Hands-on Activity Package Those Foods!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 7 (6-8)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $2.00

Group Size: 3

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Chemistry, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle


Student groups are challenged to create food packages for specific foods. They focus on three components in the design of their food packages; the packages must keep the food clean, protect or aid in the physical and chemical changes that can take place in the food, and present the food appealingly. They design their packaging to meet these requirements.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Photograph of 10 Campbells soup cans with plastic lids on a grocery store shelf.
These soup containers are engineered to be heated in the microwave.
Copyright © 2007 Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Engineering Connection

An entire industry is devoted to packaging engineering and this industry is expanding as more and more products are created. Packaging engineers focus on the same components as students in this design challenge, which includes research, design, production, marketing and analysis.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify three key functions of a typical food package.
  • Explain how each food package design works.
  • Identify the chemical and physical changes different types of materials prevent or facilitate.
  • Explain what a food packaging engineer does.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)

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This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Alignment agreement:

  • Evaluate designs based on criteria, constraints, and standards. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • There is no perfect design. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Requirements for design are made up of criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Develop innovative products and systems that solve problems and extend capabilities based on individual or collective needs and wants. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Analyze how an invention or innovation was influenced by its historical context. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Refine design solutions to address criteria and constraints. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Create solutions to problems by identifying and applying human factors in design. (Grades 6 - 8) More Details

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  • Explain how the properties of some materials change as a result of heating and cooling. (Grade 5) More Details

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  • Explain the suitability of materials for use in technological design based on a response to heat (to include conduction, expansion, and contraction) and electrical energy (conductors and insulators). (Grade 6) More Details

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Materials List

Each group needs:

  • The materials that the group chooses for its project and brings from home.
  • The food assigned to the group.

To share with the entire class:

  • scissors
  • tape
  • glue
  • markers
  • string
  • stapler and staples

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/duk_foodpackage_music_act] to print or download.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Prior to this activity, students should have a basic understanding of the following:

  • Physical properties of matter: mass, volume, melting point, boiling point and texture.
  • Chemical properties of matter: combustibility, solubility, flammability.
  • Physical changes: phase change, shape change.
  • Chemical changes: oxidization, evolution of gas.


One specialty in engineering focuses on the food packaging industry. Food packaging engineers produce packages for all types of food that are both marketable and functional in selling the food.

Today, you have been contracted by the biggest food company, Food Kings, to create a package for one of their food products. However, you only get paid if you create a package that makes Food Kings lots of money. So prepare for your first task as a food package engineer!



Three important functions of food packages, as taught in the Food Packaging lesson, are:

  1. To keep the food clean.
  2. To protect the food product from unwanted physical and chemical changes (such as oxidation and destruction from insects) and to facilitate in desired physical changes (such as heating or cooling).
  3. To identify the product and provide sales appeal.

The challenge is for groups to strive to have their packages fulfill these three functions.

Students must first choose what types of materials they want to use to make their packages. They can research this through the food packaging materials worksheet as well as the Internet, based on how extensive the teacher want the research to be. The materials must correspond to the physical and chemical changes that are involved in the group's food.

In addition to choosing package materials, students must also choose the structural designs of their packages. Following are a number of structures and their characteristics and purposes:

  • Cartons are rigid and provide support for fluid foods.
  • Boxes are usually used as a secondary package to store foods that are sold in quantities larger than one, but are individually wrapped and give structure and support.
  • Bags are flexible so can be stored easily.
  • Cans hold liquids and carbonation well and can be stacked well.
  • Bottles hold liquids and carbonation well and are resealable.
  • Wrappers are light and do not take up too much space.

Before the Activity

A day or two before the activity:

  • After going through the Food Packaging lesson, divide the class into groups of two or three students each.
  • Assign each group a food to create a package for and have them brainstorm the design and types of materials they will need, with help from the Food Packaging Materials Worksheet.
  • Give the students the Food Packaging Rubric so that they know what is expected of their package.
  • Assign students to bring from home the materials that they plan to use.

The day of the activity:

  • Gather materials that you are providing (glue, tape, etc.). Make sure you have enough for every group of two to share.
  • Gather the foods that you assigned to the groups.

With the Students

  1. Give each student or group of students the food that was assigned to them along with the Food Packaging Rubric.
  2. Check to make sure each of the students/groups brought their own unique materials with them, and pass out the materials you are providing (tape, scissors, etc.)
  3. Give students 20 to 30 minutes to create their packages.
  4. Once completed, ask each group to share their package with the class as a 2-3 minute presentation to Food Kings on why their package works.


boiling point: The temperature at which a substance changes from liquid to gas.

melting point: The temperature at which a substance changes from solid to liquid.

phase change: A transition between liquid and gas or liquid and solid.

solubility: The ability for a substance, the solute, to dissolve in a solvent.


Pre-Activity Assessment

Food Analysis: Ask students to describe the physical properties of their foods and identify the chemical and physical changes that they need to pay attention to in the creation of their food packages.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Student Package Evaluations: Students use the attached Food Packaging Evaluation Worksheet to evaluate their food packages as well as the food packages of three other groups. Have groups each place their package on a desk with a brief description. Then, have all the students walk around individually to fill out their evaluations on different packages.

Post-Activity Assessment

Teacher Package Evaluations: Use the Food Packaging Rubric. to evaluate and grade the groups' designs.

Activity Extensions

Prior to this activity, have students create their own food that requires packaging. The creation can involve design, analysis of the nutritional content of the food, discussion of the genetic modification of foods, among other scientific aspects of food engineering.

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, require fewer food package functions as design requirements. For example, students could focus more on shapes and aesthetic designs of the structure than the materials used to make it.
  • For upper grades, require more food package functions be met. For example, students could engage a fourth function: for the package to be inexpensive, both in its materials and transportation. They could also look more thoroughly into the chemical changes and properties of the food and packaging materials. In some cases, they could test their designs.


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More Curriculum Like This

Middle School Lesson
Food Packaging

Students learn how food packages are designed and made, including three main functions. Then, in the associated activity, students act as if they are packaging engineers by designing and creating their own food packages for particular food types.

Upper Elementary Lesson
Digestive System

This lesson introduces students to the main parts of the digestive system and how they interact. In addition, students learn about some of the challenges astronauts face when eating in outer space. Engineers figure out how to deal with such challenges.


American Management Association. Packaging Division. Packaging for Retail Impact, with Specific Applications to the Dairy, Meat, Candy and Baking Industries. New York, NY: American Management Association, 1965.

"Packaging Food in Glass." Packaging Materials for Food - Practical Answers. Published September 25, 2006. Practical Action. The Schumacher Centre for Technology & Development. Accessed April 26, 2007. https://www.teachengineering.org/collection/duk_/activities/duk_foodpackage_music_act/packaging_food_in_glass_reference.pdf


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2007 Duke University


Chloe Mawer

Supporting Program

Engineering K-PhD Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


This content was developed by the MUSIC (Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum) Program in the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. DGE 0338262. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: May 20, 2021

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