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Your Nutrition Needs

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

© Almagami.

  • Grades:
  • Length: 60 Minutes


Students compare their own eating habits to standard recommendations for a healthy diet.

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

Food provides more than just energy. It also supplies nutrients important for growth, repair and the maintenance of good health. There are five major types of nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Three of these—carbohydrates, proteins and fats—are known as macronutrients, because they provide energy and are consumed in larger quantities. Vitamins and minerals are needed in much smaller amounts. The body needs appropriate amounts of each nutrient to operate at its best.

  • Carbohydrates are a major source of energy found in fruit, vegetables, grains and milk. Fiber, starches and sugars are carbohydrates. The best kinds of carbohydrates are digested slowly and provide an even supply of energy. Whole fruit, vegetables and whole grain products, such as breads, cereals and pastas, are good carbohydrate choices.

  • Fats are rich sources of energy. Certain kinds of fats and oils are healthier than others. Fats that are solid at room temperature, such as shortening, margarine and lard, should be avoided. Healthier choices include monounsaturated and poly­unsaturated oils found in fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Foods that contain large amounts of unhealthy fats include some red meats, whole milk dairy products and cream, chocolate, cakes, cookies and crackers.

  • Proteins are building blocks for the body. Muscles, hair, skin and nails are mostly protein, as is the flexible collagen network within bones. Proteins help carry out essential reactions within each cell. Meats, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, beans and nuts are good sources of protein.

  • Vitamins, needed by the body in small amounts, are essential for the functioning of cells, but they cannot be manufactured by our bodies.

  • Minerals have a number of roles. Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, makes bones hard and is needed by the nervous system and muscles.

The USDA recognized that one size does not fit all and created an online interactive food guidance system which provides an individual approach to making healthy food choices that consider an individual’s calorie need based on age, gender and physical activity level.

This activity allows students to learn about food selections and to compare their own diets to the USDA recommendations for a healthier diet.

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

  • Comparing

  • Interpreting information in charts and tables

  • Modeling

Materials and Setup

Materials per Student

  • Highlighters or markers

  • Copy of previously completed food list from the activity, "Servings and Choices."

  • Copy of "Serving Sizes and Calories" sheet (see "Lesson Media" tab, above)

  • Copies of student sheets (see Lesson PDF)


  1. Have students bring in their previously completed food lists from the activity, "Servings and Choices."

  2. Have students work alone or in teams.

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Begin with a class discussion. Ask, Are calories the only important part of what someone eats? Would it be healthy to eat only chocolate? How about lettuce? Or hamburgers? Why do you think it’s important to eat different kinds of foods?

  2. Distribute copies of the “My Pyramid” page to each student. Tell students that the different sections on the pyramid represent the five food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains, meat and beans, and milk), with one additional section representing oils (fats).

  3. Give students time to read the “My Pyramid” sheet. Ask them to highlight or underline any statements or foods that are surprising or interesting. Encourage students to use resources available on the Internet (such as to learn more about foods that are new to them.

  4. Next, distribute the remaining student sheets. Tell students that, first, they will figure out how much food they should be eating from each food group, based on age and activity level. This information can be determined from the tables on the “Daily Amounts” sheet and entered in the first column of the “My Plan” sheet.

  5. Once students have filled in the amounts they ideally should eat from each food group, have them use the daily menu they created in the activity "Servings and Choices," and all available information to estimate the amounts from each food group that are represented in their menus. This information should be written in the second column on the “My Plan” page.

    Make students aware that some items on their lists may fall into more than one food category. For example, a large portion of lasagna might count as two grain servings (noodles), one milk serving (cheese), one-half vegetable serving (tomato sauce), and one meat and beans serving (ground beef or sausage).

  6. Ask, How do your selections compare to your recommended daily amounts? Are there any foods that you need to increase or decrease?

  7. Finally, have students create a healthier eating plan based on what they learned. The healthier eating plan should be outlined in the third column on the “My Plan” sheet.


  • Have students access the Internet and go to Students can use the interactive features to calculate the number of servings they should have from each food group and use this information fill in the first column of the “My Plan” sheet.

  • Students also can use additional resources on to learn more about the food groups and appropriate portion sizes.

  • Have students read and discuss “The Science of Nutrition Research” on page 6.

Handouts and Downloads

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

Daily Amounts

Student sheet from the activity, "Your Nutrition Needs," with information to figure personal daily recommended amounts from the different food groups.

My Plan

Student sheet from the activity, "Your Nutrition Needs," to use for daily meal planning (see Setup).

My Pyramid

Student sheet from the activity, "Your Nutrition Needs," describing a food pyramid and the different food groups, daily recommended servings from each group, and examples of serving sizes.

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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.