Nutrition in Every Theme: Dinosaurs

Children love dinosaurs, so these creatures of long ago can serve as role models for healthy vegetable eating. Have fun with these dino-mite nutrition activities that fit into any unit on dinosaurs.
Nutrition in Every Theme: Dinosaurs - Articles

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A Message to Those Who Care for Children

Have fun with these dino-mite nutrition activities that fit into any unit on dinosaurs.

Studies reveal that children in the U.S. do not eat enough vegetables. I hope you will join us in encouraging vegetables even at this young age. Aim for a variety of colorful vegetables each day. Vegetables contain many vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin A, and folate that help children grow and stay healthy.

Children love dinosaurs, so these gigantic creatures of long ago can serve as role models for healthy vegetable eating. Encourage children in your care to dine like dinosaurs and devour their vegetables.

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

Dino–mite Story Books

  • The Dinosaur Who Lived in My Backyard by B.G. Hennessy (Penguin Books USA, Inc.) A little boy tells about the dinosaur that (might have) lived in his back yard and the hundred pounds of vegetables it ate everyday.
  • Dinosaur Dinosaurs by Byron Barton (Harper Collins, Inc., 1989) and Dinosaurs by Grace Maccarone (Scholastic, 2001) have simple and easy to understand text. Each book talks about differences among dinosaurs such as big, small, long, spiked, or horned. Either one makes an excellent introductory book to a dinosaur unit.
  • Dinosaur Dinners by Lee Davis (DK Publishing, Inc., 1998) tells about meat- and plant-eating dinosaurs. It also describes how plant-eating dinosaurs protected themselves from the meat-eaters.

Dino–mite Veggie Activities

Circle Time

Most dinosaurs ate plants. The plant eaters had flat teeth that helped them chew up leaves and branches. The anatosaurus ate fruits and seeds. The apatosaurus ate pine needles. The Triceratops ate bushes. Have children look in books to find names of other plant–eating dinosaurs. Then lead them into a discussion about the plants we eat. Help children identify the parts of a plant; the seed, flower, leaves, stems, and roots. Pictures of vegetable plants and a few real vegetables will liven the discussion. Next, help children make a list of foods that we eat from each plant part. Your list may look similar to the one below:

  • Seeds: peas, corn
  • Flowers: broccoli, cauliflower
  • Leaves: spinach, cabbage, lettuce
  • Stem: celery, rhubarb
  • Roots: carrots, potatoes, radishes

Song Time

Review what children have learned in circle time by singing this simple song to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus.” Children can think up other vegetables to include in the song.

  1. Dinosaurs ate lots of plants, lots of plants, lots of plants. Dinosaurs ate lots of plants. Plants helped them grow.
  2. Corn is a seed I eat, seed I eat, seed I eat. Corn is a seed I eat. It helps me grow.
  3. Broccoli is a flower I eat, flower I eat, flower I eat. Broccoli is a flower I eat. It helps me grow.
  4. Spinach is a leaf I eat, leaf I eat, leaf I eat. Spinach is a leaf I eat. It helps me grow.
  5. Celery is a stem I eat, stem I eat, stem I eat. Celery is a stem I eat. It helps me grow.
  6. Potato is a root I eat, root I eat, root I eat. Potato is a root I eat. It helps me grow.
  7. We all eat lots of plants, lots of plants, lots of plants. We all eat lots of plants. They help us grow.

Flannelboard tip

Look for pictures of vegetables in seed and garden catalogs or use the drawings on page 6. Enlarge pictures, color, cut out, laminate with contact paper, and place a piece of Velcro on the back. Pass the pictures out and tell children to put their picture on the flannelboard when the class sings about eating that plant part. Have blue flannel on top and brown flannel on the bottom to reinforce the concepts of under and over the ground.

Pretend play

Put “osaurus” after each child’s name and let them pretend they are dinosaurs. Ask them to draw or paste pictures of their favorite foods. Have each child write their new name and their favorite vegetables.

Dino sorting activity

Have two boxes labeled with two different dinosaurs, one a plant-eater and the other a meat-eater. Let children choose these dinosaurs. Children sort plastic food models or magazine food pictures into plants and meats by “feeding” the dinosaurs.

