What's something we do every day that presents the perfect opportunity for a cross-curricular unit study for everyone in the family, from toddlers to teens?
Teaching nutrition in your homeschool
Food is right in front of us every day, and eating food paves the way for a unit study on nutrition that will bring your kids to the table—for learning!
While learning about nutrition is great for teens and tweens, younger kids and even preschoolers who are tagging along can enjoy some of the hands-on aspects of learning about the foods we eat and their impact on culture and health.
Below you will find a spine for a unit study on nutrition with more than 20 topics you can cover—including some you haven't thought of—that include ideas for field trips, books, co-op guest speakers, service opportunities, hands-on activities, videos, and more.
And, of course, we have ideas for cooking nutritious meals together.
We've also compiled nutrition resources including websites, online lesson plans, interactive games, curriculum and videos.
Kids are often intimately involved with food—from picking out favorite snacks, bringing in groceries, learning to scramble eggs, and deciding on foods they will and won't eat.
A unit study on nutrition capitalizes on kids' and teens' natural familiarity with food, giving them opportunities to learn science, health, media literacy, and social studies—not to mention providing possibilities for practicing reading skills and critical thinking skills.
How to create a nutrition unit study
You can build a semester or a full-year study of nutrition, taking one-to-three weeks to cover each of these topics. You could study nutrition within your co-op, for an individual child, or for children in a range of ages in your family, with each child learning at their own level. Here are a few methods you can use:
- Watch documentaries. Today, there are many documentaries about food (preview them first; some include graphic depictions or discussions of factory farming and meat processing; others are clearly not children's films for other reasons).
- Take foodie field trips. There are also wonderful field trip opportunities:
- farmers markets
- food co-ops
- organic farms
- natural food stores
- mainstream grocery stores
- restaurants with an international or specialty menu
- pick-your-own fruit and vegetable farms and orchards
- Invite guest speakers. If you are creating the unit study for a co-op class or homeschool group, invite guest speakers.
- A breastfeeding mom can responsively nurse her baby as she talks about benefits for her little one. (This would also work just on an informal friend-to-friend basis for your own family).
- A local chef or cooking teacher might talk about (or demonstrate!) making foods from scratch.
- A farmer can talk about challenges they face getting high quality food to market.
- Grow, pick, or preserve food. Try a hands-on opportunity. These jobs can be big for those with a large family garden, but kids can also participate on a small scale to understand how food gets into the freezer or can in the first place! Kids can help:
- tend a community garden plot
- can vegetables or freeze blackberries
- gather food at a pick-your-own orchard or farm
- Volunteer and work. Teens may be able to volunteer and younger kids help alongside you:
- in a community food drive, soup kitchen, or food pantry
- by preparing meals for less able neighbors and relatives
- at a local food co-op, helping to sort orders or make deliveries
- by assembling farmers' harvest boxes or delivering them to subscribers
- by delivering for Meals on Wheels, providing food for senior citizens
- by working together to provide food in hard times through an organization like Lasagna Love
- by gleaning from orchards, farmers' fields, restaurants, and grocery stores, as allowed
- Learn about nutrition labels. Help your kids understand how to decipher food labels and let them compare the nutrition content of foods in the house and at the store.
- Have a shared meal. Conduct some basic menu-planning and cooking instruction with your kids, for a couple of families, or for your co-op, and enjoy the fruits of your labor together.
- Find food news. Ask kids to start looking for "food in the news" stories and discuss to help kids think about nutrition in a discerning way. Share food news you find.
Topics for a nutrition unit study
Here are some possible topics you could cover in your unit study. Use the questions to guide exploration in your family or co-op class. As you consider each topic, think about the cross-curricular nature of the content (food and nutrition can cover science, history, geography, civics, economics, physical education, math, marketing, agriculture, art, and more).
- Fast food. How is it produced? How does its nutrition compare to home cooked meals? What is the role of fast food in our economy? How does our lifestyle contribute to the proliferation of fast food eating?
- Food advertising. How are our eating choices influenced by ads on television and the internet?
- School lunches. How do schools decide what to serve children? Who influences the content of school lunches?
- Nutrients we need. What exactly does a person need each day in protein, vitamins, minerals, water, fat, and carbohydrates? When do we need to supplement with vitamins? Is a daily vitamin a good idea for "insurance?" What would the ideal diet look like for a growing teen compared to a toddler or an adult? How does our diet affect the way our bodies work?
- Vegetarianism. Why do some people choose to be vegetarian? What are differences between a vegan diet and other vegetarian diets? How do vegetarians get enough protein and eat healthfully? What are some easy-to-prepare vegan and vegetarian meals?
- Food production. How does food production affect the environment? Why do some countries have chronic food shortages? How is food produced differently by family farms and factory farms? What foods can we produce at home?
