Mindful Meals


Paula Liz @paulaliz.art

Grade Level:

5th Grade (upper elementary)



Objective: Students will create a ceramic dinnerware set and take action to support a food-related charitable organization.

Note: This project was inspired by the Empty Bowl Project. In 1990, the Empty Bowl Project was conceptualized by John Harton, an art teacher from Michigan, as a way to help his students creatively support a food drive.

Classroom Conversation: This should be entirely student led. Simply ask the question and have students respond. I had students come in and silently write a response in their sketchbook before sharing out loud with the class.
Learning Activity: This is where you provide information and act as a guide for students. The conversation should still be student led at this point.
Art Activity: This is where you will create a demo or share with students what they will be making that day.

Day 1:

Classroom conversation: What is hunger? Ask students to share what they know about hunger and what it means to be food insecure.
Learning Activity: Have students watch the short video 'Feeding America Hunger in America 2014.' Explain to students how one in seven Americans, more than 46 million people, including 12 million children, rely on food pantries and meal service programs to feed themselves and their families, according to a new study released by Feeding America, the nation’s largest provider of charitable food assistance to low-income Americans. Ask students to share their thoughts. Explain to students that during this project they will be learning about food insecurity, what causes it, and how they can help.
Art Activity: For their artwork, students will be creating a ceramic dinnerware set. This dinnerware set will serve as a reminder of those plates that may be empty. Alternatively, you can host an Empty Bowls event and donate the funds to a food-related charitable organization. Have students think of a theme for their ceramic dinnerware set and begin to design a sketch of a plate, bowl, and cup.

Day 2:

Classroom conversation: What is poverty? Students share what they know about poverty. Oftentimes certain myths and false narratives arise. (Ex. Poor people just don’t work hard enough.) Be ready to dispel those myths and guide students in this conversation.
Learning Activity: Provide students with a chart of monthly basic living expenses in your city. (Find your city data here: http://livingwage.mit.edu) Inform students of the current minimum wage where you live. Have student’s calculate how many hours a week an individual would need to work to meet those basic monthly living expenses. Explain how the average work week is only 40 hours long. Often an individual will need to work two (or more) full time jobs in order to meet just their basic needs. Ask students to share their thoughts.
Art Activity: Have students look at their sketch from the previous week and construct a ceramic plate. I use pre-rolled slabs that students are able to cut into their desired shape and add details to.

Living Wage Calculator

Find your city data here: http://livingwage.mit.edu)

Day 3:
Classroom Conversation: Show students the data of Poverty Rate by Race/Ethnicity. (You can find the specific data for your state). Ask students to reflect on the information and have a classroom discussion. You can use the guiding questions listed below.

Learning Activity: Watch “Systemic Racism Explained." Have them reflect and and discuss how the video relates to the previous question.
Art Activity: Students will look at their sketch from the first class and construct a ceramic cup. I give each student a ball of clay and show them how to create a pinch pot. They are then able to add their own details.

  • What do you notice about this data?

  • What do you think is the cause?

  • Why does this matter?

  • What questions do you have?

Day 4:
Classroom Conversation: Show students a photograph of Ruby Bridges. Ask students if they know who is in the picture. You can also look at the painting “The Problem We All Live With" by Norman Rockwell and have students respond (See, Think, Wonder).
Learning Activity: Watch or Read “Separate is Never Equal” by Duncan Tonatiuh. Ask students how practices such as school segregation may have contributed to the current rates of poverty among Americans (which was discussed in the previous class).
Art Activity: Students will look at their sketch from the first class and construct a ceramic bowl. I teach students how to use the coiling technique to construct the base of their bowl. They are then able to add their own details. This may take two classes to complete.

Day 5:
Classroom Conversation: Have students brainstorm different actions they can take in regards to hunger, food insecurity, and poverty. Some examples include: Collecting non-perishable food items to donate to a food pantry, raising funds to donate to a food-related charitable organization (either through a bake sale, Empty Bowl dinner, auction, or other event), creating posters, brochures, or a video to raise awareness, create a community food pantry, writing a letter to local elected officials, etc. You can find more ideas and resources by reading 'Stand Against: Poverty and Hunger' by Alice Harman.
Learning Activity: Have students watch a video of how one Maryland 7-year-old Launched his own Non-profit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Hu3OTVjqdU. Cavanaugh Bell isn’t your typical first grader. The 7-year-old is doing his part to stop the spread of coronavirus by starting a non-profit to support his most vulnerable Maryland neighbors. What started as a project to help his own grandmother has turned into a mission to help low-income families and the elderly with care packages. It all started with $600 of his own money.
Art Activity: Students will glaze their ceramic dinnerware sets.

Day 6:
Day of Action: Have time for students to plan, organize, create an action based on the ideas they had brainstormed in the previous class.

Reflection: Allow a time for students to reflect on their experience. Some questions to ask include:

  • What was something they learned?

  • What did they feel was successful?

  • What was the most challenging part?

  • How can they use their new understandings to challenge others to rethink their ideas or misconceptions regarding hunger, food insecurity, and poverty?

More Student Examples

Artists & Inspiration

'The Dinner Party' Installation by Judy Chicago