Dino–mite Salad Ideas

Salad with Dino–mite Dressings

A salad bar at snack time or lunch with dino–mite dressings is a great way to encourage children to eat healthy vegetables just as the plant-eating dinosaurs did. Try fresh vegetables in season and talk with children about where the vegetables are grown and which ones can be grown locally. Two kinds of dino-mite dressings (see recipes below) can be prepared by children, with the pride of, “We made it our-selves.” Show measuring cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons to children. At circle time, have children share how they made each dressing using the recipe sequence foldout. You could add some store-bought dressings to the salad bar and then create a taste-testing chart as described in our Getting Started booklet. Be sure to share with families the tasty dressings to encourage salad eating at home.

Salad Bar Recipe

  • Shredded lettuce
  • Shredded carrot
  • Chopped olives
  • Sliced cucumber
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Grated cheese

You may also wish to include other favorite vegetables that children mentioned in Circle Time like broccoli, celery, or pea pods.

If you are short on supplies or time, invite families to donate one salad ingredient (washed and cut up) for Salad Bar Day. Post a sign–up sheet in advance to avoid duplicate items.

For children to do: Assemble their own salad! Go through the salad bar and choose the items for their salad. Encourage children to put a little of everything in their bowl, however, it is their choice on what to take and how much.

Have small paper cups containing a few tablespoons of dressing for each child. Whether children dip or pour, dino-mite dressings are sure to be a hit!

Dino-mite Dressings

Each recipe makes about 8 servings. Once the dressing has been made, spoon or pour a small amount into a small paper cup for each child to try.

Sweet and Saurus Maple Dressing

  • 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup olive oil or canola oil (or any vegetable oil)
  • 1 squirt mustard

Add all ingredients to a plastic bottle with a lid. Cover and shake well.

Makes 8 (2 tablespoon) servings. One serving provides 100 calories, 0 grams protein, 0 grams fiber, and 7 grams fat.

Ranchosaurus Rex

  • ½ cup lite mayonnaise
  • ½ cup fat free sour cream
  • ½ tsp. dried chives
  • ½ tsp. dried parsley
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • a few shakes salt
  • a few shakes pepper

In a bowl, mix together the mayonnaise and the sour cream. Next add the chives, parsley, garlic powder and onion powder. Shake in the salt and pepper.

Makes 8 (2 tablespoon) servings. One serving provides 70 calories, 1 gram protein, 0 grams fiber, and 5 grams fat.

Family Nutrition News

Aim for a Variety of Veggies Each Day

A rainbow of vegetable colors can be part of meals and snack for young children. The MyPyramid food guide recommends that young children eat about 1 to 1½ cups of vegetables each day. So, offer small portions such as ¼ cup of cooked carrot pieces at lunch or some raw broccoli with dip at snack. Aim to include at least one dark-green vegetable every day. Offer orange or deep-yellow vegetables several days a week. Cooked dry beans such as pinto or chickpeas count as vegetables, too. The brighter and darker the color of vegetable, the more vitamins it has.

All Great Choices: Fresh, Frozen, and Canned

Fresh, frozen, and canned vegetables are all nutritious choices. There are small losses in vitamin C when fresh vegetables sit in the supermarket or fridge, and in processing. However, the bottom line is that they are all good sources of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C and vitamin A. Steaming vegetables is a great way to keep vitamins and minerals in the food rather than wasting them in boiling water.

Vegetable Ideas for Snacks and Lunch

  • Kids like to dip their vegetables. Try reduced-fat ranch dressing, peanut butter, or hummus. Peel the stems and steam broccoli spears for 30 seconds. Steaming then chilling softens those hard-to-chew veggies.
  • Roll-ups anyone? Wrap meat or cheese with lettuce or spinach. The crispy texture is a treat.
  • Pocket sandwich — Stuff finely chopped green veggies (green peppers, broccoli, or spinach) and shredded cheese into pocket bread. Try shredded carrot too. Top with yogurt or dressing to complete this yummy sandwich.

Guard against choking. Watch children while they eat.

8 Ways to Raise a Vegetable Eater

  1. When shopping, let your child choose a vegetable for the family to eat.
  2. At home, let your child help prepare the vegetable.
  3. Have raw vegetables ready in the refrigerator for snacks.
  4. Don’t overcook vegetables. Steam, microwave, or stir–fry them. They will have brighter color, more crunchiness, and milder flavor.
  5. Try a new vegetable at the beginning of the meal, when your child is hungriest.
  6. Offer a new vegetable along with a familiar one.
  7. Give your child a small serving or let your child choose the portion size.
  8. Be a good role model. Smile when you serve, and eat vegetables. Your child is watching!

Helpful Web Site

Enchanted Learning: Dinosaurs: This site is packed with information in an easy to read format including a page about the diets of dinosaurs. Did you know 65% of dinosaurs were plant-eaters?

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.

Authors