Target Grade Level / Age Range:

6 th-8 th grade


45 minutes


To allow students to learn about diverse cultures, foods, health, and food issues, while supporting English language skills and working with the concept of bartering.


  • What’s for Lunch? How Schoolchildren Eat Around the World by Andrea Curtis

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)

Vocabulary (with definitions)

  • Additive – something added to food to change it; for example, to make it sweeter
  • Biofuel – fuel made from plant matter such as corn, soy, or wheat
  • Boycott – to refuse to buy or take part in something because you disagree with it
  • Calories – a measurement of the amount of energy provided by food
  • Climate change – a change in weather around the world; especially refers to the warming of Earth
  • Co-op – a store, group, or organization in which all members own shares and participate in running it
  • Commodity crops – unprocessed or partially processed food products such as soybeans and corn, the basic price of which is set by global markets
  • Deficiency – the state of lacking something necessary, especially nutrients such as iron (as in anemia) or iodine (as in iodine deficiency)
  • Deforestation – the cutting down of forests; refers especially to the rain forest being cut down for cattle pastures
  • Developed nation – a relatively wealthy and technologically advanced country in which most people’s basic needs (food, shelter, education, health care, and income) are met
  • Developing nation – a low- or middle-income country where there are fewer resources to meet people’s basic needs
  • Diabetes – a disease in which there is too much sugar in the blood; type 2 diabetes is often considered diet-related
  • Fiber – a part of certain foods such as grains and fruit that helps the body digest
  • Food justice – the idea that food should be a basic human right and that society should organize itself so everyone has enough food to be healthy
  • Food miles – the distance food must travel from field to table—calculated to show the environmental, social, and economic impact of what we eat
  • Food security – refers to the availability of food, as well as access to it
  • Fortified – to enrich food with nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, or protein
  • Greenhouse gas – gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that are produced on earth and collect in the atmosphere contributing to the warming of Earth
  • Local – refers to food grown or produced near where you live
  • Low income – used to describe someone who earns or receives very little money on a regular basis
  • Malnutrition – a serious condition caused by not having enough food or by having food that is not healthy. Similar to undernourished, which describes the state of being weak and unhealthy because of lack of nutritious food.
  • Nutrient – something people need to consume to stay healthy, such as protein, minerals, and vitamins. Micronutrients are essential nutrients needed in very small amounts.
  • Obesity – the medical condition of being very overweight
  • Organic – food that is produced without the use of most chemicals or pesticides
  • Poverty – the state of being poor, lacking food, shelter, education, and income. In the developing world, poverty refers to those living on less than $1.25 (U.S.) per day.
  • Preservative – something used to keep food from spoiling, especially a chemical
  • Processed food – food that has been treated, changed, or prepared in some manner so it can be easily packaged, stored, and transported
  • Protein – a necessary nutrient required by the body for growth, repair, and maintenance of all cells
  • Ration – a specific, limited amount of food distributed to people in emergency situations
  • Staple – a main food item of a nation’s diet
  • Subsidize – governments contributing money, for example, to help make school lunch affordable and accessible to students
  • Sustainable – able to be continued over the long term with minimal impact on the environment
  • United Nations (UN) – an international organization committed to peace, security, and supporting better living standards, human rights, and equality around the world
  • Whole foods – foods that have not been processed or refined and have no additives. Fresh vegetables and many grains are examples of whole foods.
  • World Food Programme (WFP) – a UN program dedicated to helping people around the world who need food assistance
  • Barter – Exchange (goods or services) for other goods or services without using money
  • Supply – a stock of a resource from which a person or place can be provided with the necessary amount of that resource
  • Demand – the desire of purchasers, consumers, clients, employers, etc., for a particular commodity, service, or other item
  • Trade – the action of buying and selling goods and services OR the exchange (something) for something else, typically as a commercial transaction
  • Currency – a system of money in general use in a particular country
  • Market – a place where buyers and sellers go to exchange goods or services

Background – Agricultural Connections (what would a teacher need to know to be able to teach this content)

