Activity Overview: The food (and drinks) consumed each day is students' most immediate relationship with energy. It's all around us, and it's inside us, and knowing how much energy we eat is one small part of the overall energy consumption. Consuming food to live is very different from consuming electricity for air conditioning, but encourage students to cognitively map energy consumption through food onto energy consumption in the built environment. If we eat fewer crackers, there are more crackers to eat later. And that is the concept behind conservation of energy today.
This activity is not intended and should not be positioned in a way that could lead to food shaming, size shaming, or any other conversations around the negative connotations of food and diets. Food sensitivity, food scarcity, and food insecurity are important and pressing issues in the nation and may be so in your community. Use what you know about your students and your own discretion to determine if conversations about food consumption and energy consumption are relevant or appropriate for your classroom.
Ask students to create a food diary recording everything they eat (and drink) from the time they get up to the time they go to bed. For a more holistic vision, ask them to repeat this for an entire week. At the end of the mini-project, students should have a list of all the foods and beverages they consumed organized into their respective days.
Now that students have a full list of the foods and drinks they consume in a day (or a week), ask them to calculate their daily Caloric intake. Other than looking at food labels from lunch boxes or the school's canteen or cafeteria, you may be able to speak with your lunchroom staff to get a list of the nutritional facts for hot food served at your school during meal times. Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) publishes a searchable database of nutrients for standard reference. You or your students can search this database to query the caloric content of many different branded and whole foods.
Ask students to make observations about their calculations. Are there days that they consume much more or much less than others? Do their physical activities (sports, going to the pool) align with days they consume much more? Do they have a very consistent energy intake?