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Unit 2, Activity 5: Additives and Labels

Activity Description/Rationale 

The guiding questions of this activity are: what information do and don’t food labels contain? What other substances are in foods besides nutrients, and how much of them are there?  It focuses on students developing their understanding whole and processed foods in their entirety, beginning with identifying all the ingredients present and their quantities.  It also encourages students to question and re-imagine food labels. 


Students will…

- identify what information is and isn’t included on food labels

- understand why food labels contain the information they do

- reinforce their identification of lesser known nutrients that are in foods but not listed on labels

- identify what substances are in food besides nutrients


Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation



  1. design supplies (markers, crayons, rulers, protractors, etc.) and multiple sheets of paper per group
  2. food labels used for the homework assignment (students will bring in)
  3. internet access for each student group (e.g. laptop, tablet)

Estimated Time of Activity
50 minutes

Students will have become familiar with types of food additives (e.g. preservatives, flavors, emulsifiers) and the basic origins and purposes of food labels through the homework readings.  They will also know some nutrients that are not included on nutrition labels (e.g. omega fatty acids, subtypes of vitamins, some trace minerals) from the previous activity’s homework readings.

Activity Instructions

  1. Warm Up/Do Now (10-15 min): Take a class poll of Part One of the homework assignment to see how many students’ selected amounts of food were more, less or equal to the serving sizes.  Ask the students whether serving size suggestions affect the serving sizes they choose.  Then ask them to briefly look over Part Two and think about whether the nutritional information they collected from the label or by deduction would affect their choice of whether or not to eat the respective foods. Last, ask what information is not included on the label and perhaps not in their analysis of the unlabeled food, and why might this be the case. 
  2. Group Work (20-25 min): Create your own label activity.  Have student groups create their own food labels, choosing the food, choosing what substances to include (can be nutrients and non-nutrients like water, fiber, and food additives), determining daily values for each substance, and designing the format of the label (it can have any shape, pattern, color scheme, etc.).  They should use the internet to obtain the information they need for calculating daily values (e.g. what levels of food additives are safe or perhaps even beneficial for humans, what levels of additives are in their chosen  the necessary amounts of lesser known nutrients, water content of certain foods, etc.). 
  3. Wrap-up/Whole Class Discussion (10-15 min): Have each student group briefly present their label and explain them.  Ask the class whether the new labels would affect their decisions to eat the foods, or the quantities of the foods they would eat. 

- look over the USDA’s MyPlate (, Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Plate and Pyramid ( and Oldways’ Heritage Pyramids (

- read [reading] in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food

Assessment and Reflection
The Warm Up/Do Now assesses students’ prior understanding of how they (and people in general) can use information on food labels, and both their prior knowledge and knowledge gained from Activity 4 about lesser known nutrients.  The Group Work and Wrap-up assess students’ knowledge and understanding of other substances in foods besides nutrients.

Instructor’s Notes

You could assign additional readings from the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website section on Traditional Diets (