  • School lunches in America have been under much scrutiny and some large changes in the past few years; both in quality and quantity of food. Through reading the book What’s For Lunch?, hopefully students gain a more holistic view of the foods they are eating in comparison with other countries.
  • This book should also help students connect common crops or food choices based on climate or region. This can be seen best in countries like Japan, England, Russia, and other developed countries that stress freshness of food. Though we process a lot of our foods for added shelf life, ease of preparation, and added benefit in the U.S., you could use this to talk about food deserts and the impact of climate on specific foods.
    • In a link listed above, the USDA (NASS) has maps of agricultural products and where they are produced across the nation. There are some helpful visuals there.
    • As a general rule, corn and soybeans are easily grown in the Midwest, as they like the heat of the summer and all of the rain we enjoy. Because we can grow these so well, livestock commonly follows suit. In order to decrease shipping costs for feeds, many pigs, cattle, and chickens are raised in the Midwest (close to the food source). A couple good resources on this would be a great interactive map from Nebraska Farm Bureau (, and the Agriculture in Society edition of Iowa Ag Today that has a map in the centerfold (
      • In drier regions, like Kansas and Nebraska, more “small grains” (wheat, oats, etc.) are grown. These plants are more susceptible to fungi or disease because of rain, so the lack of rain is beneficial for them.
      • In hot and rainy climates, like California and Florida, “specialty crops” can be grown. This includes things like oranges, tomatoes, and strawberries. Many Americans have come to expect high quality “specialty crops,” so these producers have had to use innovative techniques to ship these crops from the corners of the U.S. throughout the country.
      • In the South and the West, crops like cotton and sorghum are grown. These regions also lack in rain, but have plenty of heat. Cotton needs the long growing season our neighbors to the south have, and sorghum is hardy enough to withstand more of a drought than corn (a comparable crop).
        • These regions also utilize the vast open spaces for grazing cattle, sheep, or goats. However, different breeds and characteristics within these species may be raised in different areas to best fit their strengths. (For instance, larger-bodied cattle can be raised in Iowa, because we have more grass per acre than in Arizona, so it is easier to maintain a larger body size on pasture here.)
    • Map:
  • Food deserts are defined as urban areas in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. Some of these scenarios are seen in the book (Mexico, Afghanistan, Kenya). To connect to STEM standards, students could be asked to identify some causes of this. Have them think in terms of economics, education, infrastructure, resources, access to machinery or quality crops, or climate. As an extra step in the research paper (idea outlined in the Extension Activities section below), have students give ideas for how to solve or work to solve these issues (using science, technology, engineering, and/or math).
  • Bartering and economics is also a large part of this lesson.
    • Through the activity in class, students will have to barter different foods for other foods. In Iowa Core’s 21 st Century skills, this falls under financial literacy. It is encompassed under various forms of compensation.
      • Bartering is defined as exchanging a good or service for another good or service without using money. This can be related early cultures, trade routes, or families on the American frontier if students have studied these before.
      • Trade is defined as exchanging something for something else. This definition can include money, in contrast to bartering.
      • Though bartering isn’t necessarily a large part of life in the U.S. today, it can still be prevalent in other places. It can also be a tool to help students understand history better.
        • When talking about the concept of trading goods for other goods, talk about some reasons why that might be necessary. Reasons could include lack of a formal currency system, lack of a common currency system between the two parties, or lack of access to currency in general. Bartering can also be beneficial if both parties have a good or service that the other finds beneficial. For example, if Fred has fish and needs rice and George has rice and needs fish, it may make more sense to trade rice for fish instead of both parties paying with currency.
    • Another part of this lesson will be a basic understanding of supply and demand.
      • Through part of this activity, students will have to barter to try to obtain the healthiest meal. In this scenario, healthier foods like fruits and vegetables will have a higher demand, and unhealthy foods like pop and chips will have a lower demand.
      • Talk with students about what supply means. Supply is the amount of the good that is available. Then talk about what demand means. Demand is how much or how little people want the good
        • Hopefully the bartering activity will be a good example of these principles. The class might notice that fruits and vegetables might become more expensive in the healthy foods scenario, and that unhealthy foods might become cheaper. This is because the demand is high and the supply is fixed. There are not enough vegetables for everyone, but everyone wants vegetables. The opposite would then be true for potato chips. Though they are delicious, they are not very healthy, so students might not want to keep their potato chips. The price would fall because the demand would fall.
      • For a good crash course on economics, check out this video. It can also be used in a class setting if you would find that beneficial.

