Ask a group of children what their favorite foods are, and the responses you’ll receive will be as varied and unique as the children themselves. Regardless of their responses, a passionate discussion will likely ensue. Food is one thing that unites us all, and children hold strong opinions on what they like and don’t like. But ask this same group what they know about the science of food, and chances are they’ll stare at you blankly. Many incredible books have been written to introduce students to the study of the physical, biological (including microbiological) and chemical makeup of food. These books can be used as a springboard for classroom discussions and activities.
The Chemistry of Food by Carla Mooney
This book is a perfect first introduction to the science behind foods we love. Students will learn that cooking and baking are so much more than mixing different ingredients together – they actually cause chemical reactions! Key questions, vocab lab, QR codes to videos that explore further, and hands on activities make this a book that budding chemists will return to again and again.
Classroom Activity: One of the activities offered in this book asks students to follow a few recipes and then determine what physical and/or chemical changes the food underwent. Suggested recipes include:
- Make pancakes by preparing batter and frying on a griddle.
- Prepare a mixed green salad with chopped vegetables, shredded cheese, and sliced almonds.
- Cut an apple into slices and let it sit for a period of time.
Bugs For Breakfast: How Eating Insects Could Help Save the Planet by Mary Boone
This book introduces students to entomophagy, using insects as a source of food. While this is not (yet) a common practice in the United States, Canada, and Europe, more than 80% of the world’s population have included insects in their diets for centuries. With the rapid reduction of available high-quality farmland, scientists believe insects could make an ideal alternative source of protein. And for those students who seem less enthused about the idea of eating insects, Boone offers answers to frequently asked questions, such as, “What do insects taste like?” and “What if you just can’t stand seeing their little heads when you eat them?”
Classroom Activity: Give students a closer look at how insects can be made into tasty treats by sharing Can Bugs Taste Like Candy? with them. Then, you can even try out some of these recipes with interested students.
Food Weird-o-Pedia: The Ultimate Book of Surprising, Strange, and Incredibly Bizarre Facts about Food and Drink by Alex Palmer
This highly browsable book is sure to become an instant hit with your students. Chock full of interesting facts, such as lobsters urinate out of their faces, Hawaiian pizza was invented in Canada, the world’s longest hot dog was 668 feet long, and the most expensive coffee in the world comes from animal poop, students will be eager to find and share these incredible morsels of info with their friends.
Classroom Activity: Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable? According to Palmer, tomatoes are fruit – but in the United States they are legally vegetables. Have students research the scientific definitions of fruits and vegetables and the 1893 US Supreme Court case which ruled that the tomato is most commonly known as a vegetable. Then, have them write a persuasive essay on whether they believe tomatoes are fruits or vegetables, citing their sources.
Hopefully, these books and activities will inspire students to learn more about where their food comes from, how it shapes our world, and implications for the future.
Jenna Grodzicki is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction children’s books. Her books include Wild Style: Amazing Animal Adornments (Millbrook Press 2020) and I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Millbrook Press 2019), the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction Category. Jenna lives near the beach with her husband and two children. In addition to being a writer, she is also a library media specialist at a K-4 school. To learn more, visit her website at www.jennagrodzicki.com.