What Is a Healthy Diet?

6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson, young people examine their typical diet for 24 hours. They analyze the nutritional content and discuss why diets differ by culture, region, and economics.

PrintOne 45-Minute Session

The learner will:

  • compare and contrast their food choices with those of others (may be pre-made lists rather than their own diets).
  • explain why food choices are impacted by resources, culture, and geography.
  • paper and pencil
  • optional: a variety of food labels for analysis and comparison
Teacher Preparation 

Optional: prepare a variety of lists of foods that could be eaten in a 24-hour period. The lists may vary in healthiness, convenience, and culture. Be very sensitive to food anxiety and judgment about what people eat. 

  • culture: values, beliefs and perceptions of the world that are learned and are shared by members of a community or society, and which are reflected in their own behavior
  • processed food: food that has been chemically altered through additives such as flavor enhancers, binders, colors, fillers, preservatives, stabilizers, and emulsifiers; food altered from its natural state

Exit Ticket: Write what you can do to be open and respectful when you learn about what people eat around the world. 


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Say, "Have you ever noticed that we all have very different eating habits and that in our homes we make different choices about typical meals and snacks? Or, have you ever looked in other families' grocery carts and noticed that they buy very different combinations of foods? Why do you think we don't all eat the same things?"

    Discuss their answers and then say that in today's lesson, we will examine their personal choices. Tell them that our personal choices are influenced by three factors: cultural and personal tastes, local availability, and economic resources. Check for understanding about the definition of culture, which may be "values, beliefs and perceptions of the world that are learned and are shared by members of a community or society, and which are reflected in their own behavior."

  2. Ask the participants to close their eyes and imagine (displayed on a table in front of them) all the food and drink they typically consume in 24 hours. Then have them write those food items in a list on a piece of paper. This will not be shared with anyone else. Alternatively, to avoid food anxiety, provide a variety of pre-made lists of food (representing different habits and cultures) for them to analyze.

  3. Next, ask them to label each food item according to what food group it mostly belongs:

    • G – Grain Group (bread, pasta, rice, tortillas)
    • V – Vegetable
    • F – Fruit
    • M – Milk (cheese, yogurt)
    • MB – Meat and Beans (dried beans, poultry, meat, eggs, and fish)
    • J – "Junk Food" (food that has little or no nutritional value and/or is high in fat, sugar, salt)
  4. Additionally, have them mark each food item as natural or processed (i.e., an apple would be natural and apple sauce would be processed). See the definition of processed, above.

  5. Ask them to determine the approximate percentage of foods from each food group and also the percentage of natural vs. processed. (To calculate the percentage, count the number of food items in a group and divide that number by the total number of items in all, then multiply by 100).

    Example: 5 breads divided by 20 total items = .25 (x 100) = 25%

  6. When calculations are complete, they pair up with someone else and compare their analyses. Partners should ask each other the following questions:

    • In what ways does this represent a healthy diet – one that will help you grow and have energy?
    • In what ways does this represent a natural diet? What problems can added components bring?
    • What is going well and what can be improved about your eating habits?
    • What are the unique cultural components of the diets?