Learn About Nutrition with Play Dough

About the Activity

In this activity, young kids will identify healthy foods alongside the classic children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and practice what they’ve learned by using a simple recipe to make play dough to mold the shapes of healthy foods.

 

Grades: Pre-K-2

 

Courtesy of Utah State University

MyPlate poster preview

Supplies

  • A copy of the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, or watch the animated film here
  • If using the The Very Hungry Caterpillar book, printed pictures of the book’s foods

Ingredients to make 1 cup of playdough

  • Mixing bowl(s)
  • Glass, heatproof, microwave-safe 2-cup measuring cup
  • Spatula or mixing spoon
  • Aluminum foil, parchment paper or wax paper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 3/4 cup of water, minus 3 tablespoons
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • Optional: a few drops of food coloring or 2 packets of kool-aid to add color and fragrance
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Activity Steps

Preparation:
Collect pictures of healthy and unhealthy foods using the internet or magazines. Find the following pictures to go along with The Very Hungry Caterpillar book: apple, pear, plum, strawberries, orange, chocolate cake, ice cream cone, pickle, cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake, watermelon, and green leaf. Alternately, you can include this step in the activity as a scavenger hunt through magazines.

  1. MyPlate Food Groups
    1. Hang up the poster of the MyPlate (or show it on your computer screen). Point to and name the various food groups and what belongs in each of them. Name a few food items from each group.
    2. Show different pictures of food, both healthy and unhealthy. Discuss if each item would be something that would be good to eat every day or something that would not be healthy to eat every day.
    3. Label one poster board or sheet of paper “Healthy to Eat Every Day” and the other one “Not Healthy to Eat Every Day.” Tape the food pictures in the correct category.
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
    1. Draw a MyPlate on the poster board or paper and divide it into the five different food categories.
    2. Read the book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle aloud with a family member. With each food the caterpillar eats, place the matching food picture in the correct category of the MyPlate as they are mentioned in the book.
    3. Discuss if the caterpillar ate healthy food and how it affected the way he felt. Discuss your favorite foods and if those foods are healthy.
  3. Make and Mold Play Dough
    1. Measure the water and lemon juice into a heatproof, microwavable 2-cup measuring cup. Heat in the microwave until just boiling, about three minutes.
    2. While it’s heating, mix together the flour and salt.
    3. Add color:
      1. Add desired food coloring to the heated water and lemon juice mixture.
      2. If using Kool Aid, very slowly (the mixture will foam a bit) pour the kool-aid packets into the hot water and lemon juice mixture. Add additional food coloring to intensify the color if desired.
    4. Slowly pour the liquid into the flour and salt mixture and stir with a spatula until it just barely begins to form a dough.
    5. Drizzle the tablespoon of cooking oil over the dough and stir again until it forms a ball. At this point, you may want to knead the dough with your hands.
    6. As the dough cools it will thicken and become less sticky. Once the dough is completely cooled, you may add flour a tablespoon at a time until it is the desired consistency.
    7. Allow the dough to cool on a sheet of aluminum foil, parchment or wax paper.
    8. Repeat process to create different colors.
    9. Divide the play dough so you have a few different colors. Be creative with the play dough and make it into healthy foods!
    10. Discuss why it is important to eat healthy foods. Discuss why it is ok to have treats occasionally.
boy and girl make a book about healthy foods

Reflection Questions
Questions for your kids and teens.

REFLECT

  • How many categories are in the MyPlate?
  • What is your favorite healthy snack?
  • What happened when the caterpillar ate all that food?
  • What food items did you make out of the play dough?

APPLY

  • Why is it important to eat healthy, well-balanced meals?
  • How can good nutrition help you in other areas of your life?
  • Why are cooking skills important to learn?
  • What are some ways you can eat more nutritiously?
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