A Delicious Lesson All Students Can Sink Their Teeth Into

11 months ago

It’s September, and I don’t know about you, but my students are always hungry for a creative spin on their lessons about this time of year. I am pretty serious about having them work on their technical skills, but I also think it’s important to feed my students with creative lessons they enjoy!

If you’re in the same boat, try this large-scale food study lesson! It’s a fun, motivating project with delicious results!

food studies in hallway

For this project, students are asked to create a large-scale food painting. Although it’s a challenge, it’s often one of their favorites. This lesson teaches the importance of observation and also helps students work on their painting skills. When I present this lesson in my classroom, students have already learned about line, shape, and color harmonies. They have worked on creating successful compositions, too. So, they are more than ready to paint large!

Step 1: Play a Guessing Game

Begin this lesson by asking your students to consider their favorite foods. As they ponder this, tell them not to divulge this information immediately. Instead, have them describe the food using their senses. Ask them what it smells like, what it feels like, what it tastes like. Again, Be sure they’re not telling anyone what the actual food item is. This way, it becomes a guessing game. Your students might find this to be rather difficult, but after a lot of laughs and a lot of deep critical thinking, the food items begin to reveal themselves.

Step 2: Doodle from Memory

As the discussion continues, have them begin to doodle small thumbnail sketches of their food items in their visual journals based on memory. In my room, Steps 1 and 2 take up the first day of the lesson. It’s a good place to stop because the next step is to have students paint their food items from observation!

Step 3: Find the Food

It’s imperative for students to bring their food item to class the following day if they can. Most foods will be OK, but if the student wants to draw something like ice cream, ask them to snap a photo to bring along instead.

Step 4: Draw from Observation

Give your students a large piece of poster board. Using their food or photo as a reference, have them lightly sketch their food onto the poster board. Students can either use graphite or create a light underpainting.

student work in progress

Step 5: Layer Paint

From here, have your students begin layering their acrylic paint. Remind them to play with a variety of painting techniques and color harmonies, always measuring and looking closely at their food sitting in front of them. I do allow students to take photos of their food, although I prefer they paint from the actual food and use the photo as an extra tool to help them see subtle shadows and color changes.

student painting of popcorn

Step 6: Continue Adding Details

In the later phases of painting, students enjoy experimenting. They can play with the paint, the various brushes you have available, using their fingers to blend, and working on their negative space. This sense of freedom often takes their food study to the next level. This is a lesson that emphasizes the importance of compositional arrangements and negative space.

banana painting

Step 7: Add Oil Pastel

My students usually finish these in about a week and a half. When the works are complete, give your students the option of adding small touches of oil pastel. Often this step finishes the work off perfectly!

student painting of blueberries

Step 8: Celebrate!

In my room, I have the students present their paintings to the class. We make this a “food allowed” day, as students can also bring in samples of their food to share with their classmates. And then, of course, we hang this work in a class exhibit for the school to enjoy!

If you’re looking for a lesson that engages your students with fantastic results, give this one a try! I guarantee your students will be on-task and will love experimenting with all acrylic paint has to offer. And that’s why I call this lesson a YUM-Fun learning experience!

How do you make typical art lessons more exciting and engaging for your students?

Have you considered using food as a subject matter for an art lesson?

Debi West


Debi West, Ed.S. and NBCT, is a retired art teacher with 25 years of experience. She loves sharing with others, and her motto is, “Together We ART Better!”


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  • Lauren Stümmer

    I love this idea for a new take on my still life project for studio 1. How do you teach them about color harmonies and composition?

    • Debi West

      I teach color theory in art I via my Creative Color Wheel lesson. And lots of experimenting and playing in their visual journals! Thanks for writing!!

  • Julia Mills

    Could you elaborate on materials? I’m wondering if you need extra heavy poster board.

    • Debi West

      Hi there and no, just regular poster board that I order from our county. Any color and we use donated Plaid paints.

      Thanks for asking and stay in touch!

  • Michelle Rosette

    Do they just paint the food or do they also paint the background?

    • Debi West

      Hey there…they paint the background too – my line is “never under estimate the power of negative space” so obviously their color choices are important. And I remind them about keeping the background subtle to not take away from the subject matter…and to pay attention to shadows and light source. All of those elements go into a direct observation painting.
      Thanks for getting in touch!

      • Michelle Rosette

        The poster board does not wrinkle when you paint the entire surface? Lastly, does it matter the color of the poster board?

        • Debi West

          Nope – it’s all good! I’ve been painting on poster board since I first started teaching 26 years ago! Any color works since you’re painting over it.

          Can’t wait to see what your students do!

  • Holly Thomson Doherty

    Wow! Those are some awesome studies.
    That banana is really well done. Wish I had thought to do this when I was teaching high school…I’m back in elementary again, but think I’ll bring in some foods from home and set up a still life. Thanks for your ideas and inspiration. Let’s go FOOD!!

    • Debi West

      Thank you so much for this super fun response!! Absolutely do a simplified version with your elementary kiddos – I think they’ll be up for the challenge! Maybe even do a candy version! Could be a fun “trick or treat” lesson!

  • darpan

    I am a new teacher for middle school -5th to 7th grade. I have only taught grades 9th and above. I feel hesitant what little children might like or dislike. Can I begin with them the elements of art with some fun activities related to the topic?