students choose drinks and foods without considering whether it's nutritional or may contribute to poor health. Soft drinks and unhealthy foods have been linked to obesity, tooth decay and other health problems, according to the PBS NOW website. Classroom activities designed to help students become more aware of the nutritional value of beverages and foods may lead to healthier dietary choices.

Choosing Drinks

Before class, prepare small paper cups on a tray that contain a variety of drinks. Print a chart with the nutritional information, including calories, for one serving of each drink. There should be at least four different drink options: water, milk, fruit juice and soda. At the beginning of the class, ask each student to select a drink. After each student has selected his drink of choice, survey the class and write on the board how many students chose each drink. Next, ask the students to prepare a written explanation about why they chose their drink. Students then estimate how much of the particular drink they consume each day. Instruct the students to write down all the nutrition information that they know about their chosen drink. Finally, have students compare their consumption of drinks with statistical information (available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/fanrr34/fanrr34-7/fanrr34-7.pdf from the United States Department of Agriculture) and draw conclusions about the health implications of their choices in drinks.

School Lunch

Obtain a copy of the school lunch menu for one week. Divide students into groups and give each group a copy of the school lunch menu. On a scale of one to five, with one being the lowest nutritional value and five being the highest, have students rank each day's menu items and then assign an overall score to the menu for each day. Provide each group with a copy of the United States Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid (available at http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/MyPyramid_Anatomy.pdf) as a reference for scoring the nutritional value of foods. Discuss the score each group assigned to the different foods on the menu and the overall score for each day's school lunch. Next, students will observe the food choices of other students during school lunch and record their observations. Using a copy of the school menu for the day, have students keep track of how many students selected which foods. For example, they should record how many students selected an apple and how many chose pudding for dessert. Students then report the results and assess the food choices that students make. Initiate a classroom discussion regarding their findings: How can the school improve the menu for greater nutrition while offering choices? Should any food items be eliminated from the menu? If menu items should be eliminated, why should they not be offered to students?

Advertising Influence

This activity will take place over two days, with discussion to follow completion of observations by students. On day one, ask students to list every beverage they consumed in the previous 24 hours. Students then list the reasons they think that they chose a particular beverage. When they list is complete, instruct students to keep a log of the number of beverage logos and advertisements that they see in the next 24 hours. Include advertisements that are at school on vending machines, on clothing worn by students or teachers, in magazines, on billboards, on television and on city buses, trucks, cars or anywhere they see an advertisement for a beverage. Students should compare the list of beverages they consumed in 24 hours with the list of advertisements they observed in the next 24 hours. Identify correlations between beverages consumed and advertisements observed. Discuss these correlations and ask students to draw conclusions about the influence of advertisements on their beverage choices. Divide students into groups and with their data, ask each group to discuss and analyze the drink choices for the group. Students then write a detailed explanation of whether advertising influenced their drink choices based on the data they compiled.