Learn About Nutrition with Play Dough
Knead to renovate your plate? Start with Playdough
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.
Topic: Healthy Living
Estimated Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Brought to you by Utah State University Extension
- 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
Follow these steps to make your poster and play-dough.
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.
MyPlate Food Groups
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.Did You Know? Grains, vegetables, dairy, protein foods, and fruits are all key parts of a balanced plate, according to MyPlate.Gov.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Draw a MyPlate on the poster board or paper and divide it into the five different food categories.
- 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.
- 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.Did You Know? Whole grains give kids B vitamins, minerals, and fiber to help them feel fuller longer so they stay alert to concentrate at school.
Make and Mold Play Dough
- Measure the water and lemon juice into a heatproof, microwavable 2-cup measuring cup. Heat in the microwave until just boiling, about three minutes.
- While it’s heating, mix together the flour and salt.
- Add color. Add desired food coloring to the heated water and lemon juice mixture. 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.
- Slowly pour the liquid into the flour and salt mixture and stir with a spatula until it just barely begins to form a dough.
- 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.
- 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.
- Allow the dough to cool on a sheet of aluminum foil, parchment or wax paper.
- Repeat process to create different colors.
- Divide the play dough so you have a few different colors. Be creative with the play dough and make it into healthy foods!
- Discuss why it is important to eat healthy foods. Discuss why it is ok to have treats occasionally.Did You Know? Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds provide many nutrients including protein and iron. Portion sizes are based upon the nutrition needs of children in various grade groups. School meals also allow cheese, tofu, and yogurt to count as the meat/meat alternate in the school lunch.
Questions for your kids and teens.
- How many categories are in the MyPlate chart?
- What is your favorite healthy snack?
- What happened when the caterpillar ate all that food?
- What food items did you make out of the playdough?
- 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?
Investigate and Explore
Take what you've learned to the next level to learn more and explore the possibilities.
Dietary Guidelines for America are re-examined every so often, and the current ones are in effect from 2020 to 2025. Learn more about them at MyPlate.Gov. As a reminder, not all healthy foods are healthy for all people—various food allergies and aversions may prevent you from consuming some of the recommended dietary items. And as a rule, whole foods—foods that are natural and not processed—are always a better choice than their alternatives. Talk with your pediatrician or doctor about the dietary choices that are best for you and your family.
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