What Is a Healthy Diet?

6, 7, 8

In this lesson, students 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:

  • identify the sources of the foods that they eat.
  • compare and contrast their health habits/food choices with habits of others locally and globally.
  • explain why food choices are limited by resources, culture, and geography.
  • paper and pencil
  • optional: food labels (two for each small group or pair of students; may be photocopies)
Teacher Preparation 

Optional: prior to this lesson, have students keep track of everything they eat for 24 hours.

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

Exit Ticket: Ask students to pre-reflect on what they think they might need to be sensitive about when they learn about what people eat around the world. They write a sentence answer on a note card and hand it to the teacher as they leave class. The teacher can use these responses to evaluate the empathy and awareness of students before the next lesson.

USDA “Food Pyramid”
A visual diagram of our nation’s current dietary suggestions.
USDA “A Close Look at My Pyramid.”
In-depth analysis of how the food pyramid can be used for your own dietary purposes.


  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 tell students that in today's lesson, they will examine their personal choices. Tell them that our personal choices are influenced by three factors: cultural/personal tastes, local availability, and economic resources. Check for understanding about the definition of culture. Help students understand cultureas "values, beliefs and perceptions of the world that are learned and are shared by members of a community or society, and which they use to interpret experiences and to generate behavior, and that are reflected in their own behavior."

  2. Ask the participants to close their eyes and imagine all the food and drink they’ve consumed in the last 24 hours spread out on a table in front of them. Instruct them to open their eyes and to write those food items in a vertical list on a piece of paper. Tell students that this will not be shared with anyone else.

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

    • G – Grain Group (bread, pasta, etc.)
    • 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 label each food item as “natural (N)” or “processed/prepackaged (P)” (i.e. an apple would be natural and apple sauce would be processed/packaged).

  5. Ask them to determine the approximate percentage of foods they ate from each food group and also the percentage of food they ate that was natural vs. pre-packaged. (To calculate 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).

  6. When calculations are complete, ask students to pair up with someone else in the group to compare their findings. Partners should ask each other the following questions:

    • Do you think you ate a healthy diet – one that will help you grow and have energy?
    • Do you think you ate a natural diet?
    • Do you think you ate an earth-friendly diet – one that did not contribute to pollution?
    • What are the differences in our diets? To what do you attribute the differences?**
    • How do you feel about your eating habits?
    • Do you think you will make any changes in your diet? Why?
    • **Note: If some students express discomfort discussing this with a partner, give the option of writing their reflections on these questions in a journal.
  7. As a whole group, ask volunteers to share some of the responses to these questions. Guide them to the understanding that three factors influence food choices: culture/personal tastes, local availability, and economic resources. Tell students that in the next session, they will look at the diets of people around the world.