How to use Assess My Diet

Published April 17, 2020

By Angela Collene

What is the most important assignment in your intro nutrition course? Ask a nutrition instructor and most often, he or she will tell you it’s the dietary analysis assignment. Memorizing dietary recommendations and food sources of nutrients may earn students a good grade on an exam, but it’s the practical application of this knowledge that makes intro nutrition impactful in students’ lives, long after they leave the classroom.

However, these same instructors are likely to tell you that the dietary analysis assignment is also the most burdensome to grade. Semester after semester, the instructional team revises the assignment and may spend an hour or more grading each student’s submission. For courses with high enrollment, it may not be feasible to assign a personalized dietary analysis assignment at all.

Instructors are asking how they can be more efficient with their time, yet still use authentic assignments that challenge students to apply their knowledge and think critically about their own health.

Make it personal! An authentic dietary analysis assignment begins with an analysis of the student’s own dietary pattern. Students are asked to record their intakes of all foods and beverages for a period of time (e.g., three days). Then, students analyze their usual intakes with a dietary analysis software program.

All students who use McGraw-Hill Connect nutrition titles have built-in access to NutritionCalc Plus (NCP), a powerful, yet user-friendly dietary analysis program that features 35,000 different food items from the ESHA Research nutrient database. In the past, I’ve assigned nutrition projects with free online diet trackers. USDA’s SuperTracker was a good program, but due to federal funding cuts, it is no longer available to the public. Other free apps, such as My Fitness Pal, contain incomplete or inaccurate nutrient data. The reports are also not as comprehensive as the NCP reports. I value NCP for my courses because it is easy to use, accurate, and very comprehensive. I have many students from diverse backgrounds, and we are able find good matches for a vast array of foods. Many items have complete nutrient data from the USDA nutrient database. This database is supplemented with data from manufacturers. My students don’t have to worry about inaccurate, user-entered data in the ESHA database.

Having entered their dietary data into NCP, students can generate a wide variety of reports to examine how their dietary intake compares to public health recommendations and nutrient intake standards. The reports are tailored to the individual, based on the student’s height, weight, age, sex, and activity level. The Bar Graph Report shows how the student’s intake of nutrients compares to the dietary reference intakes. The MyPlate Report calculates the student’s servings of foods from each MyPlate food group. The Spreadsheet Report displays how each food item entered by the student contributes to the student’s total intake of each nutrient. All Daily Reports compiles all the reports (Bar Graph, MyPlate, Spreadsheet, and others) into one file for easy viewing.

Equipped with this comprehensive data, the next step is for students to evaluate their own results. This is the aspect of the assignment that needed some enhancement! So, in 2018, I set to work with another intro nutrition instructor (Lee Murphy) to create a bank of dietary analysis questions that would be based on the students’ individual dietary data but could be mostly auto graded. Eventually, these question banks came to be known as Assess My Diet.

Let me give you a quick tour of the Assess My Diet tools, which are part of coursewide content for the McGraw-Hill Connect® nutrition titles!