Friday, January 23, 2015

The Food Pyramid Experiment

For those of you who don't know, I'm a teacher. I teach mainly 5th and 6th grade, but I also spend a bit of each week teaching 1st and 2nd graders. I teach the 1st and 2nd graders English, and I teach the 5th and 6th graders in English. What I mean by that is, I teach geometry, history, science, geography and art/music IN English - that way, the children learn English naturally. {And it works pretty well, too!}

As part of my science curriculum, I talk about nutrition. I have a hard time teaching children that the food pyramid is the correct way to eat, so I always made a point to compare MANY different food pyramids {Mediterranean, vegetarian, traditional...} to show my students that there is no one "right" way to eat.

An example of a widely-accepted food pyramid here in Belgium - this one coming from the University of Louvain.
As you can see, it's much like the USDA food pyramid - heavy on grains, light on fats.

This year, I decided to ask my students to build their own personal food pyramid, based on what they actually eat in an average day. We listed the following food groups and tallied up the number of times per day we ate something from each category: Grains, Dairy, Veggies, Starchy Veggies, Fruits, Proteins, Fats, Sweets & Others. {Note: these aren't actual "portions", and though I doubt most children had more than portion of veggies when they counted a vegetable in their day, it's more than likely their grain portions should be much higher as one slice of bread is considered a portion and most of them have at least two slices in the morning and two at noon.}

The resulting pyramids were horrific. First off, most children didn't include their "Sweets & Others" category, because they were too ashamed to see it at the bottom of their food pyramid. Most of those who did include it, put it at the top, where is traditionally is found, and simply did not write their servings number.

Some examples of the food pyramids produced by my students.

Secondly, most of the children only eat one serving of vegetables per day. One. They looked at my like I was an alien when, upon drawing my example pyramid on the board, they saw that I eat veggies 3-4 times per day {I didn't bother explaining that most of them time I eat multiple portions per meal as well.}

Third, none of them seemed overly worried about their pyramids. When we analysed them as a class, the only improvements they found that could be made were to reduce the amounts of sweets they eat. Not a single one thought about adding veggies or even fruit. 

When I went a bit deeper with the analysis, asking about our macro- and micro-nutrient needs, they all seemed convinced that one serving of vegetables per day was adequate for their needs.

And this is where my job gets tricky... all I can do is tell them they need more veggies and hope they will eat more. But in the end, it's really up to their parents.

Regardless of the diet you follow, the food pyramid you take as example and the lifestyle you lead, everyone needs veggies. 

My only hope is that the new food pyramid, due out in Belgium sometime this year, will help awaken parents to that fact.

There is still improvements to be made, but at least the fruits and veggies have traded places with the grains - and instead of suggesting we eat "little" fats, we are now allowed "moderate" amounts. Slowly but surely...


  1. I think in general, people need a massive re-educaiton on food and health, even for those who think they 'eat healthy' all the time. Your lesson proved this. *big sigh* it's going to take decades before our way of eating is recognised as healthy and beneficial by all.

    1. So true - my only hope is that this "paleo generation" will raise their kids to eat more veggies - and that, exponentially, more and more veggies will be eaten.