Obesity and inactivity affect children as well as adults. School health programs are designed to provide children with the tools they need for healthy development while respecting cultural and economic differences. Teaching young students to make healthy choices can impact the entire family, so it's important to choose activities and messages with care.
Students in second grade can examine the USDA MyPlate guide to nutrition, and practice sorting favorite foods into food groups. Students should learn that a balanced meal is comprised of all five food groups, a balanced snack contains two food group items and a balanced diet is acquired over time. Students can demonstrate learning through a variety of activities, from using grocery flyers to create food group collages to planning and preparing a balanced meal for the class to enjoy.
While second-grade students likely don't have the reading or math skills to understand nutrition facts tables, they can learn how ingredient lists on food packages are ordered with the largest ingredient first and the smallest ingredient last. They can discuss healthier main ingredients -- such as whole grains or vegetables -- and less nutritious additions like sugar, salt or preservatives. With some guidance, students can explore ingredient lists on empty boxes brought in from home and discuss how they meet the nutritional guidelines of their school. Students can also compare how the ingredient list relates to claims made on the package or in advertising; for example a cereal box may prominently state, "Made with real oats," without including oats as a large ingredient.
Processed Versus Fresh
Teachers should not require children to label foods as "good or bad" or even "healthy or unhealthy." However, students should purposefully compare similar fresh and processed food items. Second-grade students will enjoy comparing the taste of a fresh apple, a dried apple, a handmade apple pie and an apple-flavored granola bar. This type of exploration should not necessarily result in the fresh or handmade item being deemed "better." Students in second grade can also discuss benefits of processed food -- it can be inexpensive, has a good shelf life, and is conveniently packaged in single servings -- and drawbacks of fresh food, which can be more difficult or time consuming to store and prepare. Students should not feel uncomfortable about their family's food choices after this activity.
Second-grade students should become aware of some factors affecting a family's food choices, including preferences, cultural background, proximity to fresh food, whether a parent works in the home, allergies, and local trends. Teachers must approach this topic carefully, as economic status strongly affects students' experiences with food. As well, children can simply have differing levels of autonomy in personal food choice based on family values.
Second-grade students can learn the benefits of regular physical activity, track their own activity levels, or explore new activities within the community. Children should engage in at least 60 minutes of daily activity. Teachers can also discuss strategies for limiting screen time.
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images