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You are What You Eat!

Grades: 5-8
Author: Joyce Brumberger
View Student Lesson Plan


Module Description

As a result of the presenter-conducted module, participants will construct a simple calorimeter. Through experimentation and simple calculation, participants will determine the number of calories in a sample of food. Through the use of the Internet, participants 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. Participants will design a lesson they can implement in their own classroom.


Participants will learn:

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

Participants will be able to:

  • 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



  • Food packages with nutrition labels brought in by students


  • Colored pencils
  • 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


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



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

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

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

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

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

  1. Instruct participants that they will be grouping all the food packages they brought in a variety of ways.
  2. Tell participants 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 Professional Development Provider reads off the names. All participants are to record the information in their notebooks.
  2. Instruct participants to retrieve their food package.
  3. Tell participants 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 Professional Development Provider 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 participants 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 class and compare results.

Assessment: Assessment is ongoing as the Professional Development Provider observes participation of individuals and oral and written responses.


Refer to (a helpful diagram is included on this website) Instruct participants that this phase may need to be conducted by an adult as a demonstration for younger children. It has been published as appropriate for grades 7 and up.

  1. Instruct participants 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 participants 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 participants 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 participants 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 participants 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 participants 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 participants 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 participants to complete the calculations for their food sample on the Data Table worksheet.

Assessment: Assessment is ongoing as participants 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: Participants share their calculated results with the group and determine which foods released the most amount of energy.


  1. Instruct participants 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 participants can create their own meal plan. If computers are not available, menu fact sheets can be downloaded and printed.
  2. Instruct participants 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 participants to record their menu choices for both meals and include the calorie, fat, and carbohydrate values.
  4. Tell participants 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 participants 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 participants 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.


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.

Science Standards

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding of

  • The use of mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations.

As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop an understanding that

  • Heat moves in predictable ways, flowing from warmer objects to cooler ones, until both reach the same temperature.

NSES CONTENT STANDARD F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Regular exercise is important to the maintenance and improvement of health. The benefits of physical fitness include maintaining healthy weight, having energy and strength for routine activities, good muscle tone, bone strength, strong heart/lung systems, and improved mental health. Personal exercise, especially developing cardiovascular endurance, is the foundation of physical fitness.
  • Food provides energy and nutrients for growth and development. Nutrition requirements vary with body weight, age, sex, activity, and body functioning.
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.

Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

  • Involve teachers in actively investigating phenomena that can be studied scientifically, interpreting results, and making sense of findings consistent with currently accepted scientific understanding.
  • Address issues, events, problems, or topics significant in science and of interest to participants.
  • Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge.
  • Build on the teacher's current science understanding, ability, and attitudes.
  • Incorporate ongoing reflection on the process and outcomes of understanding science through inquiry.
  • Encourage and support teachers in efforts to collaborate.

Professional development for teachers of science requires integrating knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students; it also requires applying that knowledge to science teaching. Learning experiences for teachers of science must:

  • Connect and integrate all pertinent aspects of science and science education.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Learning Cycle
  • Science Process Skills
  • Inquiry

Time Frame

Engagement: 20 minutes; Exploration: 30 minutes; Explanation: 15 minutes; Exploration: 35 minutes


Gather materials for distribution


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.



Explanation of Science

A calorimeter is a device that is used to measure the heat exchange in a chemical reaction and the heat capacity of a substance.

A calorie is a unit of measure in chemistry defined as the amount of energy needed to raise 1 gram of water 1 degree C. A food Calorie, however, has a different value. A food Calorie, always indicated with a capital "C", is equal to 1000 calories or 1 kilocalorie. When calculating the data in the Exploration activity, the formula provided was adjusted to take this factor into account and make it easier to use for the designated age group. The actual formula used is:

1 kcal of sample = (mass of water)(change in water temp)(1 kg/1000g)(1 kcal/kg degrees C)

1 kcal/kg degrees C = the specific heat of water

A one pound weight gain requires 3500 calories. Therefore, eating 500 extra calories/day will create a 1-lb. weight gain in a week.


Calorimetry Data Table and Calculations


Try other foods to determine Calories

Research the new food pyramid. Try the interactive food pyramid at:

Determine the appropriate calorie consumption for your age and develop a healthy meal plan for one week.

Develop an exercise program for a week that is varied from day to day.

Start a fitness club/program for your school

Lesson Implementation Template

Download Lesson Implementation Template: Word Document or PDF File


Try to insure that all participants 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.


None available for this module