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New York Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Companion Resource


Processed Food Breakdown

This 20-minute activity allows students to apply their knowledge of reading food labels and identifying the nutrient content of food. Students work in groups and are challenged to create a nutritious meal with processed foods. This is an ideal capstone activity for a lesson on reading food labels and determining the nutrient content of foods.

Time to Complete
20 minutes
  • 5 canned food items
  • 5 frozen food items (or frozen food packaging) including frozen fruit or vegetables
  • 5 boxed meals, including a cereal option
  • 5 drinks
  • 5 packaged baked goods/other packaged foods
  • Any other processed food items deemed necessary
  • Processed Food Breakdown worksheet, 1 per group
  1. Place food items listed in the Materials section on five tables according to their category.
  2. Divide students into teams of 3-4.
  3. Pass out one Processed Food Breakdown worksheet to each group. Explain that each team will be competing to create the healthiest meal out of the processed food items on the tables. Each meal must contain an item from four out of the five tables. On the worksheet, students will record the vital information on each item they choose and an explanation justifying why they think their meal is the healthiest.
  4. Allow students 5-10 minutes to read labels and explore the food items to make their selections.
  5. After they have selected their food and filled out their worksheet, group members should prepare a short (2-3 minute) presentation explaining the nutritional content of their meal.
  6. As each group has presents, lead a class discussion using questions such as:
    • Where on a food label or nutrition label should you look for the nutritional value of a food item?
      • The Nutrition Facts label contains important information such as serving size, calories, fat content, percent daily value, etc. 
    • What are some foods that might be healthier than the ones offered on the tables? Why?
      • In some cases, fresh whole foods may have improved nutrient value such as having lower sodium, sugar, fat, or calories. However, each food is different and needs to be analyzed separately. Some processed foods actually contain more nutritional quality if they have been fortified with vitamins or minerals.
    • Were these foods processed? What is a processed food?
      • Yes, these foods are processed. In general, processed foods are in a different form than they were when they left the farm where they were produced. Examples include various forms of preservation and packaging such as freezing, canning, or dehydrating. Processed foods can also be cooked, mixed, or prepared in some way. such as turning wheat into pasta or bread.
    • Is there any additional information on the label that could impact a consumer's buying choices?
      • Aside from nutritional information, food packaging and labels may also indicate specifications followed in the production of the food on the farm. For example USDA Organic, all natural, grass-fed, cage-free, and hormone- or antibiotic-free. These labels indicate specific guidelines followed on the farm and may impact the decision of some consumers.
    • If you hadn’t been instructed to choose only healthy foods, how would your choices have differed?
    • Are all processed foods bad?
      • No.
File, Map, or Graphic

Kirk Machester and Kelsey Faivre

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation
Lessons Associated with this Resource