Talking with children about eggs
For years, doctors and dieticians told us to avoid eating eggs. The high cholesterol, they argued, would clog our arteries.
Today, that advice has changed. Recent studies indicate that it’s trans fats such as margarine, not dietary cholesterol, that contribute to heart disease (Harvard).
Health experts are again promoting the nutritional benefits of eggs. They are rich in protein and provide Vitamin B2, Vitamin A, and iron.
Eating an egg a day is fine for most people, including children. Babies can begin eating eggs soon after starting solid foods, at 7 or 8 months. Some babies are initially allergic to eggs, but most children eventually outgrow the allergy.
Egg sales are regulated by federal and state agencies. Egg producers with 3,000 or more hens are subject to inspection and salmonella prevention measures, but small farms that sell directly to consumers are exempt. State law may require large producers to be licensed, and local health departments may monitor poultry processing plants and food service outlets.
In many cities, eggs are available from local organic farms and food co-ops. The increasing popularity of backyard chicken coops has given families the opportunity to gather their own fresh eggs daily.
To prevent illness caused by the salmonella bacteria, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.fsis.usda.gov, recommends these safe food handling practices:
Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
Wash utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.
Wash dishcloths in the hot cycle of the washing machine, or use paper towels.
Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate.
Separate eggs, raw meat, and seafood from other foods in your grocery shopping cart and in your refrigerator.
Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat and seafood.
Never place cooked food on a plate that has just previously held raw meat.
Cook: Measure the internal temperature.
Cook whole cuts of beef and pork, including steaks and chops, to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F., and allow the meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or eating.
Cook ground beef, pork, and lamb to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
Cook all chicken, turkey, and other poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
Cook casseroles and other dishes containing eggs to 165 degrees. Cook stuffing separately from poultry.
Note: The recommended temperatures above were issued by the USDA in May 2011.
Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared foods, and leftovers with two hours of cooking. If you’re outdoors and it’s 90 degrees F., refrigerate foods within one hour.
Maintain freezer temperature at zero degrees F. or below, and refrigerator, 40 degrees or below.
Thaw food in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave. Do not thaw foods by leaving them out at room temperature.
Selecting and storing eggs
Today you can buy a greater variety of eggs than ever before. The egg carton label may boast “brown eggs,” “Omega-3 DHA enhanced,” or “All Natural.” How to choose?
The USDA recommends these basic buying and storing tips:
Buy eggs from a refrigerated case.
Open the carton and look for clean, uncracked shells.
Note the expiration date. Don’t buy eggs that have gone out of date.
Refrigerate eggs promptly. Store in the coldest part of the refrigerator at 40 degrees F. Avoid storing them in the egg holders in the door, where they are subject to temperature variations.
To help in your selection, consider the following:
Color: Eggshell color doesn’t affect taste or nutrition. White and brown eggs come from different breeds of chickens.
Grade: Eggs sold in stores are generally Grade A, which means the whites are slightly thinner than the higher Grade AA. It also means the egg producer is likely monitored for standards compliance by a state inspector. If the grade appears with the USDA shield, it means the egg producer has voluntarily asked the USDA to check the eggs for quality and weight.
Size: Egg sizing is based on the total weight per dozen eggs, not on the dimensions of the individual eggs. While some eggs in the same carton may look larger or smaller, it is the total weight of the dozen that determines size.
||Weight per dozen
|| 27 ounces
Omega-3: According to research, this fatty acid, also known as DHA (docosahexaenoic), is important for healthy heart and brain function as well as good vision. The chickens that produced these eggs were fed supplementary flaxseed or fish meal, both rich sources of Omega-3.
Cage-free: These eggs come from chickens that have some freedom of movement. Ninety percent of eggs sold in stores come from commercial poultry operations that squeeze chickens into battery cages, forcing them to live in what animal welfare activists claim are torturous and filthy conditions.
Free-range: These eggs come from chickens that have access to the outdoors, but the size or quality of the outdoors and the time outdoors are not specified.
