How McGraw Hill Connect® and NutritionCalc Plus Helped Modify Student Dietary Patterns

Published October 2, 2020

By Sarah Larson, MS RD LDN and Amanda Missimer, PhD RD LDN

Students enrolled in general nutrition courses at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and across the country, have been assessing their diet as a major assignment for many years. The Dietary Assessment Project (DAP) incorporates course materials by applying it directly to each student’s personal dietary intake, enabling them to see how and why it is relevant to their lives today—and in the future. Historically, URI students completed this project in three parts: record three days of food intake, answer lengthy questions about whether they were meeting, exceeding, or falling below national recommendations, and finally reflect on their intake and propose suggested changes.

To provide a more robust experience for students, the project has been modified in recent years to better align with course material and provide more frequent application throughout the semester. Students were asked to record three days of food intake, answer questions about various food groups and macro- and micronutrients at several points in the semester, and complete a final overall reflection. With a transition to a new learning management system (LMS), a global pandemic forcing courses to be taught remotely, and the availability of a wide range of questions from McGraw Hill Connect (all McGraw Hill nutrition titles have student access to NutritionCalc Plus (NCP) and instructor access to the Assess My Diet question bank), the project was updated to enable students more frequent application, reflection, and opportunity to implement behavior changes real-time.

Utilizing NutritionCalc Plus

At the semester start, students orient themselves to NCP by reviewing the ready-to-use instructions on McGraw Hill Connect by completing a low-stakes, auto-graded assignment built from the Assess My Diet question bank on how to set up a profile, enter foods, modify portions, and add activity levels. This ensures the students will get the most accurate results when entering food and beverages into NCP.

After familiarizing themselves with NCP, students are asked to create a profile and record three days of food and beverage intake into NCP. NCP will then generate a Food List Report that provides all the recorded food and beverage items and portions for all meals and snacks over the given timeframe. Students then upload these reports to their LMS. To provide students with detailed feedback on their reports, the assignment submission was moved from McGraw Hill Connect to their LMS. There, students receive both in-line item and overall feedback to ensure there was an adequate level of detail on their Food List Reports before proceeding with the project.

Students review the provided feedback from the trained teaching team and are directed to make any suggested modifications in NCP to improve the accuracy of their dietary reports. Students then generate the MyPlate Report and Bar Graph Reports from NCP based on their modified recorded intake to answer questions from the Assess My Diet question ready-to-use question bank that are specific to their personal intakes.

MyPlate Report

The Intelligent Response questions prompt students to enter their own intake of a particular nutrient and will then generate answers based on their data for multiple choice questions. This, along with the auto-grade feature, further emphasizes the ease of personalization with these tools. Students then answer questions about macro- and micronutrients as it relates to their own intake compared to national recommendations.

Intelligent Response Question

To wrap up their initial dietary assessment, students are asked to think about ways in which they can modify their own diet based on a list of instructor-provided macro- and micronutrients. This list was generated to encourage successful behavior changes in the time period allotted for modification.

Implementing SMART Goals

Using the “Set My Goals” questions from the Assess My Diet question bank, students are asked to write two SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely) goals relating to dietary modifications from the instructor-provided nutrients list (which includes macro and micronutrients, as well as more specific components such as dietary fiber and plant-based proteins). Although students have the option to complete this in McGraw Hill Connect, for the purpose of URI’s courses, our faculty wanted to foster a sense of community, provide detailed feedback and encouragement from peers and the teaching team to create the most achievable goals. We saw the best way to do this was to move SMART goal writing and feedback to our LMS, using the Discussion feature. This format allowed students to post their goals to the Discussion, receive feedback to improve goals, and provide encouragement for success of their proposed behavior changes. Students were then asked to revise their SMART goals using the provided feedback. The SMART goals and Discussion were evaluated using a standardized rubric with line-item and overall feedback.

Students are then asked to implement these dietary changes for a defined period of time and track their progress using a provided tracker. They then reflect on their goals, including any observed anecdotal changed aspects of their dietary intake and how these affect overall health. To provide a further level of assessment, the students re-record three days of food and beverage intake using NCP to create updated Food List Reports that incorporate their new behavior changes. The Food List Reports are submitted, along with the SMART goal tracking log, to the LMS, which allows the teaching team to provide line item and overall feedback using a standardized rubric.

Students then complete the same dietary assessment that was assigned following the initial dietary record using the Assess My Diet ready-to-use question bank and auto-graded Intelligent Response questions. This allows the students to easily see which nutrients were increased, decreased, or remained unchanged following their dietary modification.

The final portion of the project is completed in the LMS, which allows students to answer open-ended questions describing the changes in their diet, impact of the project on their dietary patterns, and connection to their own personal health outcomes. This assignment is graded by the teaching team using standardized answers and feedback with space for individual interpretation of responses.


By the end of this project, we hope to have the students have an improved understanding of how and why they choose the foods they eat with an increased content knowledge that can be applied outside of this course and carried further with personal health and wellness management.

The tools available from McGraw Hill Connect, specifically NCP and Assess My Diet ready-to-use question bank, provides instructors the flexibility to create an assessment project for their students that best fits the content provided and goals of the course. By incorporating your university’s LMS into the project, you give yourself and your teaching team even more possibilities for customization. The ease of the seamless relationship between McGraw Hill Connect and the LMS has allowed us to host this project for more than 1,000 students annually with both in-person and online platforms. The user-friendly NCP program and ease of ready-to-use question selection, modification, open-answer, and auto-grade options within Assess My Diet also provides the ability of a unique and modifiable project for any course looking to assess and change a student’s dietary pattern.

Sarah Larson, MS, RD, LDN is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. She teaches students throughout their nutrition education, beginning with introductory nutrition and ending with a senior practicum.

Dr. Amanda Missimer is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences. Her teaching and research objectives surround providing nutrition education to all communities of Rhode Island. Dr. Missimer utilizing McGraw Hill Connect and tools in her general nutrition course taught as a general education course to majors across the University.