Unit 4 Information for Leaders

To view the individual activities for this unit, click on them in the highlighted orange box to the left

A PDF version of this unit is available here.

Behavior Goal

Children will choose foods with healthy fats when possible.

Key Messages for Kids

  • You need to eat fat to keep your body healthy, but not all fats are the same. Try to choose fats that are good for your body.
  • Fats from fish, nuts, and seeds are healthy for your body.
  • Limit fats from animal sources, like butter, whole milk, and red meat.
  • Do not eat trans fats found in fast food like French fries and baked goods like cookies.

Key Information for Program Staff

Fat is a tricky subject for children (and adults!) to think about. Children, especially older ones, often associate "fat" with body image, and they do not think about it in a good way. When you introduce this unit, inform the group that fat is just one of three energy sources that we get from food (carbohydrates, protein, and fat all give us energy for the body to work). We need to eat fat for energy, to help us feel full, and because it provides nutrients like vitamin E. Our bodies need fat for nerve function, healthy skin and to protect our organs (fat acts like a cushion!). Some body fat is normal and healthy! However, we need to be careful about the type of fat we consume.

Before participating in the activities in this unit, children should have some understanding of the difference between "Go" foods with healthy fat and "Slow" foods with unhealthy fats. Explain that healthy fats are plant fats (like nuts or olive oil) and fish oils, or have lower saturated fat (like low-fat milk). Fats that are not healthy are saturated, like fat from animals (butter, red meat, and whole milk), and trans fat (found in processed snack foods, margarine, and many fried fast foods like French fries). See the box below for more information on the different types of fats!

When discussing food fats with children, keep in mind that younger children in particular will have difficulty understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. Try partnering older children with younger children so they can help with these concepts. You can also discuss food choices with children and encourage them to find healthier options at lunch or when they are eating out. As you explore the different types of healthy fats, try to incorporate foods that are relevant to the lives of the children you serve. Take time to talk to kids about how the food they eat at home is prepared and help them identify when they are eating healthy vs. unhealthy fats. Don't forget, the best way to influence healthy habits among children is for you to be a positive role model by offering healthy snack options (and eating them too!).

It is important to avoid suggestions of "dieting" to children at this age! You may need to remind children that you are discussing food fat as it relates to healthy eating, and not as it relates to body fatness. We do not want children to interpret this topic as suggesting that they are "fat" or need to lose weight. Though some children may be overweight, neither this unit nor the Food & Fun curriculum are designed for weight loss. Also avoid the suggestion that low-fat diets will help children stay slim or lose weight. Food fats are not turned directly into body fat; they have functions in the body as noted above. When people gain too much weight, it is because they eat more calories from any type of food (calories comes from carbohydrates, protein and fat) than they use for exercise and basic body functions (including growth and development).

Children should be encouraged to be active for the fun of it and to choose foods that taste good and keep their bodies healthy. If weight is a real concern, it is up to the parents to work with the child's doctor and a dietitian on a healthy plan.

  • Refer to the "Say No to Trans Fat!" Tip Sheet for ideas on how to get trans fats out of the snacks served at your afterschool program.
  • The browser version of this tip sheet is located here
  • The fast map for this unit is available here
  • The browser version of this fast map is available here

Keeping Track of Fats!

Unsaturated fats are healthy fats. These fats are found in plant oils (like olive oil and vegetable oil), nuts, and fish. Unsaturated fats help lower the "bad" (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.

Saturated fats come from animal sources like dairy products (for example whole milk and butter) and red meat. Coconut and palm oils are also saturated fats. Saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol and can lead to heart disease and diabetes. Since whole milk is a major source of saturated fat in children's diets, one easy way to lower their intake of unhealthy saturated fat is to offer skim or 1% milk.

Trans fats are created from plant oils through a chemical process called partial hydrogenation which makes them solid at room temperature. Trans fats are commonly found in stick margarine, processed baked goods like cookies, crackers, and other snack products, and fast foods. Trans fats are bad for your health and should be avoided! Buy snacks for your program that have 0 grams of trans fat on the nutrition label. But, also check the ingredient list! By law, products labeled as "0 grams trans fat," are still allowed to contain up to 0.49 grams of trans fat per serving. Look for the words "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" in the ingredient list; this means the food has trans fat.