Plant Parts We Eat
Target Grade Level / Age Range:
Students will strengthen their sorting skills by learning about which part of food crops they eat.
Suggested Companion Resources:
- Garden: an area of land for the use of growing fruits, vegetables and flowers
- Vegetable : a plant or portion of a plant used as food, typically the stem, leaves or root
- Leaves: The flat, green bladelike part of a plant
- Stems: The main stalk of the plant
- Fruit: The sweet and fleshy product of a tree or other plant that contains seed and can be eaten as food
- Seeds: The small capsules within the fruit or grain of a plant that are capable of developing into another plant
- Roots: The part of the plant below the soil that helps anchor, support, and provide nutrients to the plant
Background – Agricultural Connections:
- What’s the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? That’s something many people don’t know! This lesson will help students identify different plant parts, as well as help them with their sorting, problem solving, and even some counting skills.
In an attached document, there are 23 photos of foods. Each one is labeled. Before the lesson begins, you may need to print these out and cut them apart. Instead of this, you could bring in real fruits and veggies or plastic toy foods. Part of this exercise will be for students to sort their food into seed (fruit), leaf, root, or stem (stalk).
- Three of the categories are fairly simple to encompass, however the seed category will include seeds, fruits, and flowers for simplicity’s sake. These parts of the plant all relate to reproduction.
Here is a brief description of each of the 23 foods:
- Tomatoes are indeed a fruit! As a hint, any of these foods that have seeds in them (or are seeds themselves) would fall under the seed/fruit category.
- Corn is a seed. The sweet corn we eat doesn’t necessarily look like corn seeds, but that is mostly because we don’t eat dried corn like livestock does.
- There are many different varieties of lettuce, but when you eat lettuce, you are eating leaves. Lettuce can be grown in many different ways, but commercial lettuce producers (largely in Arizona and California) may use greenhouses with temperature controls and irrigation systems to grow the plants optimally.
- Green beans can be tricky, because we eat the beans while they’re still inside the pod. The beans are the seed portion of the plant, but the pod itself isn’t a reproductive structure. For simplicities sake, green beans can be called fruits.
- Cabbage, like lettuce, is a leafy food. Cabbage grows in heads, not separated leaves.
- Even though zucchini is green, there are still seeds inside. This is a fruit! Zucchini grows well in Iowa, and can be harvested in the summer.
- Students might think pickles are vegetables. Even though there’s no pickle plant, cucumbers are actually fruits! They contain seeds that can develop into another cucumber plant.
- Celery is a stalk. We cut off the leaves and roots before we put peanut butter in it to eat it.
- Squash and pumpkins are both fruits! They grow on vines and are harvested in the fall, just in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving.
- Radishes are an enlarged root, like a carrot.
- Onions are called a bulb, which is also an enlarged root.
- Broccoli, cauliflower, and artichokes are all actually flowers! They can all be categorized under the “seed” or “fruit” category.
- Beets are a root, as well. They are easy to grow in Iowa, and farmers or gardeners can plant multiple times throughout the spring and summer to produce a continuous crop.
- Potatoes are actually a stem! Potatoes are technically tubers, which means that they’re just a storage pocket in an underground stem, or a rhizome. A rhizome is technically different from a root and is more similar to a stem, so therefore potatoes are a stem!
- Asparagus is a stem, but if the plant becomes overgrown, it will branch out and go to seed. Once this happens, the stems will be too tough to harvest. Therefore, asparagus must be harvested early.
- Peppers are a fruit! Think about those seeds you may try to avoid in spicier peppers. While hotter peppers may not be grown as much in Iowa, bell peppers and other sweet peppers can be!
- Spinach is a leaf. It grows similarly to some kinds of lettuce, where tufts of spinach leaves will grow from the soil. It does not grow in heads or from a main stalk.
- Peas and carrots might be a common veggie combination, but peas are actually a fruit! Like green beans, these are seeds that grow inside of a pod. Usually we don’t eat peas in the pod.
- Carrots might be the easiest root to identify! They might not always be as pretty as they are in the store, but they are packed with vitamins that are good for eyesight!
- Eggplants are a fruit.
- Artichokes are technically a flower, but they fit nicely in the seed or fruit category.
Interest Approach or Motivator:
Ask students what they know about gardens. Ask what fruits and vegetables they like to eat that comes from a garden.
Ask students where fruits and vegetables come from. Do you make them in the kitchen, or do you get them from the store? How do they get to the store?
- Help students realize the produce must be grown by farmers and sold to markets, where people can buy them fresh.
- Lead into the reading by defining vocabulary terms (listed above).
- Read Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens.
Discuss what happens in the book and review the different vegetables that were grown in this book. Discuss how we eat varies parts of plants.
- Ask students how carrots grow. How is that different from lettuce? What about corn and potatoes?
- Give every student a picture of a food (attached document). Have them look at their food and ask questions about their picture if they have any.
Tell students to stand up. If their food grows on the top of the plant (above ground) have them walk to the left side of the room. If their food grows on the bottom part of the plant (below ground) have them walk to the right side of the room.
- Did everyone sort their food correctly? What was tricky?
- Next, explain to students that they are going to look for more differences and similarities in their foods. Have them sit back down.
Ask students if their food is a leaf. Students with pictures of lettuce, cabbage, and spinach should raise their hands. If they are all correct, have them bring up their picture and place it in the “leaf” category of the chart paper.
- Repeat this activity with seed (or fruit), root, and stem (or stalk).
- Ask students which category has the most foods in it. Which one has the least? Count the number of foods in each category with the students. Write the numbers on the chart paper in each category.
- Once the graph has been made, send students to their desks. Have them get out their crayons, etc.
- Have students illustrate and label a vegetable that we eat that is the leaf, seed, and root of the plant. Hand students the “Draw Your Food!” worksheet (attached) for this assignment.
- Have students share their illustrations with each other.
Did you know? (Ag facts):
- Vegetables that may yield more than one crop per season are beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, kohlrabi, lettuce, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, and turnips.
- Potatoes are a swollen stem (called a tuber). Carrots are the roots. Spinach is the leaves.
Ask students to record what vegetables they ate last night and determine what part of the plant they are eating.
- The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide, The American Horticultural Society
- Food, Land & People. (2012). Food, land & people conceptual framework. Retrieved from
- Karen Adams - Ag in the classroom lessons
Oskaloosa Community Schools
National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:
- Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy Outcomes:
- T2.K2 c Identify examples of feed/food products eaten by animals and people
- Food, Health, and Lifestyle Outcomes:
- T3.K2 a Identify healthy food options
Iowa Core Standards:
- K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals need to survive.
- RL.K.1: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
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