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Where Did Foods Originate?
(Foods of the New World and Old World)



  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Science
  • Social Studies
    ----U.S. History
    ----World History


  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • Advanced


Brief Description

Students explore how New World explorers helped change the Old World's diet (and vice versa).


Students will

  • learn about changes that occurred in the New World and Old World as a result of early exploration.
  • use library and Internet sources to research food origins. (Older students only.)
  • create a bulletin-board map illustrating the many foods that were shared as a result of exploration.


Columbus, explorers, origin, food, timeline, plants, map, New World, Old World, colonies, colonial, crops, media literacy, products, consumer

Materials Needed:

  • library and/or Internet access (older students only)
  • outline map of the world (You might print the map on a transparency; then use an overhead projector to project and trace a large outline map of the world onto white paper on a bulletin board.)
  • magazines (optional)

Lesson Plan

The early explorers to the Americas were exposed to many things they had never seen before. Besides strange people and animals, they were exposed to many foods that were unknown in the Old World. In this lesson, you might post an outline map of the continents on a bulletin board. Have students use library and/or Internet resources (provided below) to research some of the edible items the first explorers saw for the first time in the New World. On the bulletin board, draw an arrow from the New World (the Americas) to the Old World (Europe, Asia, Africa) and post around it drawings or images (from magazines or clip art) of products discovered in the New World and taken back to the Old World.

Soon, the explorers would introduce plants/foods from the Old World to the Americas. You might draw a second arrow on the board -- from the Old World to the New World -- and post appropriate drawings or images around it.

Adapt the Lesson for Younger Students
Younger students will not have the ability to research foods that originated in the New and Old World. You might adapt the lesson by sharing some of the food items in the Food Lists section below. Have students collect or draw pictures of those items for the bulletin board display.

In addition to library resources, students might use the following Internet sites as they research the geographic origins of some foods:

Food Lists Our research uncovered the Old and New World foods below. Students might find many of those and add them to the bulletin board display. Notice that some items appear on both lists -- beans, for example. There are many varieties of beans, some with New World origins and others with their origins in the Old World. In our research, we found sources that indicate onions originated in the New and sources that indicate onions originated in the Old World. Students might create a special question mark symbol to post next to any item for which contradictory sources can be found

Note: The Food Timeline is a resource that documents many Old World products. This resource sets up a number of contradictions. For example:
  • Many sources note that tomatoes originated in the New World; The Food Timeline indicates that tomatoes were introduced to the New World in 1781.
  • The Food Timeline indicates that strawberries and raspberries were available in the 1st century in Europe; other sources identify them as New World commodities.

Foods That Originated in the New World: artichokes, avocados, beans (kidney and lima), black walnuts, blueberries, cacao (cocoa/chocolate), cashews, cassava, chestnuts, corn (maize), crab apples, cranberries, gourds, hickory nuts, onions, papayas, peanuts, pecans, peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers), pineapples, plums, potatoes, pumpkins, raspberries, squash, strawberries, sunflowers, sweet potatoes, tobacco, tomatoes, turkey, vanilla, wild cherries, wild rice.

Foods That Originated in the Old World: apples, bananas, beans (some varieties), beets, broccoli, carrots, cattle (beef), cauliflower, celery, cheese, cherries, chickens, chickpeas, cinnamon, coffee, cows, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, ginger, grapes, honey (honey bees), lemons, lettuce, limes, mangos, oats, okra, olives, onions, oranges, pasta, peaches, pears, peas, pigs, radishes, rice, sheep, spinach, tea, watermelon, wheat, yams.

Extension Activities

  • Home-school connection. Have students and their parents search their food cupboards at home; ask each student to bring in two food items whose origin can be traced to a specific place (foreign if possible, domestic if not). Labels from those products will be sufficient, especially if the products are in breakable containers. Place those labels/items around a world map; use yarn to connect each label to the location of its origin on the map.
  • Media literacy. Because students will research many sources, have them list the sources for the information they find about each food item. Have them place an asterisk or checkmark next to the food item each time they find that item in a different source. If students find a food in multiple sources, they might consider it "verified"; those foods they find in only one source might require additional research to verify.


Invite students to agree or disagree with the following statement:

The early explorers were surprised by many of the foods they saw in the New World.

Have students write a paragraph in support of their opinion.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NSS-EC.K-4.1 Productive Resources
NSS-EC.K-4.6 Gain from Trade
GRADES 5 - 8
NSS-EC.5-8.1 Productive Resources
NSS-EC.5-8.6 Gain from Trade
GRADES 9 - 12
NSS-EC.9-12.1 Productive Resources
NSS-EC.9-12.6 Gain from Trade

NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms
NSS-G.K-12.2 Places and Regions

NSS-USH.K-4.1 Living and Working together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago
NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage
NSS-USH.K-4.4 The History of Peoples of Many Cultures Around the World
GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-USH.5-12.1 Era 1: Three Worlds Meet (Beginnings to 1620)
NSS-USH.5-12.2 Era 2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)
NSS-WH.5-12.6 Global Expansion and Encounter, 1450-1770

NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
NT.K-12.5 Technology Research Tools

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Updated 10/11/12