Natural: This term generally refers to minimal processing between the farm and the store. Because eggs, unlike grains and meat, undergo little or no processing, the word natural on the carton is gratuitous. The word is not backed by any independent inspection or certification system and is often used to imply that the food is somehow more healthful.
Organic: The eggs have been produced according to organic standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture using methods that enhance the Earth’s ecological balance. The chickens have not received growth hormones or antibiotics (to prevent infection) and have been fed organic feeds (grown without chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers). The chickens usually have not been kept in cramped cages.
Starting the conversation
Children are probably familiar with eggs as food but likely won’t know much more about them. Talk with children to explore their knowledge and ask questions to encourage conversation. Expand their learning by making eggs a theme of activity centers.
Arrange a snack or meal that includes eggs. You might have scrambled eggs for breakfast or hard-cooked eggs at snack or lunch, for example. Talk about the eggs’ color, texture, and flavor.
After eating, show children an uncooked egg in the shell. Talk about the color, shape, and size. Break the egg into a bowl and point out the yellow yolk and the white or albumen. Talk about eggs as food, eaten as just eggs or added to another food such as pancakes.
Invite children to take part in cooking activities using eggs. Prepare rebus recipes so that children can follow directions and do much of it themselves. Make sure they wash their hands first. Use careful adult supervision for all activities using hot plates and ovens.
Cooking activities provide an opportunity for learning math. Talk about whole, half, and one-quarter, for example. Count items, using one-to-one correspondence (one paper liner per muffin cup).
Save the broken eggshells for art activities. Wash them in hot soapy water, rinse, and let dry before storing or using.
The term “deviled” refers to the seasonings. Depending on their tastes, children may add a bit of mustard and cayenne pepper to make the eggs more or less spicy.
Here’s what you need:
4 hard-cooked eggs
1 tablespoon sour cream or mayonnaise
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper or paprika
chopped parsley, celery, or chives
1. Peel the shells off the eggs. Cut each egg in half lengthwise.
2. Spoon out the yolks. Place the whites on a plate and the yolks in a bowl.
3. Mash the yolks with a fork and moisten with sour cream. Add a bit of mustard to taste.
4. Season the mixture with choices of spices and parsley, celery, or chives.
5. Spoon the egg mixture into the white halves. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper or paprika.
How to hard cook eggs
1. Place raw eggs in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover the eggs with about an inch of water on top.
2. Bring to a boil on a stovetop or hot plate.
3. Remove the saucepan from heat, cover, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 25 minutes.
4. Plunge the eggs in ice water to cool, or refrigerate until ready to use.
Apple oat muffins
Muffins make a great breakfast bread and snack. You can vary the ingredients according to what you have on hand or to suit tastes. Instead of applesauce, for example, you can use mashed banana, cooked pumpkin, or cooked sweet potato. You may also add chopped nuts or coconut. For light muffins, encourage children to just slightly mix the dry and wet ingredients; don’t beat the batter.
Here’s what you need:
1 cup milk
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup raisins
¼ cup honey
1 cup applesauce
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the milk, oats, and raisins.
2. Add the eggs, honey, and applesauce to the oat mixture. Blend well.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
4. Combine the two mixtures just enough to wet.
5. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Spoon mixture into each muffin cup to nearly full.
6. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes.
7. Cool in pan.
Review children’s experiences with eating eggs and cooking with them. Ask questions such as “Do you eat eggs at home?” and “Where does your family get eggs?” Then ask: “Where do eggs come from? Where do stores get the eggs they sell?”
Read Tillie Lays an Egg by Terry Blonder Golson (2009). Ask questions such as “Who is Tillie?” “Where does she live?” “Where does she lay her egg?”
Explain that the Little Pond Farm in the book is a real place, and the author has set up a web cam where you can watch her chickens, www.hencam.com. View the site with children and talk about the different kinds of chickens, their activities, and the different structures in the coop.
