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Unit 2, Activity 6: Food Guides, Food Synergy and Nutrition


Activity Description/Rationale 

The guiding questions of this lesson are: what is “good” nutrition and how do you identify it? Is eating well the same as eating healthily? Is a food’s nutritional value equal to the sum of its nutrients? What is food synergy? Students will create their own virtual meals, and analyze their nutritional value, using the knowledge and understanding about nutrients, additives, and labels they’ve gained from Activity 4 and 5, as well as new knowledge about food synergy and cultural differences in perceptions of nutrition. This activity moves up in scale from nutrients and additives to meals, diets, and culture. 



Students will…

- identify multiple definitions of good nutrition and their key markers

- know what the concepts of food synergy and nutritionism are and understand how they compare

- reflect on their own nutritional choices


Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation



1.    plates (any material, reusable preferable, 1 per group)

2.   printouts of food images, cut around the outline of the foods so that only the foods themselves are visible (i.e. no white background)

Estimated Time of Activity
50 minutes

Students will have become familiar with different cultural definitions of good nutrition, food synergy, and nutritionism from the readings.

Activity Instructions

1.    Warm Up/Do Now (10 min):  Ask students to individually answer the following questions: * do you eat well? * do you eat healthily? * how do you know whether or not you do?  Then discuss their answers as a class, taking a poll of how many students think they do and do not eat well, and writing down the indicators they use.  Explain that they are about to do an activity that highlights these questions in greater detail.

2.   Group Work (15 min):  Make a meal.  Have student groups create a meal (or several meals if each student wants to make their own) that appeal(s) to them by choosing foods from a pile of printouts of a variety of foods (e.g. whole produce items, meat with and without name brand or grocery store labels, spices, conventional and organic/natural name brand meals and condiments) and placing them on the plates at their tables.  To make the activity even more interesting, and to further connect to the question of food synergy vs. isolated nutrients, you could also include dietary supplements (e.g. protein powders, vitamins and minerals, amino acids).  After the groups come up with one or a few meals, ask them to evaluate them based on the food guides they reviewed for homework.  Ask them to answer the following questions: * do the meals fit the criteria for good eating based on any of the guides? * which ones and why? * how much of each meal is whole foods, and how much is processed foods (and how much is dietary supplements, if applicable)?

3.   Whole Class Discussion (20 min):  Ask student groups to share their meal choices with the rest of the class.  Make a chart on the board of how many meals fit each guide’s criteria and why.  Ask students whether they were surprised by which meals fit which guides’ criteria, and whether they chose things that they wanted to eat or that they should eat (or both).  Discuss.  Then have students draw pie diagrams on the board displaying the portions of each meal that are whole foods, processed foods, and dietary supplements (if applicable).  Ask students if they think that these proportions are good, bad or neutral and why.  Then pick a few roughly nutritionally equivalent food pairs, one whole food and one processed food, from the meals the student groups chose (they don’t have to be from the same meal or same group).  Ask students whether the two foods would have an equivalent effect on their bodies and minds.  [For example, ] Discuss.

4.   Wrap-up (5 min):  Pose the question “is eating well the same thing as eating healthily?” and discuss it briefly.  Tell students to elaborate on their answers for homework in a short essay (~1 pg), referencing the food guides, food synergy and nutritionism.

- look over the beginning of Reader F4
in Solar One’s Green Design Lab: Food (already read for Activity 4)

- read p. 1-top of 3 (stopping at “Influences on Food Choice”) in “Diet and Influences on Food Choice: Background Reading”, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s Teaching the Food System curriculum, Unit 3 (

Assessment and Reflection
The Warm Up/Do Now assesses students’ understanding of nutrients and additives by asking them to think about how nutrients and additives affect our satisfaction and health.  The Group Work and Whole Class Discussion assess how well students incorporate of new knowledge of different cultures’ food guides and food synergy with their understanding of nutrients and additives to think about nutrition at a larger scale – meals and diets.  The homework assignment is a continuation of the Warm Up/Do Now, and both assesses students understanding of the complexity of meals and diets (i.e. nutrients, additives, proportions, synergy, cultural influences) and asks them to reflect on this complexity.

Instructor’s Notes

You could assign additional reading: articles in the “Modern Diseases” section of Weston A. Price Foundation’s website (