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Energy Balance: Grades 5-8

Follow along with SNAP-Ed Senior Nutritionist, Wanda, as she teaches you about “Energy Balance!” By the end of this lesson you should be able to understand the relationship of “calories burned/calories consumed” to energy balance and understand that WHOA foods contribute to additional calories that must be burned for the body to maintain energy balance!

Calories are food energy. They are found on every food label. The food we eat gives us energy, A.K.A. calories, and the activities we do burn those calories.

Balancing Scale
When we talk about energy balance, we mean the calories or energy and food equals the calories or energy burned in activities. It’s like using a balancing scale. A balancing scale is used to compare the weight between two objects. If you take the first item and put it onto the scale, the scale tips in that direction because now this side is heavier than the other side. However if you put a slightly heavier object onto the other side of the scale, the scale will tip in that direction.

Let’s walk through three scenarios together using this idea of a balancing scale. In each scenario, we’re going to decide if the person has a balance between food and activity or if
they’re out of balance, like maybe too much food and not enough activity or too much activity and not enough food.

Let one side of the balance scale represent “calories consumed” (the food they ate) and the other “calories burned” (the amount of activity they did).

Scenario 1
Student one is on the track team. When it isn’t track season, he runs at least five miles a day. Every weekend, he goes on a twenty mile bike ride. Since he doesn’t want to gain weight, he only eats three tiny meals a day, but he does drink a lot of fat-free milk.

What would this student scale look like? Would one side be heavier than the other or would the sides be even?

This student does a lot of activity, but does not eat enough food to get the energy he needs. His energy balance is heavy on activity or calories burned, but light on food or calories consumed. Over time, he may lose weight.

Scenario 2
Student two walks to school every day since he lives only three blocks away, but other than
this he doesn’t get much exercise. He goes to fast-food places with his friends three or four times a week. At home he eats a lot of fried foods and he doesn’t like many fruits and vegetables. His mother often buys ice cream and other desserts.
What would this student scale look like?

This student isn’t very active, but is consuming a lot of high-calorie foods. That means his calories consumed is more than his calories burned. Over time, he may gain weight.

Scenario 3
Student 3 is on the basketball team and she plays tennis with her friends at least twice a week. She eats mostly fish, chicken, whole-wheat bread, and fruits and vegetables. The only things she likes to drink are low-fat milk and water. On average, she eats fast food a few times a month.

What would this student scale look like?

This one is even steven! If over time the number of calories you consume is about the same as the number of calories you burn, your body is an energy balance. This student ate a lot of healthy foods and very few high-calorie foods and stayed active.

“Go,” “Slow,” and “Whoa” Foods
Eating “Go” and “Slow” foods most of the time and in reasonable amounts will help your body stay in energy balance. This is begause “Go” foods (which have no solid fat, salt, or added sugar) and slow foods (which have a small amount of solid fat salt and added sugar) usually contain fewer calories than “Whoa” foods. “Whoa” foods are highly processed and have a lot of solid fat, salt, and added sugar. You are more likely to burn the calories or the food energy in “Go” and “Slow” foods rather than the “Whoa” foods, which may contain many many more calories.

You burn calories simply from digesting food and breating, but you burn a whole lot more calories when you’re active. This can help you stay in energy balance.

“Woah” Transformation Game
It’s time for the “Whoa” Transformation Game! The number of calories in a meal increases as “Go” and “Slow” foods are transformed into “Woah” foods. Once they are transformed, we have to do the activities to burn off the extra calories. For this game, we will have two meals: one with “Go” and/or “Slow” foods, and the other with “Woah” foods. Find the difference in the calories through subtraction and then do some fun activities to burn off those extra calories.

Let’s do the first one together. In the first meal we have whole-wheat toast (70 calories), skim milk (80 calories), and two hard-boiled eggs (90 calories). That’s our “Go” meal. On the “Whoa” transformation side, we have French toast with syrup (180 calories), whole chocolate milk (200 calories), and two eggs fried in butter (200 calories). All totaled, the “Go” meal has 240 calories, while the “Whoa” meal has 580 calories. That is a big difference in overall calories.

To start, we have to find the difference between the calories in each row. Next, divide your answer for each row by 10 (hint: drop the zero), and this is how many activities you will do. Follow along with Wanda as she gives more examples of “Whoa” Transformation and practices some exercises to balance out her energy.

Energy balance is important to a healthy body. “Woah” foods can have nearly twice as many if not more calories than “Go” and “Slow” meals. Eating more “Whoa” foods means doing more activity to burn those extra calories and maintain energy balance. What can you do to help your body stay in balance? Here are some ideas!

  • Eat the right amount of food your body needs to burn
  • Eat “Go” and “Slow” foods most of the time
  • Do more activities
  • Eat fewer “Whoa” foods


Energy balance is all about keeping your food and your activity even. So when you eat, make sure you’re eating half a plate of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. Do the activities you need to burn off those calories, and you’ll be in balance.

Learn how to move more and eat healthy with our helpful videos!

Learn how to get moving and eat healthy with our helpful tip sheets!

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