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It’s not always easy to get students to make healthy choices in the lunchroom, but one possible solution might be right under their noses: the cafeteria tray. By giving more visual real estate – but not more actual space – to the most enticing items, students might feel like they’re getting more of the foods they love, without going overboard on calories.

In this lesson, students calculate volumes of rectangular prisms and use that information to design an appealing and well-balanced tray.

Students will

  • Find the volume of a rectangular prism with whole-number or fractional edge lengths
  • Given the dimensions of its base, calculate the height/depth necessary to form a rectangular prism with a particular volume
  • Design a lunch tray that holds the appropriate volumes of different food groups, while maximizing the visibility of the most desirable foods
  • Discuss the effects of food presentation and placement on people’s food choices

Before you begin

Students should be able to calculate the area of a rectangle with known dimensions. The lesson focuses on calculating the volume of a rectangular prism, but that’s not a prerequisite. As long as students are able to calculate rectangular area, they can make arguments about packing unit cubes in order to develop a general rule for calculating the volume of a rectangular prism.

Common Core Standards

Content Standards
Mathematical Practices


Al Rausa, Brian Wansick, MTV, PBS NewsHour