- Organic, natural, and genetically modified foods. What do these designations mean? Who controls what qualifies for the designations? Does it make a difference if we eat them? How does their production affect the environment?
- Food labels. How do we interpret the information on a food label? How could food labels be improved to give more useful information? How has food labeling changed over the years?
- Food recalls and food safety. What are the common reasons that food has been recalled because of health and safety risks? How do you determine if food in your refrigerator, freezer, or pantry is part of a recall? What are the laws and regulations governing food processing? What steps do you take in your own kitchen to prevent food-borne illness as you prep and store food at home?
- Cooking and preserving. How do I prepare healthy food that tastes good? How do I store it safely? How do I make jelly and pickles?
- Foraging and hunting. Are there natural foods that I can gather and eat in our locale? Is hunting animals for food common in our area?
- Local foods. What is the "locavore" movement? Does my area have harvest boxes and farmers markets? Does the farmers market ensure food is really local?
- Health, weight management, exercise. What is a calorie? How are food intake and exercise inter-related? What is the philosophy behind different weight loss diets, such as Atkins and Weight Watchers? What contributes to obesity? What health-related problems are associated with being overweight?
- Disordered eating. What are anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia? How does body image relate to disordered eating? What are the social pressures around body image (magazine and internet advertising, social media, clothing models, film)? What should I do if I suspect a friend or family member is showing signs of disordered eating? If I think I need to lose or gain weight, what should I do?
- Treats, candy, and desserts. What is the role of sweets in our diets? What happens to our bodies when we eat foods with a lot of sugar and fat? Should we avoid all desserts or eat them in moderation? Are there desserts with unprocessed foods that are healthier? What kinds of foods were served as desserts at different points in history?
- Food additives. What is the history and development of artificial sweeteners, modified fats, preservatives, and colors found in processed foods? Do these pose a risk to us? Why do food companies add them? Are they legal in all countries? Have regulations changed?
- Breastfeeding. How does breastfeeding help a baby get off to a good start? What are the advantages for the mother? If breastfeeding is difficult, where should parents turn for information? How long should a baby breastfeed?
- Food allergies and sensitivities. What are common food allergens? Does anyone in our family or group have allergies to nuts, gluten intolerance, or sensitivity to dairy foods? How can we enjoy meals together with people who may have limitations on what they can eat?
- International and cultural considerations. How do people in different cultures and countries eat differently? How did their history and geography shape their diets? How healthy are the diets in other countries? What happens as countries "westernize" their diets when they become more developed? What is the importance of food preparation and family meals in other countries? How do inadequate diets in some countries affect children's growth and people's lifespans?
- Food and money. How much of our family's budget goes for food eaten at home or eaten at restaurants? How do food producers make money with "value added" products? Is it cheaper to eat food prepared at home? Why do food prices sometimes change? What is the history of government and non-profit programs to feed people who do not have the money for adequate nutrition? What does "food insecurity" mean? What are "food deserts"?
- Y—Young (PreK-3rd)
- M—Middle (4th-6th)
- O—Older (7th-12th)
- T—Teacher Resources
Nutritious cooking with kids and teens
Now You're Cooking (Y,M)
Learn what age-appropriate tasks your kids can do when you're making these simple, nutritious recipes with help from your kids. From North Dakota State University Extension
Now You're Cooking—with Teens (O)
Also from North Dakota State University Extension, this site tells teens how to make a basic white sauce, a basic dough, and a basic smoothie—and how to transform them into mac & cheese, pizza, and a fruit-of-the-day smoothie.
Chefs in Training (Y,O)
National Institutes of Health has tips for engaging kids in the kitchen along with nutritious, heart-healthy recipes and snacks. (Grapesicles, anyone?)
Salt Fat Acid Heat (M,O)
This website, from the author of the bestselling cook book by the same name, also leads to an engaging four-episode Netflix series that tours the world to show how these four elements figure in each cuisine.
Learn to Cook (M,O)
YouTube series covering cooking basics from Hilah Cooking
The Cultured Chef (Y,M)
The international recipes at The Cultured Chef are a great way to bring social studies into your nutrition unit. Be sure to check out their educator resources for downloads covering kitchen basics and world cultures as well as information about cultural events.
For more on cooking, you'll find resources for a homeschool cooking curriculum on TheHomeSchoolMom's Cooking page. It includes lots of free homeschool activities and lesson plans that will allow you to enliven nutrition lessons with cooking sessions!
Nutrition, cooking & culture
These resources will help you bring social studies, geography, and history into your nutrition unit study. Please note that not every video in these large collections has been previewed, so please preview them for suitability for your family.
