Scroll To Top

agpa k-12 outreach banner

Lesson Plans

Return to Lesson Plan Index
Printer Friendly Version

You are What You Eat!

Grades: Grades 5-8
Author: Joyce Brumberger
Source: Calorimetry Lab


Through hands-on activities and inquiry, students will construct a simple calorimeter. Through experimentation and simple calculation, students will determine the number of calories in a sample of food. Through the use of the Internet, students will plan a meal and calculate the number of calories the meal contains. From that calorie count, they will devise an exercise program to "burn off" the calories consumed.


What should students know as a result of this lesson?

  • What a calorimeter is and how it functions
  • The difference between a food Calorie and a calorie used in calculations

What should the students be able to do as a result of this lesson?

  • calculate the number of Calories in a small food sample
  • create a healthy meal plan at a fast food restaurant
  • create an exercise program to burn Calories


For Engagement:

  • Food packages with nutrition labels brought in by students

For the Exploration:

Suggested test foods - 1 food/group

  • marshmallow
  • French fry beef
  • jerky
  • bread dried
  • fruit noodle

Per Group:

  • Test tube (18 x 150 mm)
  • 25-mL Graduated cylinder
  • Utility clamp
  • Balance scales
  • Large cork with pin
  • Ring stand
  • Matches or disposable lighter
  • Thermometer
  • Distilled water

For the Explanation:

  • A rope long enough to extend across the classroom
  • Optional: a rubber band, ruler, and a freezer

For the Elaboration:

  • Computer with access to Internet or Downloaded and printed menu plans and calorie burn charts from the web sites provided in the Elaboration Phase


  • Gather materials for distribution



Prior to this phase, students were asked to bring 1 food package, either can, box, or bag containing the nutrient panel label.

  1. Ask students what information is provided on the nutrition label.

Answers will include serving size, calories, total fat, total carbohydrates, protein, sodium, and more.

  1. Ask students what the % Daily Value is based upon.

This value is usually based upon an adult diet of 2000 calories

  1. Instruct students that they will be grouping all the food packages they brought in a variety of ways.
  2. Tell students that they will first group the packages according to the following criteria:

Less than 100 calories, 100-199 calories, 200-300 calories, More than 300 calories

  1. Ask a volunteer to right the names of all the products on the board or on a large poster size paper as the teacher reads off the names. All students are to record the information in their notebooks.
  2. Instruct students to retrieve their food package.
  3. Tell students that the next grouping will be according to total fat content based on the following criteria:

2 grams or less, 3-7 grams, 8-10 grams, More than 10 grams

  1. Repeat steps 5-6.
  2. The teacher will repeat the process with total carbohydrates:

3 grams or less, 4-10 grams, 11-20 grams, More than 20 grams


Less than 1 g, 1-3 grams, 4-7 grams,8 grams or more

  1. Divide students into groups of four and instruct them to determine if they can find any correlation of calories to carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
  2. Ask one member of each group to present their findings to the whole group and compare results.

Assessment: Assessment is ongoing as the teacher observes participation of individuals and oral and written responses.


  1. Instruct students to assemble the ring stand and clamp so that a test tube placed in the clamp will be one cm above the food sample.
  2. Tell students to place 15.0 mL of water in the test tube and put the test tube in the clamp. Place the thermometer in the test tube.
  3. Instruct students to obtain a 1 to 3 g sample of one test food. Find the mass of the test food sample to the nearest 0.01 g (two decimal places), and record its name and mass in the Data Table.
  4. Tell students to measure the temperature of the water in the test tube to the nearest 0.5 degrees C and record in the Data Table as initial water temperature.
  5. Tell students to put on their goggles and to use the pin to affix the sample to the cork. Place the cork on the table away from the test tube. Then strike a match and set the food on fire. Immediately move the sample under the test tube. Gently stir the water with the thermometer, using an up and down motion.
  6. Instruct students that after the food sample is completely burned, measure the temperature of the water again to the nearest 0.5 degrees C, and record in the Data Table as final water temperature. Be sure to watch the thermometer carefully to catch the highest temperature reached.
  7. Instruct students to find the mass of the sample remaining to the nearest 0.01 g and record in the Data Table as mass of sample after burning (ash weight).
  8. Instruct students to complete the calculations for their food sample on the Data Table worksheet.