Interest Approach or Motivator

Everyone likes to eat, right? But does everyone like to eat the same stuff? Students could think about a common food that most American children like (maybe pizza), and think about if students in other countries eat pizza. Do students in Japan eat pizza? What about Kenya or Mexico? Maybe even if they have access to this kind of food, it might not be their first choice. Have them think about what might be common in other cultures and why.


  1. To start this lesson, have students read What’s for Lunch?. Have them pay attention to similarities, differences, and perceived consequences of these diets.
    1. As this is a lengthy and substantial book, this part can be adapted to fit your classroom. Perhaps it could be assigned reading, specific sections could be assigned, it could be read over multiple days, or students could read the book aloud during class time.
    2. Have students jot down notes at things that catch their attention.
  2. Once the book has been read, lead a discussion on some summary points.
    1. Ask students what the main idea of the book is. Have them identify key points.
    2. Ask students to relate different countries from the book and to identify how they compare or contrast within the book. How do the different countries relate? Use specific examples.
    3. Touch on cultural differences and similarities, common food groups in school lunches, health concerns, how climates or regions affect what students eat, etc.
  3. Guide the discussion into one on bartering. The book mentions some about how the price of food changes, and some about food trade. Ask students to picture a grocery store. If you walk in with $100, are you concerned about the price of an individual item? What about if you walk in with $0.50? What about if you walk in with a plate of cookies?
    1. Talk about some of the word definitions in the vocabulary section. Cover bartering, trade, markets, and other related words.
  4. In the essential file, Food cards.pdf, you will find quarter-sheet “trading cards” of each food mentioned in each country’s lunch. Some countries have many foods, like beef, potatoes, carrots, and a drink. Other countries have only one. Each student should be assigned a country, and given all of the food cards from that country. Each card will have the country, flag, name of food, and description of food beneath it.
    1. There are 13 countries. If your class has more than 13 students, plan to print more countries’ food cards until you have enough full country sets for each student.
    2. When assigning countries, cards could be paper clipped together, or cards of one country could be placed in a labeled envelope.
  5. Have the students read their cards silently. If they have questions about what is on the cards, this could be a good time to answer them.
  6. Explain to the students that there will be an activity using their trading cards. Tell them that when you announce “Go” the students will have to get up, move around the room, and attempt to trade food cards with other students to get the “tastiest” possible meal.
    1. Each card can be traded for one, two, or three cards. Students need to negotiate the best possible trade.
    2. Encourage them to be courteous, but not to take bad deals.
    3. Let them know they will have five minutes to trade before they will be called back to their seats.
  7. Allow students to begin trading. Encourage more reserved students to take part.
  8. Give a 1 minute and 30 second warning before calling the students back to their seats.
  9. Ask for a couple volunteers to share what their new meals are. Have them list country as well as food.
  10. After a couple volunteers have spoken, ask the classroom what it was like to trade food for other food. What was easy? What was more difficult? How did you go about it? Was it successful?
    1. Ask students what they would do differently next time or what would make it easier. Ask what would make it more difficult.
    2. Facilitate more discussion on bartering if it arises.
  11. Next, announce that they will get to try again. If possible, have students return the food cards to the original owner. (Each student should have their country again.)
  12. This time, give the students five minutes to put together the “healthiest” meal they can.
    1. Ask students what “healthy” means. Students could say things like vitamins and minerals are healthy. Protein is healthy. Sugar is not healthy, but can be okay in small amounts. Most of all, food should have nutritional content that helps our bodies stay healthy.
      1. Ask students for examples of foods that are healthy, and for examples of foods that should only be eaten in moderation.
    2. Give time warnings as necessary before calling the students back to their seats.
  13. Ask the students what was different about this round, and why they think that is. Have a couple volunteers share what their healthy meals are.
    1. In this round, a discussion on supply and demand can arise. Ask students how hard it was to get vegetables or how easy it was to get potato chips. Point out that since there is a limited amount of healthy things and demand was very high, it makes those goods more “expensive.” This is the same with the economy.
  14. This activity can be repeated as time allows. Some other ideas are:
    1. The most countries as possible
    2. All the same food group
    3. As many food groups as possible
    4. A different number of food cards than before
    5. And many others! Be creative, or try tying it back to another topic studied earlier.
      1. Each time the activity is repeated, you may take a volunteer or two to share their new menu, as well as some new/old positives and challenges of bartering.
  15. To end the lesson, have students obtain their initial cards and package them the way they were packaged initially. Have them find their seats.
  16. Discuss with the students some overall things they learned about trading and bartering.
    1. Be sure to ask questions recapping topics like supply and demand, currency, and trade.
      1. What happened to demand of healthy foods when you were asked to create healthy meals?
      2. What is bartering? How is that similar or different from trade?
    2. Ask them what they did differently or the same over time. Ask what surprised them or what they found interesting (either in the book or in the activity). Have this wrap up the lesson.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Iowa is the No. 1 state in pork production, egg production, corn production, and soybean production.
  • Iowa has a larger ethanol facility capacity than any other state!
  • Agriculture plays a huge part in the economy in Iowa. According to the 2012 census, the value of agricultural products sold by Iowa farmers totaled $30.8 billion.

