Nutrition Activity Booklet: I Am Growing

Along with Storybooks and activities to share with your preschoolers, try making simple food recipes, or do taste testing to slip nutrition into popular themes.
Nutrition Activity Booklet: I Am Growing - Articles


A Message to Those Who Care for Children:

Even young children can learn that nutritious foods and lots of exercise are important for growth and health. I Am Growing suggests many ways to convey this important message to children.

Parents and caregivers often complain about fussy eaters or children who want too much of one food. You can be a huge help in shaping children’s eating habits by giving positive messages about foods and providing encouragement to try new foods during meals and snacks. Often children in groups are much more willing to taste new foods than at home. And remember, children should be seeing you eat nutritious foods like vegetables and fruits.

Jill Patterson, Ph.D., Department of Nutritional Sciences, Penn State

Storybooks to Grow On

How Kids Grow by Jean Marzollo (Scholastic Inc., 1998). Photographs show children at different ages and stages ranging from birth to age 7 and describe what children can do at each stage. This book is a great discussion starter.

I’m Growing by Aliki (Troll Associates, 1992). A young boy compares his body now with how he looked as a baby and at-tributes the changes to the healthful foods he eats.

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus (Harper Collins Publishers, 1971). Leo is a little tiger who can’t seem to do anything right. Leo’s mother claims that Leo is just a late bloomer and “a watched bloomer doesn’t bloom.” Sure enough, in his own good time, Leo blooms.

Activities to Celebrate Growth

My, How I’ve Grown!

Fold an 11 x 17 inch piece of paper in half for each child. At the beginning of the year, have children draw pictures of themselves and write or trace their names on the front of the folded paper. Open the paper and trace the child’s hand and foot on the left-hand side. Also, record each child’s height. You may even want to include information such as their favorite food, color, or activity. Keep these papers until the end of the year. Repeat the same process on the right hand side. Have children draw and write or trace their names again on the back of the folded paper. Children delight in comparing the drawings and information from the beginning to the end of the year.

Make a Collage

Have children bring in magazine pictures of foods their families eat. Make a big poster titled: Foods that Help Me Grow. Try to make sure there are foods from the five food groups and only a few from the tip of the Food Guide Pyramid. Have your own pictures of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains on hand to include in the collage. Here are two messages to reinforce with children:

  1. all foods help you grow
  2. we need many different kinds of foods each day and each week to help us grow and stay healthy.

Taste Testing

Sampling pureed baby foods is sure to be a fun activity. Have children taste a baby food such as blended peaches and then taste the “grown-up” version of either canned or fresh sliced peaches. Strained carrots and carrot sticks would be another good comparison. Try to do this with foods from each food group. Children will be surprised by how much their taste buds have changed. Ask children why babies cannot eat “big kid” food. You can also make this into a charting activity as described in the Getting Started booklet.

Circle Time

Ask each parent to bring in a baby photo. Display the photos and have children try to guess who’s who. At circle time, have each child reveal their photo. Talk about how they have changed in size and ability. Be sure to attribute their mental and physical growth to eating a variety of healthy foods and exercising. Talk about foods they ate when they were babies and what they eat now.

Circle Time Growing Game

Have children crouch down on the floor. Instruct them to “grow” a little bit whenever you call out a food item that helps them grow. If a non-food item is called, the children should remain still. For example, call out “cheese” (children “grow” a little), “chair” (children remain still), “apples” (children grow a little), “airplanes” (children remain still), etc. Repeat until all of the children have “grown” as high as they can reach. Older preschoolers may enjoy taking a turn as the caller.

Books About Our Bodies and Food

What Happens to a Hamburger by Paul Showers (Harper Collins, 1985). Through simple pictures and text, digestion is described. The book discusses healthful foods and how they build strong bones and muscles. Skip pages and paraphrase to hold young children’s attention.

The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body by Joanna Cole (Scholastic Inc., 1989). There are plenty of text and images in this book from the popular series. Focus on digestion and pick and choose other parts that will interest your children.

How do our bodies use food?

Use these resources to explain in simple terms how we get the nutrients we need from foods.

What happens to food inside of us?

After snack or lunch, talk about what happens to food inside our bodies. Ask children to share their ideas. Clarify with this explanation of digestion. Illustrate it with an enlargement of the image at the right. Have on hand a piece of string 10 feet long to represent the length of the intestines of a child.

