Challenges, Choices, and Chocolate Cake


Health Challenge #3 has begun. And, I must say, it’s off to a great start!

This past week, I introduced the challenge to my students. It’s one of my favorites. Anytime I can get a dozen or so kids frantically waving their hands in the air, dying to share, I know I’ve succeeded.

Health Challenge #3 requiresd students to be label readers, and to evaluate the “healthiness” of foods. I wanted them to be reflective, and to understand that they have choices.

I began by sharing a Larabar ingredient label.

Ingredients: cashews, dates

I kept it simple. I talked about the importance of being able to recognize (and pronounce) the names of the ingredients. I talked about the number of ingredients in a food item, sharing that for the most part, the fewer ingredients the better. I talked about the many different names for sugar. And I talked about how ingredients were listed in order of quantity.

And then…the challenge:

Look at food labels, decide if the food item is “healthy” or “not so healthy”, and explain why.

My third hour class was in the midst of eating snacks, and many could not wait for me to project their ingredient label on the document camera for a classroom evaluation. Hmmm….turns out many of the food items from the “snack cart” aren’t so healthy, given the above criteria. (That’s a blog post just waiting to be written, btw.)

Throughout the day I heard:

“Why are the ingredients hidden under the flap? Don’t they want you to know what’s in there?”


“My granola bar is labeled ‘natural, but there is a bunch of junk in it. Is it really natural?”

Clearly it isn’t.

“Yogurt has sugar in it?”

And quite a bit, apparently…given the location of the ingredient.

“There’s acid in my food!”

We’ll discuss that later.

And sadly…

“I don’t care what’s in my food. If it tastes good, I’m eating it.”

I wrapped up by asking students to bring in a fruit snack labels the next day.  I LOVE sharing ingredients in fruit snacks.

I was not at all disappointed by the number of students who found me early the next day to give me their labels. (If only they were this eager all the time.)

I couldn’t wait to see if “I don’t care what’s in my food. If it tastes good, I’m eating it” boy would react to the ingredients in fruit snacks.

So, at the beginning of each class, I projected one of the labels. The first thing students noticed was that of the first 3 ingredients, 2 were forms of added sugar. And then…and then, the moment I couldn’t wait for (and the moment my student teacher dreaded-she loved fruit snacks)…

“What’s gelatin?”

Excellent question! What exactly is gelatin? Google it!

Students opened their chrome books. Within seconds, hands went up to cover mouths. Murmurs of disgust filled the air. My eyes were focused on “I don’t care what’s in my food. If it tastes good, I’m eating it” boy. The look was priceless. Absolutely priceless.

(Go ahead. Look it up. I’ll still be here when you get back.)

And then, because I am not entirely evil, I shared a second fruit snack wrapper. I asked students to compare the ingredients. Guess what was missing?

Yep. No gelatin to be found.

Eating healthy does not necessarily mean you need to give up your favorite fixes. You just need to be aware of what’s out there. There are healthier choices.

Like this cake for example. I made this for a friend’s/coworker’s birthday this past week.  While it’s not health food by any means, it certainly is a healthier option. I debated on making a healthier version of the frosting, but it was a birthday cake. And birthdays are special. And the frosting was delicious!


The Best Chocolate Cake Ever 

(recipe from Minimalist Baker, but ever so slightly modified)

1 1/2 cups almond milk (I used unsweetened)

2 t. apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cups applesauce (I used unsweetened)

1/2 cup brewed coffee

2/3 cup coconut oil (melted)

2 t. vanilla

2 1/8 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 1/3 cup coconut sugar

1 cup cacao powder

2 t. baking soda

1 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 round cake pans with oil. Dust with cacao powder, dumping out excess. In a large bowl, add milk and vinegar. Stir, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Whisk in applesauce, coffee, coconut oil, and vanilla. Whisk well! Add flour, coconut sugar, cacao powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Beat with electric mixer until well combined. Pour 1/2 of mixture into one cake pan, 1/2 of mixture into the other cake pan. Tap pans on counter to release any air bubbles that may be hiding. Bake for approximately 35 minutes.


1 cup vegan butter, softened

3 cups powdered sugar

2/3 cup cacao powder

1/4 cup chocolate chips, melted and slightly cooled (I used Enjoy Life brand)

2 t. vanilla

1/4 almond milk (I used unsweetened)

Beat butter and cacao powder with electric mixer until blended. Add vanilla, melted and cooled chocolate chips, and milk. Beat. Add sugar s-l-o-w-l-y.

Once cakes have cooled, remove from pan. Don’t get too anxious. Wait until cake is 100% cooled to frost. Otherwise you will have a sloppy mess. A tasty mess, but a sloppy mess nonetheless. Then you will have to get all kinds of creative (hello, toothpicks) to make your cake stay stacked. And, I am assuming you know how to frost a layer cake. If you don’t, you can google it, just like you googled gelatin.







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