Extension Activities (how students can carry this beyond the classroom)

  • Outside of class time, have the students write a 1-2-page report on one of the following topics:
    • A food mentioned in the book
      • Could include any food they would like to learn more about
    • A food issue mentioned in the book
      • Ideas could be malnutrition, obesity, impact of war on food production, climate change, economic or social class issues, etc.
  • Give the students one week to complete the report (including two sources).



Chrissy Rhodes

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes


  • T3.6-8.d: Explain how factors, such as culture, convenience, access, and marketing affect food choices locally, regionally, and globally
  • T3.6-8.g: Identify agricultural products (foods) that provide valuable nutrients for a balanced diet
  • T5.6-8.a. Consider the economic value of agriculture in America
  • T5.6-8.d. Explain how prices for agricultural goods are determined
  • T5.6-8.g. Identify agricultural products that are exported and imported

Iowa Core Standards

  • Social Studies:
    • SS.6.15. Distinguish how varying economic systems impact a nation and its citizens.
    • SS.6.16. Utilize and construct geographic representations to explain and analyze regional, environmental, and cultural characteristics.
    • SS.7.18. Explain and evaluate how economic decisions affect the well-being of individuals, businesses, and society.
    • SS.7.20. Investigate the impact of trade policies and barriers on a nation and its citizens.  
    • SS.8.15. Evaluate how economic decisions affect the wellbeing of individuals, businesses, and society.
  • English Language Arts:
    • RI.6.2, DOK 2,3: Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.
    • RI.6.3, DOK 2,3,4: Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).
    • RI.7.2, DOK 2,3,4: Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
    • RI.7.3, DOK 2,3: Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).
    • RI.8.2, DOK 2,3,4: Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
    • RI.8.3, DOK 2,3: Analyze how a text makes connections among and distinctions between individuals, ideas, or events (e.g., through comparisons, analogies, or categories).
  • 21 st Century Skills:
    • 21.6-8.ES.1: Communicate and work productively with others, considering different perspectives, and cultural views to increase the quality of work.
    • 21.6-8.HL.1: Demonstrate functional health literacy skills to obtain, interpret, understand and use basic health concepts to enhance personal, family and community health.
    • 21.6-8.FL.2: Create an effective spending plan using informed decision-making skills. Understand various sources of compensation.

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