Health,  Teacher Reflection

Nutrition: what do you eat? How do you teach kids about food?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFood Chain by The Slushey One licensed by CC BY NC

Nutrition is a big focus in our curriculum at UNIS Hanoi.  I teach this unit to Grade 7 students every year and the challenge is to figure out what to teach and how to spend our precious 10 hours or so.

The last two years, I decided to do too much take a different direction and try and step out into some new territory or to share familiar topics in a new way.  My inspiration came a little from watching Jamie Oliver’s TED talks speech where he was awarded a prize from TED for his work.  If you haven’t seen his video, I strongly suggest that you take 20 minutes and see him for yourself.

Oliver’s speech inspired me to look at some key ideas with my students.  I used my first lesson to watch and to stop along the way and discuss and just interpret some of what he says or shows as some of the concepts escaped them a little.   The main ideas we took were:

  • Generational eating is changing – what our parents and grandparents ate or how food was prepared is changing.
  • Sugar, salt and fat/oils are much more dominant
  • Education about food is shifting out of the home and into an unknown place (is it at school?  Is it at home?  Where is it?)
  • The Main Street of all towns/cities is changing to look very similar – how do we feel about this?
  • School canteens are shifting away from volunteers to businesses making money – nutrition is not the prime concern.  And this is also reflected in our supermarkets.
  • Who needs to make some change here to see some of the issues decrease?

Armed with our new information we discussed what this means to us at our school in our city and country.  Vietnam doesn’t have many of the issues of the West (yet) but as we see Burger King and KFC, Starbucks and eventually MacDonald’s make their way here, no doubt we will see a change and it is this that we started talking about.

The next focus was about looking at what the Food Groups suggest we eat.  Food Groups have undergone quite a change since I learned about them at school.  It is possible to get quite a different number of them designed for different countries and cultures, but since Mrs Obama has made quite a deal out of Food and is the face of the MyPlate campaign, I investigated this online information and decided to use it.  (we also looked at the Asian Food Pyramid for reference).


MyPlate is awesome.  You might not be up for the graphics or the American way of websites, but for pure information, graphics, online quizzes or test and differentiated work (for grade levels) it is hard to beat.  I asked my kids to focus on researching only from this site, and I carefully directed them to pre-prepared booklets online with quiz questions and carefully organised sections for kids to read through and be a little curious about.  My students prepared information on Food Groups and learnt about: Fruit, Vegetables, Protein, Dairy and Grains.  We shared and pooled our ideas and information on Google Docs and then made Google Presentations that we peer assessed.

Next we kept a food diary using a resource online.  You can find an online journal or just ask the kids to write this down, I asked them to keep information on 3 days including 2 school days and a weekend day.  We talked about the fact that we were conducting an experiment and the estimations of portions so that they had some tangible things to write down and compare.   We then got together and discussed the difference between the school day and weekend and I then asked them to put one of their days into the Food Tracker.  Food Tracker is just that, you can input all your food and drink for each day and the portions and it tells you the relative amounts of each food group based on your age/gender/weight etc.  It is a great statistics tool and the kids were amazed to see what they were eating and how they went.  This process takes time and relies on a good internet link!  We then screenshot the graphs and information into their OneNote page and they wrote a small analysis – basically did they eat enough?  Which Food Groups (if any) were lacking and what did they get out of the exercise?  This then led to the next section.  Students who completed this quickly were asked to input their physical exercise/activity for the week into the Physical Activity Tracker and we discussed this as well.

Portion sizes was the next conversation looking at what we should eat and what we actually eat.  And we looked at our plates at home; school and then what we were eating outside of our homes at friend’s houses or if we ate out.  It was very clear that this was not something we had a lot of knowledge about!  We looked at lots of images and we discussed their food diaries.  As this is a focus of our Grade 10 unit, I introduced this concept but didn’t go in too deep.

My main focus was to look at Media.  I chose two giants of advertising here in Hanoi – Coca Cola and Oreos.  Almost all food related media centres around these two junk foods.  English had run a unit on interpreting Media and the questions we should ask ourselves when looking at advertising, and we used those in our unraveling of a series of ads.  You can find the video series of ads here. The ads centre around two characters – usually an adult (dad) and his son or daughter.  The child is in their space, usually their bedroom, and teaches their parent the “proper” way to eat an Oreo cookie.  As Oreo is/was a major sponsor of Basketball player, Yao Ming, the references here to “dunking” a cookie are also cleverly connected.  We studied these ads and looked at their target audience and how successful their campaign was in our view.

Then we looked at the nutritional value of an Oreo cookie, and I took care to do this on the official website for Oreo’s not on a different site. .  The kids were amazed that Oreo’s don’t contain anything good for them.  We had some interesting conversations about media, ad interpretation and nutritional content, oh and Jamie Oliver’s message from the start of our unit.

Coca Cola isn’t much better.  We looked at some of their ads, this is one of the favorite ones:


Coke’s main theme was around Happiness.  We looked at their ad campaign and then once again we looked at the nutritional content, from the official Coca Cola website.  Lots of discussion here linking to the high sugar levels, the shift from drinking water to drinking carbonated drinks and our friend Jamie Oliver again.

So, lastly I looked at a portion of the Super Size Me movie – just the section about how much money companies spend on their advertising.  I started the movie at about 44:08 til about 48:30.  This was a great way to discuss the way we are targeted by marketing and advertising, and draw this whole conversation together.  If you haven’t watched this documentary, it is worth watching about a social experiment that is just so wrong!  Could you eat MacDonald’s for a month straight?

I finished this unit with a test using still advertising images and nutritional labels from Coke and from Pringles (the third biggest culprit in Hanoi) and asked the kids to discuss the ads, the nutrition and whether we should sell these at our school canteen as well as advertise the products at our school and defend their decision.  The results were very interesting with some great ideas for and against.  What do you think:





Throughout the unit we had our G7 class blog rolling looking at some TED talk videos about Nutrition such as Graham Hill’s TED talk on why he is a weekday Vegetarian.  These provided some good discussions online too.

Overall this was a super unit and if you are interested in taking any ideas, I would be happy to help you out!


  • mhamada

    Hello Shelly! Thanks for reading and for sharing your story. Nutrition is a scary thing and it is great to read about the Family Cooking Club you are running. Is this for Elementary, Middle or High School or all? We have put out a Cookbook at our school, with interesting more International cuisine as we are a UN school, but the idea you have is awesome. I hope you are getting good support from your school and community! Thanks for the recommended resource, I will have to check it out. Cheers. Mel

  • Shelly Sharp

    Hi Mrs. Hamada, thank you for your blogs – lots of food for thought and some great perspectives that inspire me. Nutrition has been a real concern for me. 3 years ago I started our school Family Cooking Club. Its a 2.5 hour session, once a month for students and one or both parents. With the help of volunteer cooks and supervisors, parents and students prepare a meal that we all share. While the parents put the student prepped ingredients together, we go for a multi-age free play in the gym (just down the hall from the cafeteria where we cook. Its a really fun (and demanding) evening that combines play, exploration, skill development and learning as a community. We do 8 sessions a year, the last one being a potluck picnic. We’ve explored container gardening and my next undertaking is a cookbook. One really fun and helpful resource I’v enjoyed is Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think We Do.
    Cheers! Shelly

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