Nutrition Education Fosters Food Literacy

Community Health All-Star

Florencia Rivera's healthy food literate students at Bush Elementary

Florencia Rivera Blends Nutrition Education and Food Literacy 

To Improve Students' Health and Learning

Nutrition education is always on the agenda for Florencia Rivera’s third grade students at Bush Elementary School in Stockton Unified School District. With over 30 years of experience in the classroom, including 10 years in a science high school in the Philippines, Rivera knows from experience that it’s the real life topics, like what food they need to be healthy, that provide meaning and resonate with students in the classroom. 

“To me, nutrition is a lifestyle, a matter of choice, and plain common sense. If you want to lead a successful life then you have to take care of your body first. To live healthy is to eat healthy,” says Rivera. “I like to cook and always frequent farmers’ markets to buy the freshest produce. I do a lot of cooking and food experimenting on the weekends (when I have more time). I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables that are in season.” 

Rivera incorporates her passion for nutrition in her classroom where she seamlessly integrates nutrition education into curriculum for English language arts, math, science, social studies, science, art and physical education. 

Students incorporate food literacy and nutrition education into every subject areaFor Science and Math integration, Rivera engages students in reading recipes and nutrition labels on cereal boxes, canned food, and food packages. Her students measure ingredients using teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. Liquids are measured in pints, quarts and gallons. Students collect data by doing surveys to track favorite fruits and vegetables, snacks, beverages, etc. Survey results are then tabulated as bar graphs and pictographs.

Aligning with Common Core State Standards, Rivera and her students compose math problems using the names of fruits and vegetables, farm animals, and other food items. Her class reads Tops and Bottoms,” a humorous story that teaches parts of edible plants. Her class also talks about water, as it is an essential part of agriculture and everyday activities. Nutrition and food literacy are further integrated into the curriculum with art activities to draw and paint pictures of plants, vegetables, and farm animals.

Perhaps the area where nutrition integration is most pronounced in Rivera’s classroom is English Language Arts. Rivera has students read stories like Stone Soup and Cook-a-Doodle-Do. With her supervision, she and her students extend the reading activities by making soup (minus the stones) in class. In preparation for the “big event” her students discuss the ingredients, identifying which food group they belong to and researching how each ingredient contributes to health and nutrition.

Each class creates their own recipe with an emphasis on the order of ingredients and sequencing (what to put first, next, then, last). On Soup Day, Rivera arranges the class to make it appear like a soup feast complete with crackers and bread. This memorable occasion culminates with students writing a reflection of their stone soup experience.

Students working on Shaping Up My Choices nutrition lessons

By incorporating nutrition education and food literacy in the classroom, Rivera is having a direct impact on the health of her students. Rivera teaches Shaping Up My Choices nutrition education lessons for third grade students and sets the tone for a healthy classroom right from the start.

“At the beginning of the school year, we made up a rule to ban sugary drinks and other junk food in class,” said Rivera. “I see my students making smarter food selections. They’re drinking healthier beverages like milk and water, balancing their meals and avoiding the ‘extras.’”

Rivera makes sure parents are on board with her nutrition philosophy as well. “The parents are aware that we are doing Shaping Up My Choices in class, and so they have been providing their children with healthier snacks and lunches,” said Rivera. “We have also agreed not to celebrate birthdays in class. That means no cupcakes, sugary drinks, and treats.”

In lieu of birthday parties, parents donate books to read on their child’s birthday and add the book to our class library. “Because of our nutrition education and students’ making smart choices, they have become healthier, their attendance is better, and their academic performance is noticeably better,” Rivera adds.

Rivera notes that as a result of emphasizing nutrition, food literacy and general literacy in her classroom, her students become active catalysts in promoting healthier food choices to their own families, and possibly eliminating possible health risks like obesity, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. 

What is a Community Health All-Star?

Community Health All-Stars are individuals or organizations that are making a difference in their communities by creating a great impact through nutrition education. Learn more

Resources for Nutrition Education + Food Literacy

In addition to Shaping Up My Choices, Florencia Rivera has incorporated a wide variety of nutrition education and food literacy activities into her classroom instruction.  

These resources offer additional ways to bring nutrition education to life in the classroom.

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom: Helping students + teachers across our California appreciate agriculture's role in daily life.

Harvest of the Month: California Department of Public Health program highlighting 36 different seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Life Lab: Garden based learning resources including lessons, workshops and field trips.

Simple recipes for classroom preparation.

Healthy classroom party ideas that promote food literacy.