Field trip or visit
If possible, plan a field trip to visit a parent or neighbor that raises chickens in a backyard coop or on an organic farm. Or invite someone who raises chickens to visit your facility and bring photos.
To be well-informed, prepare for the field trip or visit by reviewing books like Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens by Gail Damerow (1995) or websites like www.backyardchickens.com. You can find many more resources by searching the Internet.
In general, a chicken coop can be as small as a refrigerator or as large as a barn, depending upon the number of chickens being raised. A coop has nesting boxes where chickens lay their eggs, and feeding trays for food and water. Chickens sleep on the roosting bar (often a tree limb) at night. The manure box, positioned under the roost, catches their excrement. The fenced area, or chicken run, allows them to move about. The floor or ground is covered with hay, which is changed regularly to keep the coop clean.
Ask questions such as the following:
Where do chickens live?
What sounds do chickens make?
What do chickens eat? (commercial feed, table food scraps, garden scraps, grains, seeds, insects)
Where do they lay eggs? (nests)
How often does a chicken lay an egg? (roughly one egg every other day)
How do they sleep at night? (sitting side by side on the roosting bar)
What kind of baths do they take? (dust baths to clean their plumage)
What happens to the wastes they produce? (caretakers empty the manure box and replace the hay covering the floor)
What’s the difference between a hen and a rooster?
Do any of the hens have baby chicks?
Inform parents that you will discuss chickens, eggs, and chicken reproduction with children. This gives parents time to prepare for any questions their children may ask as a result.
At group time, read Where Do Chicks Come From? by Amy Sklansky (Collins 2005). After reading, review the anatomy of an egg. Discuss the difference between a fertilized and an unfertilized egg. Remind children that hens can lay eggs all their lives without a rooster being around, and these are the eggs we buy in stores. For an egg to make a baby chick, however, a hen must be around a rooster.
Ask questions such as:
What goes on inside an egg after it’s fertilized?
How long before a chick hatches?
Describe how the newborn chick looks.
How long does it take for a chick to grow into a mature chicken (six months)?
What about the babies of other animals such as dogs and cats? Where do they grow until it’s time to be born?
Google “chicken life cycle” on the Internet to find images of the embryo inside the egg during its 21-day incubation period. Print and display in the science center. Make a second print, laminate, and cut it up into the 21 days of growth. Invite children to place the 21 images into the correct chronological sequence.
Read Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones by Ruth Heller (Penguin 1981). Discuss the many kinds of animals that lay eggs.
Ask questions such as:
Which bird lays the largest egg? (ostrich)
Which bird lays the smallest? (hummingbird)
What other animals lay eggs? (snakes, turtles, dinosaurs, frogs, toads, fish, insects, and spiders)
Which animals lay the prettiest eggs?
Eggs for art activities should be hollow or hard-cooked. If you plan to eat the hard-cooked eggs after decorating, use non-toxic dye, such as food coloring. Keep the eggs refrigerated until ready to use or eat.
Younger children will find hard-cooked eggs or plastic eggs easier to manage. Older children can handle the hollow shells without breakage.
Here’s what you need:
hollow eggshells, rinsed out and dried
markers, crayons, or paint
white glue mixed with water
clean egg carton
1. Invite children to decorate the eggs as they choose. They may draw designs or pictures. Avoid prescribing what the eggs should look like.
2. After decorating, children may coat the egg with a thin film of white glue mixed with water to set the design. Let dry in the egg carton. Apply more than one coat if desired.
Variation: School-age children may drop confetti into the larger hole of each eggshell, and glue a small piece of tissue paper over the opening. Throwing these cascarones, or confetti eggs, at fiestas is a common tradition in Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Here’s what you need:
felt pens, markers, crayons
paper scraps, ribbon, lace, sequins, fabric scraps, yarn, and other notions
paper towel tube, cut into 1-inch rings
1. Invite children to draw a face on the eggshell.
2. Glue on notions to make hair, hat, or collar, for example.
3. Paint or decorate the cardboard rings. Set each egghead into a ring for display.
A mosaic is a picture or design made up of small pieces that are fitted together and glued to a surface. The pieces are often tiles, stones, pottery shards, or colored glass, but you can use eggshell pieces as well.