When we chew food, we are breaking it into little pieces. The pieces travel down the esophagus, which is like a pipe, to our stomach. Our stomach mixes the pieces into liquid mush. That mush goes to our small intestine, where it is broken down into pieces so tiny they can’t be seen with just our eyes. These tiny pieces are called nutrients. They go into the blood and travel all through the body to the places where they are needed. So when we drink milk, the nutrient called calcium goes into the blood. Then calcium travels to our bones and teeth to make them hard and help them grow. The parts of food that the body does not need go into the large intestine. We get rid of that waste when we go to the bathroom.

I know where food goes!

Once children have an idea about digestion, use this activity to let them test their understanding. You need a large, empty cereal box, a printout of the child’s digestive tract drawing above , small (1 inch x 1 inch) pictures of healthful foods, magnetic tape, and a magnetic wand or other strong magnet.

Remove the top of the cereal box so a child can reach in. Attach the image to the front of the box. Mount small pictures of foods onto tagboard and glue a small piece of magnetic tape to the back. To use, one child chooses a food and places it at the mouth. A second child uses the magnet inside the box to guide the food from the mouth through the digestive tract. Coach them to stop at the large intestine because now all the food is inside the body making us grow and stay healthy.

1-2-3 Trail Mix

Getting ready:

  • small, plastic, ziplock bags
  • two tablespoons and one teaspoon
  • bowls for each snack food
  1. Add 1 tablespoon of raisins.
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of sweet chips.
  3. Add 3 tablespoons of cereal.
  4. Add 4 pretzels.
  5. Add 5 dried banana chips.

Celebrate Healthy Eating and Exercise

This is a great rainy day activity. Download the activity page , then enlarge the 6 movement pictures on the page. Have children color them, then help children learn the rhyme below. Point to each picture so everyone can do the motion as they say the rhyme. Let each child choose a new one.

Your bones and muscles are growing strong.
Eat good foods and you can’t go wrong!
Now move your body, count 1, 2, 3…..
Come along and _______________ with me.

Rhyme by Carol Lebold.

Also enjoy reading the book From Head to Toe by Eric Carle (1999).

Family Nutrition News

How much do young children need to eat?

Most children do well with three meals and two to four snacks daily. Each day, children should eat a variety of food from the MyPyramid food guide. Use the recommendations below to plan for shopping and meals. A range of amounts is listed since younger children may eat less than older children; very active children may eat more than less active children. Al-low children to serve themselves whenever possible. Encourage small “first portions,” reassuring children that they can have “seconds” if they are still hungry and there is food left.

Offer foods from all five groups

Try to offer a few healthy choices from each group each day so your child will “choose healthy.” Within reason, your child can decide his/her own portion sizes.

Each day aim for:

  • Grains: 3 to 5 ounce equivalents. One ounce = 1 slice of bread; ½ cup noodles, grits or rice; 1 cup dry cereal. Half of the grains should be whole grains.
  • Vegetables: 1 to 1½ cups. Include a dark-green vegetable every day and a yellow, orange, or red vegetable several days a week.
  • Fruits: 1 to 1½ cups. Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits in extra lite juice are all good choices.
  • Milk: 2 cups. A portion of ½ cup milk = ½ cup yogurt or 1 slice of cheese. Most milk group choices should be low fat or fat free for children over 2 years of age.
  • Meat/Beans/Nuts: 2 to 4 ounces. One ounce of lean meat, poultry, or fish = 1 egg, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, ¼ cup cooked beans.

“He hardly eats anything…”

This is a common phrase uttered by the parents of many 2- to 6-year-olds. However, as long as checkups with your family’s doctor show your child is growing regularly, there is no need to worry. Children grow rapidly during infancy. During the preschool years, growth slows down a bit, and so does appetite. So, if a child hardly eats anything at a meal, don’t make a big deal of it. Tomorrow he/she may eat a lot more.

Food jags are normal

Food jags and food strikes are very common with 2- to 6-year-olds. Here are two tips that may help:

  • If a child always refuses a food, give it a rest and try it again in a few weeks.
  • When a child insists on the same food all the time, there is no harm in serving it as long as it is nourishing and healthy. Place a small helping of something new alongside the favorite; sooner or later your child will try it. Next week he/she will have a new favorite food.

Guard against choking. Watch children while they eat.

Prepared by Jill Patterson, assistant professor of nutrition, Kathy Gorman and Carol Lebold, project specialists, and Julie Haines, assistant director, Nutrition Links Program. Portions of this material came from Celebrate Healthy Eating, a collaborative project with Dannon Institute (a nonprofit foundation), Scholastic Inc., and the Dept. of Nutritional Sciences at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.