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What's That Food? (pre-assessment)

What's That Food? (pre-assessment)

Food gives the body energy to move, think and grow.
© Dmitriy Shironosov.

  • Grades:
  • Length: 45 Minutes


Students observe and describe samples of different food groups. This activity can be used as a pre-assessment of students' knowledge about food and nutritional needs. Student sheets are provided in English and in Spanish.

This activity is from The Science of Food Teacher's Guide. Although it is most appropriate for use with students in grades 3–5, the lessons are easily adaptable for other grade levels. The guide is also available in print format.

Teacher Background

Food gives your body the fuel and raw materials it needs each day. Just like a car needs gasoline, your body needs energy to move, think, and grow. The usable energy you get from food is measured in calories. The more calories a food has, the more energy it can supply. The amount of calories a person needs depends on his or her activities. The body stores extra calories as fat.

However, food provides more than just energy. It supplies the building materials, such as proteins and minerals (like calcium), for muscles, bones, and other body parts. Food also has small amounts of other minerals and vitamins that help make energy available for muscles and the brain and make other body functions possible.

No matter what your age or lifestyle, eating the right foods can contribute to good health. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that people select a diet that includes a variety of foods in the proportions indicated on the student page. In addition, it is important to balance the food you eat with physical activity; consume plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits; choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; and moderate your intake of sugars and salt.

This activity can be used as a pre-assessment of students’ knowledge about nutrition and food needs.

Objectives and Standards


  • Food comes in many forms.

  • We need a minimum number of servings of certain foods and very little of others.

  • There is a lot to know about healthy eating.

Science, Health, and Math Skills

  • Observing

  • Recording observations

  • Predicting

  • Inferring

  • Drawing conclusions

Materials and Setup

Teacher Materials (see Setup)

  • food items representing five basic food groups and group of oils, fats, and sweets  (4 pieces of each item)

Materials per Student Group

  • sheet of white construction or chart paper, 9 in. x 12 in.

  • 4 brown paper lunch bags with food item

Materials per Student

  • hand lens (or magnifier)

  • copy of "Healthy Eating" sheet


  1. Each group of students will observe and describe a different food item. Create a set of four identical bags for each group of four students (to allow each student to make his or her own observations).

  2. To prevent students from identifying the foods assigned to other groups, all of the food items should be kept inside brown paper bags.

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Divide students into groups of four. Explain that each group will be responsible for examining and reporting on a specific food item.

  2. Distribute a set of bags to each group, explaining that although students may recognize the food, they should not call the name out loud. It will be a mystery food for other groups to identify, based on their observations and prior knowledge.

  3. Ask students to observe the food in their bags, using all their senses except taste. Encourage use of the hand lens for closer observation. Questions to ask students include How does it feel, sound, look, and smell? Do you recognize this food? Do you eat this food? Do you think it is good for you? How much of this type of food would you need to eat daily? Where does it come from?

  4. Have each student write down his or her observations and anything specific that he or she knows about the food being observed. However, students should not name the food.

  5. Students should share their observations within their groups. The groups’ Reporters should make a list of the observations on construction paper. A good way for the group to share responsibilities is to have the members take turns giving one observation at a time for the Reporter to record. Once an observation has been shared, any other group member with the same observation should check it off his or her list. This will continue until all, or at least most, of the observations are listed.

  6. Have the Materials Managers place their charts on the wall where all students can view them.

  7. Student groups should view each of the charts and decide, based on the recorded observations, what food is being described and whether or not they have additional observations or information about that food.

  8. Lead a discussion, based on the information on the charts, with the entire group. Explain that all the foods observed and discussed are necessary, but that different amounts of each are recommended for optimum health.

  9. Conclude by using the "Healthy Eating" page. Ask students to identify the group to which each of the foods examined belongs. Have students work in their groups to create a menu for one day that includes appropriate numbers of servings from each of the food groups.

Optional Pre- and Post-assessment

  • Have students select a favorite food, answer the following questions, and draw and write a Nutrition Facts label for their foods. Save pre-assessments for students to compare with the results of their post-assessments.

Where does this food come from?
What other kinds of organisms might eat this food?
To which food group or food groups does the food belong?
How many servings a day should someone eat of this food?
What would you do before cooking or eating this food?
Where would you store this food?

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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932