Strategies to Teaching Nutrition to Students with Intellectual Disabilities

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Nutritional Issues and Intellectual Disabilities

Getting good nutrition is important for everyone, and teaching students about nutrition at an early age can set them up for a healthy lifestyle as they get older. Children with intellectual disabilities face certain nutritional issues as they reach adulthood, thus increasing the need for nutritional education. For example, the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability notes that adults with Down syndrome are at risk for obesity, Celiac disease, diabetes, constipation, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, and GERD. Teaching students about nutrition in school can give them the tools they need to minimize their risks of these conditions by eating healthy. Teachers can use different hands-on activities for teaching nutrition to persons with intellectual disabilities.

Activities for Teaching Nutrition to Persons with Intellectual Disabilities

When teaching nutrition to persons with intellectual disabilities, teachers may considering using books, audio tapes or videos on nutrition designed for students with intellectual disabilities. Activ has a list of resources that can help adults with intellectual disabilities learn about nutrition and diet. This list may be helpful in the classroom. Also consider bringing in a dietitian who works with children with intellectual disabilities.

Hands-on activities can also help students grasp the concept of nutrition, especially younger students. If the classroom has play food, this is a great opportunity to turn them into educational tools! Start with teaching the students about the food pyramid. Explain to students that to be healthy, we need to eat more of certain foods, such as breads and cereals, and less of other foods, such as sweets. Clear off the floor and lay down a large sized version of the food pyramid with the type of food and the number of servings written in bold in each section. Ask the students to put the appropriate play food in each section of the food pyramid. You can also use photographs of food if the classroom does not have play food. Review with students which types of food they should eat more of, which types they should eat less of, and why.

Teachers may also consider bringing in healthy foods to teach students about alternatives to sugary snacks. Before doing so, contact parents and make sure none of the food being brought in are something a student is allergic to. Start of the lessons by having the class make a list together of their favorite snack foods (the teacher can write this list on the board). Explain to the students that the class is going to be trying some new snack foods that are also good for them. Examples include smoothies, new fruits and health “cracker stackers,” according to Behavioral Health Nutrition. After trying the new healthy snacks, ask students what they liked and explain how these foods are good for them, tying back into the food pyramid.

The nutrition lesson can also continue at home. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability suggests that children with intellectual disabilities get involved in food preparing at home, such as participating in making a menu, washing the vegetables and setting the table. After assigning this homework, spend the beginning of the next day’s lesson having the students tell others how they helped with dinner.


Activ: Diet & Nutrition Current Awareness List



National Center on Physical Activity and Disability: Health Promotion: Down Syndrome and Nutrition


National Center on Physical Activity and Disability: Health Promotion: Food Guide Pyramid


Behavioral Health Nutrition: Health U. - Weight Loss and Down Syndrome


This post is part of the series: Information on Intellectual Disabilities in Students

Information on intellectual disabilities, such as the different types, how they are diagnosed, and what issues can arise for diagnosed students.

  1. An Overview of Intellectual Disability: Levels of Severity, Causes and Diagnosis
  2. Understanding the Criteria for an Intellectual Disability
  3. Strategies to Help Students with Intellectual Disabilities Overcome Test Anxiety
  4. Teaching Nutrition to Students with Intellectual Disabilities: Fun Nutrition Activities for the Classroom