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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Play with Food: A Game Teaches Healthy Diets

Kids can be card sharks when it comes to teaching nutrition.
By Abby Christopher, Mike Faden
Credit: Yvetta Fedorova

Adults know a glass of orange juice trumps a Dr Pepper, but when they try to convey this fact to kids, it's just like adult-speak out of a Peanuts cartoon: Wahwah wah wah wah-waaah. But a game that the kids create themselves and play in groups might just give you a shot at getting a few nutritional nuggets across. That's why we've made up Go Eat!, a meal-planning game for kids ages 7-10, based on Go Fish!

Credit: Yvetta Fedorova

Players:

Arranged in several teams of four to six people

Object of the Game:

Each player on a team tries to create a representation of a day's balanced diet by collecting one card per food group, for a total of five cards. The first team to collect a week's worth of balanced meals wins the game.

Preparation:

A lot of the fun is in the process of creating the card deck. For this step, you'll need crayons or markers, uncolored construction paper cut into large same-size triangles (substitute with index cards if you like), and handouts about the five food groups and the new U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid (see box below). You'll need ten cards for each student, so a team of five kids would create fifty cards, ten of each food group. (This process could take a while; consider combining the activity with "Make a Sketch: The Importance of Art in Education.")

First, ask the students to label and color-code the cards according to food group. These are the colors the USDA's new food pyramid uses (we've omitted fats and sweets for the purposes of this game):

Blue: milk and other dairy products
Purple: protein (what the USDA calls "meat and beans")
Green: vegetables
Red: fruits
Orange: grains

Once each team has labeled and color-coded its cards, the cards from each teammate get combined into a single deck. Players take turns flipping over each card and reading the name of a food group, while teammates call out names of foods that are in that group and a designated person makes a list. No repeats allowed. The kids can do this with or without handouts, as long as they have a common point of reference, such as chapters covered in class or on a Web site you've reviewed.

After all the cards have been gone through, the deck gets split up equally among teammates. Using the list as a guide, kids break out the crayons or markers again and draw pictures of the foods on the corresponding cards. If you want to get more complicated, list the recommended amount of each food per day on the cards (for eight-year-olds, two cups of veggies, five cups of grains, et cetera).

Credit: Yvetta Fedorova

Play:

Each player gets dealt five cards. The rest of the cards are spread out -- like a pond -- face down in the middle of the playing area. The player to the left of the dealer starts the game. Unless she's lucky enough to be holding a card for each of the five food groups, she asks any other player on her team for a card that she needs. If the person asked has the card, the person has to hand it over. If not, the person says, "Go eat!" The player looking for the card fishes in the pile, takes a card, and discards one that she doesn't want, mixing it in among the other cards. The player to her left takes the next turn, and so on. When a player has a full house, she calls out, "Let's eat!" She then receives another five cards from the dealer and keeps playing.

The first team to collect a full five days of balanced meals wins the game. Just make sure you don't give out candy prizes!

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