Here’s what you need:
clean, dyed eggshell pieces, sorted by color
1. Cover the work surface with newspaper.
2. Invite children to create a mosaic on a piece of construction paper. They may choose different colors of eggshells and make a design or picture.
3. Once they have worked out the design on paper, they can begin gluing down the pieces.
4. Let the mosaics dry, and display in the classroom.
Eggs are typically sold in dozen or half-dozen cartons. Place a few different egg cartons in the manipulatives center, and read the labels aloud to children. Point out words such as eggs and Grade A large. Read the word dozen and ask children what it means. As a clue, count the cups in the carton. Invite children to place plastic eggs in a carton, counting as they go.
Ask: “What other foods are sold or measured by the dozen?” (cookies, pastries)
Egg carton counting
Counting is more than reciting numbers by rote. This activity can help children learn that numbers stand for things.
Here’s what you need:
polystyrene egg carton, washed and dried
adhesive paper circles ½-inch in diametermarker
78 pebbles, buttons, beads, or pennies
1. Write a number on each circle, from 1 to 12.
2. Paste the No. 1 circle at the upper left cup of the open carton. Continue pasting the numbers in sequence clockwise, ending with No. 12 below No. 1.
3. Invite a child to drop the appropriate number of pebbles into each cup.
4. As a variation on the activity, invite a child to close the lid and shake the carton. Then the child opens the carton and places the right number of pebbles into each cup.
Make an oval
Talk with children about the egg’s shape. Ask: “Is it a circle?” Introduce the concept of oval or ellipse. The word oval is from the Latin word for egg, ovum (singular) or ova (plural). Encourage children to look around in the classroom and outdoors to find other examples of ovals (some leaf shapes).
Here’s what you need:
circle pattern, 10-12 inches in diameter
2 sheets of wrapping paper tissue, preferably different colors
1. Place the circle pattern on a sheet of wrapping paper. Draw around the circle, and cut it out.
2. Do the same with the second sheet of tissue.
3. Place the tissue circles on top of each other and gradually slide one to the side. Stop sliding when you see the oval in the center of the two sheets.
4. Invite children to compare the oval to an egg shape. How are they alike? How are they different?
Regular physical activity helps children control weight, improve mood, sleep better, and have fun. The two activities below can be done indoors, if you have ample space, as well as outdoors.
The chicken dance
Find a recording of “The Chicken Dance.” You may have the music on a recording in your own collection of children’s music, borrow it from a library, or buy one online. Show children how to flap their arms and shake their bodies to the music.
Divide children up into two or more teams. Give each team a plastic egg and a tablespoon. At a given signal, the first child on each team runs to a marker, holding the egg in the spoon, and returns. The child hands off the egg and spoon to the second child, and the relay continues.
If the egg falls off, the player can pick it up, replace it on the spoon, and continue running. The team finishing the relay first wins.
Golson, Terry Blonder. 2009. Tillie Lays an Egg. Scholastic.
Heller, Ruth. 1981. Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones. Penguin Press.
Mackinnon, Mairi. 2006. The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg. Usborne Books.
Polacco, Patricia. 1998. Chicken Sunday. Puffin Children’s Books.
Powell, Jillian. 2001. From Chick to Chicken. Raintree Books.
Sklansky, Amy. 2005. Where Do Chicks Come From? Collins Publishers.
Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2011. “Egg Products Preparation: Shell Eggs from Farm to Table.” www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets.
Harvard School of Public Health. “The Nutrition Source, Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good.” www.hsph.harvard.edu.
Lawrence, Star. 2006. “Eggs: Dietary Friend or Foe,” www.medicinenet.com.
Mayo Clinic staff. 2009. “Egg Allergy.” www.mayoclinic.com.
The World’s Healthiest Foods. “Eggs.” www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=food spice&dbid=92.