Food Labels: A Delicious Way to Learn Mental Math and Nutrition!

As a passionate math teacher, I’m always in search of engaging ways to help my students appreciate the beauty and practicality of mathematics. In today’s world, where the attention is gradually shifting towards healthier lifestyle choices, I believe it’s the perfect opportunity to connect mathematics with nutrition education. So, I present to you a unique activity, ‘Food Labels,’ that seamlessly blends mental math with an understanding of nutritional values. Let’s dive right in!

Activity Overview

‘Food Labels’ is a fun, team-based activity that encourages students to apply their mental math skills while gaining a deeper understanding of the nutritional value of various food items. The goal is for each team to plan a meal that meets the daily requirements of specific minerals without exceeding them, using only the information provided on food labels. By the end of the activity, students will not only have sharpened their mental math skills, but they’ll also have gained valuable insights into the importance of balanced nutrition. And who knows, they might even become more conscious about their food choices!

Materials Needed

  1. A collection of food labels from different packaged foods (10 labels per student).
  2. A record sheet for each student to list the food items, their sizes, and to tape the corresponding food labels.
  3. A box to collect the food labels.
  4. A chart displaying the daily mineral requirements.
  5. Notepads and pencils for calculations.


To get started, students need to collect food labels from ten different packages of food they’ve consumed at home over a few weeks. It’s crucial to record the name of the food item and its size (in ounces or any other appropriate measurement unit). I’ve prepared a simple worksheet for them to document this information and tape down the food labels.

Once the students have collected all their labels, they’ll place them in a box. The class will then be divided into teams of four.

Each team’s task is to plan a meal that meets (but does not exceed) the daily mineral requirements specified on the provided chart. Using mental math, they’ll calculate the mineral content of their chosen food items, ensuring they do not exceed the daily limit. They can choose a minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 labels to create their meal.

To make the game more challenging and realistic, I’ve added a twist – the team that designs a meal closest to at least three of the minerals’ daily requirements (without exceeding them) wins the game!

Game Play Scenarios

Let’s consider a scenario. Team A selects labels from canned tomato soup, breakfast cereal, granola bars, canned peas, a chocolate bar, a packet of chips, a can of tuna, and packaged bread. They’ll have to use mental math to add up the mineral contents of these items, aiming to get as close as possible to the daily requirements for at least three minerals.

Now, suppose the canned tomato soup has 2 mg of iron, the breakfast cereal has 8 mg of iron, the granola bars have 1 mg of iron, the canned peas have 1.4 mg of iron, the chocolate bar has 2.3 mg of iron, the packet of chips has 0.7 mg of iron, the can of tuna has 1.3 mg of iron, and the packaged bread has 1 mg of iron. The team will mentally calculate the total iron content, aiming to meet but not exceed the daily requirement.

They’ll do the same for the other minerals. Finally, the team with the most balanced meal (meeting the closest requirements for at least three minerals) wins the game.

This engaging activity makes mental math practice fun while teaching students about mineral nutritional requirements and the high sodium content in processed foods!

Advanced Food Labels Activity – Adding Layers of Complexity

In the first part of our Food Labels activity, we introduced a unique way of connecting mathematics with nutrition education. Through this mental math exercise, we provided students with a fun and engaging way to learn about nutrition while enhancing their mathematical skills. Now, we’re going to elevate the game by introducing more layers of complexity. This advanced level aims to further challenge students’ mental math abilities and deepen their understanding of nutritional values.

Leveling Up the Game: More Minerals, More Challenges

At this point, students are already familiar with the basic rules of the Food Labels game. To make the activity more complex and stimulating, let’s expand the range of minerals in the chart. This time, include other significant minerals like potassium, magnesium, zinc, and others that are essential for health.

For instance, we can add:

  1. Potassium: Daily requirement 4700mg
  2. Magnesium: Daily requirement 420mg for males, 320mg for females
  3. Zinc: Daily requirement 11mg for males, 8mg for females

Adding these additional minerals enhances the complexity of the mental math involved, as students now have to take into account more nutritional facts in their calculations.

Inclusion of Dietary Restrictions and Preferences

Another interesting layer to incorporate is considering dietary restrictions or preferences, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, and nut-free diets, among others. This twist will challenge students to create a meal plan that not only fulfills the mineral requirements but also complies with a given dietary preference or restriction.

Expanding to Full-Day Meal Planning

Take the game one step further by extending it to planning a full day’s meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks. This modification requires students to think more critically about their food choices and how they can spread their mineral intake throughout the day. They’ll need to use their mental math skills to add up the minerals in different food items across various meals.

Reflection and Discussion

Once the students have presented their meal plans, it’s time for reflection and discussion. Ask students to share their strategies, challenges, and what they’ve learned about nutrition and mathematics through this activity.

“Without mathematics, there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.” – Shakuntala Devi

This activity is not only an effective tool for teaching mental math and nutrition but also a medium to create an engaging and interactive learning environment. Students get to work in teams, exercise their problem-solving skills, and understand the practical implications of mathematics in everyday life.

Remember, The only way to learn mathematics is to do mathematics.” – Paul Halmos

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