Assessment: Assessment is ongoing as students use measurement tools and orally discuss their data and record.


A calorimeter is a device that measures the heat exchange in a chemical reaction. The energy from the burning food sample was transferred to the water in the calorimeter, though some energy was lost to the air in this experiment. The amount of energy transferred was determined through a simple calculation and the unit of measure was calories. The amount of energy needed to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree C is called a calorie. In food nutrition, however, Calorie, with a capital "C" actually refers to 1000 calories. The formula was modified to take this factor into account.

Assessment: Students share their calculated results with the group and determine which foods released the most amount of energy.


  1. Instruct students to go to the web site and scroll down to the section titled: Fast Food Nutrition Information from the Source. This section provides interactive menus for various fast food restaurants in which students can create their own meal plan. If computers are not available, menu fact sheets can be downloaded and printed.
  2. Instruct students to "order" two different dinners at any one of the available restaurants. One dinner should be what they would consider a "healthy" meal and the other a meal that is "not healthy" minded.
  3. Tell students to record their menu choices for both meals and include the calorie, fat, and carbohydrate values.
  4. Tell students that they have already consumed their total daily calories for the day. Tell them to use the Exercise/Activity calculator at the web site to create an exercise program that they would use to burn off all the calories consumed at dinner. The program must use at least 3 different types of activities. If computers are not available, download and print the Calories Burned During Exercise Chart from the web site to create an exercise program.
  5. If students are using the second method for calculating, remind them that the "calories burned" is based on an activity that lasts 1 hour. In order to include 3 activities, times may be shortened and the number of calories burned will need to be adjusted.
  6. Instruct students to plan an exercise program based on both meal plans and to record each program with the activity, time, and calories burned in their journal.

Assessment: The teacher can assess student progress by journal entries of meal and exercise plans as well as through oral discussions.



Best Teaching Practices

  • Learning Cycle
  • Inquiry
  • Science Process Skills

Alignment with Standards

NGSS Standards:

  • HS-PS1-2 Construct and revise an explanation for the outcome of a simple chemical reaction based on the outermost electron states of atoms, trends in the periodic table,and knowledge of the patterns of chemical properties.
  • MS-PS1-4 Develop a model that predicts and describes changes in particle motion, temperature, and state of a pure substance when thermal energy is added or removed.

Common Core Standards:

  • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
  • RST.6-8.3 Follow preciesly a multistep procedure when carrying our experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
  • WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/experiments, or technical processes.

National Standards:

  • Grades 5-8 Content Standard A
  • Grades 5-8 Content Standard B
  • Grades 5-8 Content Standard F

Ohio Standards:

  • Grades 5-8 Physical Science Benchmark D
  • Grades 5-8 Scientific Ways of Knowing Benchmark A
  • Grades 5-8 Scientific Inquiry Benchmark B

Content Knowledge

Students will construct a simple calorimeter. Through experimentation and simple calculation, students will determine the number of calories in a sample of food. Through the use of the Internet, students will plan a meal and calculate the number of calories the meal contains. From that calorie count, they will devise an exercise program to "burn off" the calories consumed.


Wear goggles

Strike matches or disposable lighters carefully and away from others

Do not touch food samples while they are burning. Allow time for them to cool before touching.

Work surfaces should be heat resistant

Keep a beaker of water nearby to put out flame if necessary

Dispose of cooled, burnt food in trash


Obesity among children in the United States is becoming a major health issue. Since the 1970's, the percent of overweight children has doubled as a result of poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Children are spending more time watching TV and playing video games and less time in active exercise. Families, often with two working parents, have less time to cook at home and are inclined towards the calorie riddled fast foods menus. Obesity is an easy medical condition to diagnose, but one of the hardest to treat. It requires commitment to lifestyle changes of healthy eating and exercise habits. 300,000 children die each year from the complications of obesity. Without intervention, those numbers will continue to climb.



Other Considerations

Grouping Suggestions: Try to insure that all students have participated and expressed their ideas either verbally or through written comments. When working in pairs or groups try to make the groups as heterogeneous as possible being sensitive to specific needs of individuals.

Pacing/Suggested Time: Engagement: 20 minutes, Exploration: 30 minutes, Explanation: 15 minutes, Elaboration: 35 minutes

Printable PDF Worksheets

Calorimetry Data Table and Calculations