The Red Food, Green Food Game April 06 2010

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Not long ago, I flipped through a National Geographic magazine (circa 1976) and came across an ad that stated a significant percentage of medical professionals recommended a high sugar intake for our good health.

Oh, dear. Things have changed. I'm dating myself here, but I was a small child when that ad came out (I mean really young). With ads like that around, is it any wonder that I was raised on soft drinks and white bread?

It's not surprising to me that I - and others of my generation - have a love/hate relationship with food. With the current economy and focus toward green living, our overall habits are changing. However, it was a few short years ago that healthier food and lack of soda vending machines made an appearance; kids still need to be taught what foods constitute a healthy diet.

The Food Groups

The Food Pyramid looks a little different than in years past. I remember a segmented pyramid with slots for food groups, grains at the bottom, fruits, vegetables, proteins and legumes in the middle and sweets/oils with the smallest section at the top.

The segments of the Food Pyramid are now fashioned in a rainbow format, with columns of color from the tip to the bottom of the pyramid in various widths. Each color stands for a food group: green = vegetables, orange = grains, red = fruits, yellow = fats (still the smallest section), blue = milk and purple = meat and beans. The focus is on, of course, vegetables, whole grains, and fruit, with a special emphasis on lean.

Red, Yellow and Green Foods

The system of red, yellow and green foods is different from the Food Pyramid, which is an important distinction. Keep these two systems separate in lessons and activities to avoid confusion.

When it's time to teach this lesson, talk about the meaning of Red, Yellow and Green foods. It might be easier to start with Green foods, which are items that are good to eat any time. These would include all vegetables (without sauces), fresh or frozen fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean meat. Yellow foods are those that can be eaten sometimes (although, peanut butter would be considered on this list, and I don't think I've gone a day without peanut butter in recent memory). Other foods on the Yellow list include vegetables in sauce, fruit juice, grains that are not whole (such as pancakes and waffles), processed cheese, nuts, hot dogs and hamburger meat, and low-fat desserts or condiments.

The Red column is where - for me, a consummate dessert lover - it gets a bit depressing. But I wouldn't let the kids see that. The Red foods are ones that we are supposed to eat on rare occasions, and they include french fries, any fried dough, pastry, cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, crackers, fried food, bacon and other fatty meat, gravy (duh), heavy condiments, and sugared drinks of various kinds. So basically anything that will provide comfort on really bad days - Red food.

Before You Play

Before introducing this Red-Yellow-Green chart to your kids, collect or make pictures of different foods or cards with the names of foods on them using cut sentence strips. Make sure there are enough cards so that each student can have one.

Set up a pocket chart with  three columns - one with a red card, one with a yellow card, and one with a green card in the top pocket. Hand out a food card to each student in the group. Select volunteers or randomly choose students to share with the group what the card is and whether they think it's a Red, Yellow or Green food. Decide as a group if there's agreement and have each student place their card in the appropriate column.

Playing The Game

The Red Food/Green Food game is based on Red Light/Green Light. Take the food cards from the Red-Yellow-Green foods chart and head to an open area, like your school's gym. Have your students line up along one side of the room and stand at the other end, holding the cards. Choose a card with a Green food and call it out while showing the picture (if applicable).

At this point, your kids need to decide if the food you called out and are showing them is a Green Food or a Red Food. If it's a Green Food, they need to run until you call out a Red Food (cookies or cake should do it). At the mention of a Red food, they stop in their tracks! If they stop when they're supposed to run, or run when they're supposed to stop, they're out and must sit wherever they are!

This game should help your students as they decide to make better food choices. The Red-Yellow-Green concept is easy to remember and immediately applicable to your students' every day life!