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Iceberg Lettuce, Dark Chocolate, and Trail Mix: Food Q&A with 7th Graders

Food Q&A in middle school. I bet you’ve wondered about some (or all) of this…

Agriculture is everywhere. It’s a topic that cuts across so many other topics, and it’s amazing to see the interest at all ages for this. To help put agriculture into context from a health and well-being point of view, I am on the Cook County Farm Bureau Agriculture Literacy Advisory Group. It was through this work that I had the good fortune to be invited into two 7th grade Family and Consumer Sciences classes this week. The topic? A personal favorite (and one I have training in 🙂 ) – food, nutrition, and agriculture.

I started by introducing myself and asked the students what they thought a dietitian was and where we might work. My favorite answer(s): They said they think I help people with their diets and work on a farm. We talked about all the things dietitians might do, particularly focusing on helping people make informed decisions to help support their health goals.

To get the creative juices flowing as the classes settled in, and knowing we only had a short time together, I started at the beginning of the story.

Food comes from agriculture. In fact, you might say it’s why agriculture was invented – to ensure a safe, affordable, year ’round food supply. Way back before refrigerators and grocery stores, what we valued in food was a different conversation than it is today.

Salt used to preserve our food when we needed a way to do it (you know, before the refrigerator). Think about how we talk about – and use – salt now.

Home canning helped save what we grew in summer to make sure we had food in winter. Think about the role canned goods play in our weekly menus now.

I wanted to give the students some additional a-ha moments and catch their attention. So I went for a little home team advantage:

Abraham Lincoln established the USDA when he was president. #LandofLincoln

Popcorn (a yummy whole grain!), is our state snack

We grow something in all five food groups in Illinois

balanced eating plant based

My Plate was the overarching star of the session, and I knew they had learned about this tool previously, so my plan was to focus on implementation. What does this Plate thing actually do for a person?

My, was this the right conversation to have with these fun and curious kids. I was inspired by their great questions…The thing is, this is not specific to 7th grade. I have had similar conversations with adults.

Most important take away: It’s okay to like what you like. Don’t feel bad about it! Just get informed. If you know it’s not as nutritionally superior as another food, but you don’t like that other food, find ways to improve upon the one you like. Buddy system. It’s not really ever just about one food. it’s about portion, balance, and the totality of our choices.

Here we go (and to avoid a super lengthy post, you are getting the condensed version and just a few of the many questions we covered):

My (trick) question: What is the most important food group?

Their answer: Protein

My answer: All of them! My Plate is basically the visual representation of the science we know about nutrition and food today. It is intended to be an easy reference to bring the Dietary Guidelines to life. Each food group is important for the nutrient mix the foods bring, and each choice within each group has a unique “bundle” of nutrition, so variety is key. Don’t just pile one thing high on your plate. Have a little of 2 or 3 food groups at each meal or snack to help get the balance you need.

My question: Do you use My Plate to help you plan meals?

Their answer: What? No.

My answer: See above – multiple food groups versus one giant pile of one thing. This is how you can easily and efficiently help ensure you have a chance of getting the nutrients you need to not only survive, but thrive in mental and physical tasks.

Their question: Is dark chocolate really good for us and better than other chocolate? It’s not as tasty to me.

banana cherry kiwi dessert
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

My answer: Chocolate, in particular dark chocolate, does have some antioxidants, as do other foods like fruits and vegetables– there are many types of antioxidants, so it’s important to eat a variety of food, and especially important to eat a variety of colors of fruits and veggies. Because chocolate tends to be a higher calorie choice, portion control is key. If you don’t like dark chocolate, try chocolate covered fruits or nuts.

Their question: What could I eat after school before practice?

nuts fruit mix
Image by Annette Meyer from Pixabay

My answer: If it is going to sit in your locker or backpack all day (with no refrigeration), remember food safety in addition to nutrition. A trail mix made with cereal, dried fruit, and nuts would provide three food groups, be easy to eat, and be appropriate for transit to school and practice. (be mindful of allergies at all times with choices) PS – he told me he loved trail mix, so was super happy with this answer as I clarified what I meant by “trail mix”.

Their question: Is eating iceberg lettuce basically chewing water?

salad tomato cucumber parsley
Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay

My answer: No! Iceberg lettuce does indeed contain nutrition. Yes, it’s true that it’s not as super packed as darker greens like spinach, but that doesn’t make it bad.  It’s super crispy, mild in flavor, and pairs well with its veggie and fruit friends. So…to make this favorite better, add other veggies you like, and your total intake can be a nice mix of nutrition with a lettuce you love. Really, no food is “perfect” on its own. Remember the buddy system so you can confidently eat favorites and care for your nutrient needs.

Special thanks to both my host teacher and all the students. I wish everyone reading this could have joined us for class. There is so much to talk about when it comes to our food!

Farmers raise and grow it all for us, and we get so much from the choices we make.

What food do you love that you want to learn more about?



By Kim Kirchherr

I am a dietitian working in food and fiber (agriculture) through retail, addressing opportunities to make things better for people and planet.