Program Evaluations: Fifth Grade Students Learn to Make Healthful Food Choices

Nutrition Pathfinders

Fifth Grade Students Learn to Make Healthful Food Choices

Evaluation Summary

The Nutrition Pathfinders nutrition education program consists of seven lessons that include interactive activities, simulations, and reflections taught by classroom teachers. Aligned with California’s Common Core Content Standards, California’s National Health Education Standards, and current psychological theory, each lesson is designed specifically for fifth graders. For example, the Nutrition Pathfinders program includes critical thinking skills, such as creating and analyzing food records. Fifth grade students also work on more advanced goal-setting lessons and an advertising lesson designed for students to analyze marketing information related to foods.

Lessons Cover
  • The five food groups and their main nutrients
  • Estimating appropriate serving sizes using hand symbols
  • How to be physically active for 60 minutes each day
  • Creating and evaluating food records
  • Planning and setting goals to help improve healthy eating and physical activity
  • Critically analyzing food advertisements
Program Materials
  • Teacher’s Guide
  • Student’s workbook (English and Spanish versions)
  • Family letter and homework activities
  • Supplemental visual materials
Key findings from research evaluating the program
  • Teachers found the lessons simple, straightforward, well scripted with complete, student-friendly information.
  • Students understood concepts and learned key vocabulary words easily.
  • Teachers noticed students were more aware of the foods they were eating, and the foods their peers selected at snack and lunch. Together they encouraged each other to make better food choices and to be more physically active
  • Parents reported their children talked about trying new foods.
  • The program increased students’ consumption of foods from the five food groups, including whole grains, proteins, and fruits
  • The program decreased students’ consumption of foods high in empty calories and high sugar drinks
  • Parents reported that children read food labels, wanted to try new foods, and talked about eating balanced meals more often after completing the program
  • The program and homework activities increased parents’ frequency of serving foods from the five food groups
  • Teachers indicated that they generally liked all of the lessons, and that the lessons were easy to teach and well designed for their students
An important observation of the Nutrition Pathfinders program was that it led to greater changes than with earlier editions of the program. The more rigorous and interactive content indicated positive knowledge and behavior outcomes. A subsequent evaluation of our fourth grade version of the program has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Translational Behavioral Medicine demonstrates that the program has a moderate to high public health impact.


About the study
A formative evaluation was conducted by researchers at RTI International and the University of Southern California during the 2011-2012 school year. Thirty-six participating teachers had students complete a survey before and after the lessons were taught. Qualitative input from the teachers provided during this formative project was used to improve the 4th and 5th grade Nutrition Pathfinders programs and a summative evaluation was completed with our fourth-grade version of the program. Students were measured prior to participating in the program and after participating to test changes in important variables. A similar study with a control group and a final survey three-months after the program was completed using the fourth grade version.

Read the full report here.

View Fifth Grade Nutrition Pathfinders program materials.

Nutrition programs are free to California teachers and available for a nominal cost for teachers from other states.

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Teacher Comments

I liked all the lessons. They are simple, well scripted, informational, have lots to share to kids.
Students loved it and this was a fun activity amongst lots of hard activities. As a teacher I would do this every year.
Really straight forward. Kids got the hang of it quickly.
My students really liked looking at the labels. The hands on, real world connection was engaging. I noticed an immediate change in them the next day as they began noticing the labels on their snacks for recess.
I think because they were actively involved in ‘doing’ with things that they had brought from home, they will be more likely to transfer their knowledge to application.
I really enjoyed teaching the program. Program is great and I would recommend it to all the teachers/schools.
I enjoyed teaching the lessons and the students seemed to enjoy them as well. The Dairy Council website was helpful and informative.
Love and like the fact that it is free. It’s so valuable. Kids liked it. They wanted to learn the content.
Students loved working in pairs and coming up with their own meals.
The students could relate to all of the advertisements that they are exposed to. They enjoyed sharing examples of advertisements.

Dairy Council of California extends a warm thank you to all 36 participating teachers and students that took the time to implement Nutrition Pathfinders and provide feedback on the lessons.