Skip Navigation

Nutritional Challenges

Author(s): Nancy P. Moreno, PhD, Sonia Rahmati Clayton, PhD, Paula H. Cutler, BA, Martha S. Young, BFA, and Barbara Z. Tharp, MS.
Nutritional Challenges

© Dorota C.

  • Grades:
  • Length: 60 Minutes


Students learn about healthy eating habits to meet special lifestyle needs, such as those of athletes, persons with diabetes and vegetarians. This activity may be used as an authentic assessment of student learning.

This activity is from The Science of Food and Fitness Teacher's Guide, and was designed for students in grades 6–8. Lessons from the guide may be used with other grade levels as deemed appropriate.

Teacher Background

The MyPyramid diagram can help people make healthy food choices and be active every day. It promotes physical activity, variety in food selection, appropriate portion sizes, gradual improvement and personalization. Healthy food choices include eating at least three ounces of whole-grain cereal, rice or pasta every day and choosing low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt or other milk products. Limit the consumption of fats and sugars added to foods (butter, margarine, gravy, etc.) and choose fewer foods that are high in sugars (soft drinks, candy and deserts). has been adapted in a variety of ways to reflect ethnic preferences, personal beliefs and health needs. This activity allows students to consider the nutritional needs of people with specific dietary requirements, and to create a full-day menu for these individuals. It also enables students to apply knowledge learned over the course of the unit, and may be used as a post-assessment.

Objectives and Standards

Life Science

  • All animals, including humans, are consumers, which obtain food by eating other organisms.

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

  • Food provides energy and nutrients for growth and development. Nutrition requirements vary with body weight, age, sex, activity, and body functioning.

  • Regular exercise is important to the maintenance and improvement of health. The benefits of exercise include maintaining healthy weight.

  • Students should understand the risks associated with personal hazards, including dietary choices.

Science, Health and Math Skills

  • Using printed materials

  • Inferring

  • Communicating

Materials and Setup

Materials per Group of Students

  • Copy of “Serving Sizes and Calories,” “My Pyramid” and “Daily Amounts” sheet (see "Lesson Media" tab, above).

  • Prepared copy of one “Challenging Choices” sheet on cardstock (see Lesson pdf; and Setup, below).


  1. Photocopy menu sheets (different sheet per group) onto card stock, trim and fold in half vertically. Students will complete the inside of the card with their menus. If possible, each group should receive a different card.

  2. Optional: Provide blank copies of the “Menu Plan” or "Daily Food Log" (see "Lesson Media" tab, above), for students to use as a preliminary worksheet. OR photocopy the sheet on the back of each “Challenging Choices” sheet (prior to making a folded card) so that students have a complete menu.

  3. Have students work in groups of four.

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Ask students, Should all of us follow the same guidelines for choosing foods to eat? Why or why not? What about people with special requirements? Mention athletes, vegetarians and astronauts as examples of people who follow different eating plans by choice and because of their activities. Follow by asking, What about people who need to make different dietary choices for health reasons? Mention people with diabetes (who must restrict sugar intake), people with lactose intolerance (who cannot digest the sugars in milk) and pregnant women as examples of persons who must pay special attention to what they eat.

  2. Distribute a “Specialty Menu” card to each group of four students. Explain that each group has a different card that describes specific challenges for making a daily menu. Have each group plan a menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks that meets the particular dietary needs described on the card, and write the menus on the inside of the cards. Students should follow the guidelines on the “Serving Sizes and Calories,” “My Pyramid” and “Daily Amounts” student sheets, making substitutions where necessary to accommodate the dietary and caloric requirements outlined on the card, and to provide a balanced diet.

  3. Have each group of students come up with a skit or other way to present their menus to the rest of the class. Each group’s presentation should explain how their food choices meet the specific nutritional needs of the dietary type they considered.


  • Have students consider other special circumstances that might require different eating programs. Have them design menus to meet the needs they identify.

  • Personal fitness, particularly cardiovascular fitness, also is essential for good health.?Have students create exercise programs for each of the categories described on the Specialty Menu cards, using information from the library or the Internet.

  • Eating in space has changed considerably from the earlier days of the US Space Program. Have students investigate how space foods and dietary provisions for astronauts have been modified over time.

Handouts and Downloads

Download color images from The Science of Food and Fitness Teacher's Guide.

Daily Food Log

Student sheet to use for daily food and fitness planning (see Setup).

Related Content

  • Benjamin Levine: Staying Fit in Space

    Benjamin Levine: Staying Fit in Space Podcast Plus

    Benjamin D. Levine, MD, researches exercise programs to learn how astronauts can maintain fitness while living and working in microgravity (podcast with lessons and more).

  • Food and Fitness

    Food and Fitness Teacher Guide

    Students examine their individual energy and nutritional needs, learn about calories and true portion sizes, and use what they've learned to create special dietary needs menus. (7 activities)


National Space Biomedical Research Institute

National Space Biomedical Research Institute

This work was supported by National Space Biomedical Research Institute through NASA cooperative agreement NCC 9-58.