Helping your toddler understand nutrition: a “My Plate” activity

Helping Your Toddler Understand Nutrition - A My Plate ActivityIf I left it up to Little Man, every meal would consist of ice cream and cupcakes. I can’t blame him–sometimes I feel the same way. Still, part of my job as the mom is to help him understand the importance of eating a variety of foods (especially ones that are actually healthy).  I feel really strongly about my kids understanding the “why” behind the things I require of them, so several months ago I started looking for a fun, simple way to teach a three-year-old the basics of nutrition.

My goals were…

  1. to teach him that there are different types of foods that we can separate into groups.
  2. to help him understand that we need to eat foods from all the groups to keep our bodies healthy (and help us “grow tall like Daddy” as Little Man likes to say).

I needed something simple (he’s only three), and I didn’t want to put a lot of time into prepping the activity (because who has time for that?). I knew I wanted to use the “My Plate” guidelines from the USDA as the basis for our lesson, since they’re something he’ll see over and over again in the coming years, so I started there.

My Plate Graphic from choosemyplate.govThe USDA’s website has some great resources for kids. After looking around and getting inspired, here’s what I came up with for Little Man:

What you’ll need:

What we did:

  1. First, we read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Little Man loves this book (I think because he can identify with the caterpillar…always hungry!) We talked about why the caterpillar got sick (because he ate too much junk food).
  2. Then we talked about how there are lots of different kinds of food, and different kinds of food are good for our bodies in different ways. If we only ate one kind of food, our bodies would get sick.
  3. I showed him the My Plate poster, and I pointed to and named each of the food groups (e.g. – “the green group is for vegetables”). I asked him to repeat them to me, and then I “quizzed” him on the names of the groups to see how many he could remember.
  4. Then I showed him all the little pictures of food I had cut out. I let him pick one up and tell me what it was. I told him which group to put it in, and he glued it down (does anyone else’s child get absolutely giddy when gluing is involved? anyway…)
  5. We repeated this over and over as long as his attention held, making sure that we had foods in each of the groups.
  6. We glued the “extras” (junk food) in the bottom right corner of the paper and talked about how they don’t go on the plate because our body doesn’t need  them. We can eat them from time to time, but if we have too much, we’ll get sick, like the hungry caterpillar.

Here’s what it looked like when it was done:

My Plate Activity

And, really, that was it! So, so simple, but I was thrilled with how much Little Man seemed to enjoy it. We put the poster up on the wall in the kitchen where he can see it, and six months later, he still refers to “his plate.” This morning, as he was carrying his cereal bowl to the sink, he said to me, “Mom, I had grain and dairy!”

He often asks me what group a food we’re eating goes in, or he’ll ask what food group we haven’t eaten yet today. It’s been a great tool for talking about his food choices and explaining why I don’t want him to have cereal for breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner.

Give it a try!

Teaching Toddlers about Nutrition Cover copy copy


Today, I’m linking up over at Made by You Mondays by Skip to My Lou & Practical Mondays at The Practical Mom Blog.


3 thoughts on “Helping your toddler understand nutrition: a “My Plate” activity

  1. i explain it as milk & meats make you strong, veggies & fruits keep you healthy, rice & bread give you energy haha. Have tweeted & pinned to the practical mondays board 🙂

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