Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nutrition Science with the Chickadees

Today, my real-life and blogging friend, Susan (WhyMommy of Toddler Planet) is undergoing surgery for a locally metastatic recurrence of the Inflammatory Breast Cancer she successfully battled two years ago. Susan is a fantastic person, an inspiration, and one of the most intuitive and least neurotic moms I know. She also happens to be an astrophysicist who is dedicating her life and career to promoting women in science.

In honor of Susan as she undergoes surgery and prepares to begin another course of radiation, Stimey proposed that Susan's supporters take part in a virtual science fair to show her how much she inspires us, not just as a cancer survivor, but also as a woman, mom, and scientist. So without further ado, here's a little something I like to call "Nutrition Science with the Chickadees".

Our nutrition science activities included (1) sitting on our behinds and watching (thanks hulu) two segments of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (the "making of chicken nuggets" horror and the "beef fat in the dumpster" scariness) and then discussing whether we should want to eat chicken nuggets and things that are fried and brown, (2) an inadvertent experiment that happened when a bag of McDonald's apples was, um, left too long in Mommy's purse, and (3) an experiment testing the fat content in food.

First, the chickadees watched with great interest and growing disgust as Jamie Oliver created chicken nuggets from a chicken carcass, chicken fat, stabilizers, flavorings, breadcrumbs, and oil. We discussed whether those things were good for you and why they might be or might not be. I'm happy to inform you that both girls thought chicken nuggets were disgusting, unlike the children on the program. We also watched a few minutes as Jamie poured one week's worth of chocolate milk (more sugar than soda), sloppy joes, and other disgusting cafeteria foods into a large tarp, demonstrating for parents what kinds of foods their children were being given at school. In the most horrible revelation, he had a truck empty the equivalent of all the fat the school consumed in a year into a dumpster. Blech. It makes me glad that Chickadee #1 goes to a school that doesn't serve lunch most days, leaving the onus on me to provide nutritious meals. Unfortunately, on the days that her school does serve lunch, the lunch consists of either pizza, with a choice of chips, ice cream, or apples, or hot dogs and sloppy joes, with a choice of chips, ice cream, or apples.

In the "accidental experiment", Mommy found a bag of apple slices that had been marinating in her purse for several days. When asked, Chickadee #1 said that it looked like "great big, puffed up balloon". We discussed the fact that carbon dioxide is a gas that is released when organic material, like apples, decay. Usually, we said, the gas is released into the air and you can't see or realize it but, in this case, the apples were sealed in a plastic bag, which meant that the gas couldn't escape and was trapped in the bag. That meant we could watch what happened. We tried to wait to see whether the bag would explode from the pressure of the expanding gas, but impatience won out. We pierced the bag and smelled the gas. "Yuck," was the consensus. Chickadee # 1 didn't think that it smelled like anything apple-related. I'm glad to know that they don't recognize the smell of hard cider (which was all I used to drink when I was in graduate school in Ireland).

Finally, we got to the real experiment. Here, we tested the fat content of various foods (mostly Easter leftovers - we don't have ham, potatoes drenched in butter, and cheesecake (or asparagus, for that matter) on a regular basis) by rubbing them on brown paper and holding the paper up to the light. It was a delightful experience for me as I watched the Chickadees actually do a science experiment and draw the correct conclusions. I got to explain what a hypothesis is and to teach them how to think about what they did. It was fantastic and funny, and my favorite quote was:

Mommy: "It's okay to get a little messy...."

Chickadee #1: "It IS science."

So, for your viewing pleasure, here is our whole experiment of "Nutrition Science with the Chickadees". Sorry about the "hacking up a lung like a three-pack-a-day" smoker. I've been hard hit with allergies and reactive airway disorder is acting up. I should have done the breathing fish (Chickadee #2's name for the nebulizer) before we started -- she has RAD too.

I can't get blogger to upload the video, so I'm posting it in segments on YouTube.


  1. I'm tuning into the Virtual Science Fairs from the beach (where C. and E. are eating WAAAAY too many chicken nuggets) so unable to watch your videos but will do so with the kids as soon as we're back! Making movies for WhyMommy, love it!

  2. I think my favorite is the "accidental experiment." :) I had an experiment like that with some wax-wrapped cheese back in college. Yum. Ooozey.

    Thanks so much for taking part in the science fair!

  3. Hi Aunt Colleen,
    We watched the whole experiment! C & A want to do an experiment too. Maybe we could do one about ecology because they got a neat book out of the library on the subject!

    Kisses and hugs to the little scientists

  4. There is nothing better than a real life application. Great job to everyone!

  5. Col - GREAT video's - i am having my boy watch them todayto learn about more of the hypothesis of food. Super job Chick-a-dees!