Tasting History (M,O)
Max Miller makes historic and cultural dishes while exploring their history in this YouTube series
Ancient Recipes with Sohla (M,O)
In this YouTube playlist from The History Channel, Sohla El-Waylly covers recipes like Cleopatra's favorite foods, Napoleon's favorite dessert, and King Tut's Egyptian flatbread.
This YouTube channel dedicated to the 18th Century lifestyle has dozens of food-related playlists that cover topics like The Working Man's Meal; Ships, Sailors, and Naval Rations; Winter Survival Food, and more.
Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (M,O)
In this streaming series available on Hulu, Padma Lakshmi takes audiences "on a journey across America, exploring the rich and diverse food culture of various immigrant groups, seeking out the people who have so heavily shaped what American food is today. From indigenous communities to recent immigrant arrivals, Padma breaks bread with Americans across the nation to uncover the roots and relationship between our food, our humanity and our history - ultimately revealing stories that challenge notions of identity, belonging, and what it means to be American."
Raddish Kids Lesson Plans (Y,M)
These robust printable lesson plans can expand your nutrition unit to cover the geography and culture of Spain, Greece, Philippines, Sweden, and Morocco.
A site that provides articles on healthy eating and nutrition by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Site includes healthy recipe videos, importance of vitamins, information on food groups, food safety tips, and more.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
A comprehensive collection of resources on healthy eating and nutrition. Includes articles, an informational database on different terms and food types, and information on sustainability in food production.
Health Educator’s Nutrition Toolkit: FDA
A teaching toolkit for nutrition and healthy eating educators, created by the Food and Drug Administration. Guides on how to teach students how to read nutritional labels and understand the information on them, helpful print-outs and fact sheets and more.
Action for Healthy Kids
A large resource site providing direction to dozens of nutrition related sites.
Lesson Plans for The Power of 3: Get Healthy with Whole Grain Foods
This school-based curriculum available from the University of Minnesota Extension Service is designed to increase intake of whole grain foods by elementary school students in grades 3 to 6. Includes activities, fact sheets, handouts, articles, and more.
My Plate Kids Place
Dozens of activity sheets and interactive games to help teach a younger audience about nutrition and healthy eating. Teaches differences in diets across the world, as well as flash cards for healthy foods and much more. From ChooseMyPlate.gov.
Nutrition Education Games
From HealthyEating.org, brought to you by Dairy Council of California. Committed to elevating the health of children and families through the pursuit of lifelong healthy eating habits. Provides lessons, quizzes, games, activities, hand outs, and more for Grades 3-12.
Food Safety Education For Kids & Teens
Be Food Safe Activity Book, Food Safety at Home Podcasts, Food Safety Mobile Game, safe food preparation tips, and more. From the USDA.
Publications and Educational Resources - Fruits & Vegetables
A large collection of PDF articles on growing your own healthy food. Provides information on what type of soil is best for certain plants, growing seasons, fertilizer needs, and much more. From the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Find out how to take care of your body, eat healthy, and stay fit with hundreds of articles providing information on healthy eating, good hygiene, various illnesses, and more. From KidsHealth.org.
Food Is Elementary
Food is Elementary (FIE) is a unique and vibrant curriculum introduced into schools and communities that teach children about food, nutrition, culture, and healthy living. Provides licensed curriculum, a blog with outdoor activity guides, videos, and articles on healthy eating.
Grain Facts for Kids
A simplified encyclopedic article on different types of grains. Provides a wealth of information on each type of grain including history, production, cultivation, nutrition, health benefits, and more! From Kiddle.
A large collection of lesson plans for teacher to help students learn the basics about cereal grains. They will learn the main seven types of grains, the nutritional value found in cereal, and they will cook with a grain. From the Utah Education Network.
Harvest of Fear
If you are including lessons of health and nutrition in your homeschool, don't miss this PBS website about the controversial topic of genetically modified (GM) foods. There is an accompanying teacher's guide for educators linked at the bottom, interviews from Farmers and Scientist, and links to more information about BioTech.
Science Fair and STEM Projects Using Fruits and Vegetables
E-book guide with teacher tips and student projects for grades 3-8; free registration with email required.
Metabolism & Nutrition Lessons
Lesson plans for high school, AP high school, and college students, covering topics like lactose intolerance and the molecular structure of fat. From BioInteractive.
The Science Learning Hub Food Lessons and Resources
The Science Learning Hub | Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao is a publicly-funded educational website for science in New Zealand. You can find tons of explainer articles, videos, diagrams, interactives, science projects, and activities on food, nutrition, food science, food production, food safety, and more.
Cookbooks for a nutrition unit study
Bonus meal prep resource—for parents
While you're in the kitchen thinking about nutrition and cooking, you might have feeding your family on your mind.
And, after all, feeding your family while homeschooling is the homeschool challenge nobody warns you about.