Helping your children understand how to read food labels can prepare them for making smart food choices their whole lives. Kids can get a general idea about what the food contains, how much is in a serving and how many calories are in a serving. They can also use labels to compare two foods — which one has more fiber? Which one has more fat or more calories per serving? Whether in the grocery store, at home or at school, there are many opportunities to teach your child about healthy nutrition.
At the grocery store
Label reading at the grocery store is important because that’s where most of the food in the home comes from. Send your child on a “scavenger hunt” to find healthy options such as:
• Frozen vegetables with the highest percentage of vitamin A.
• Canned fruit with the fewest grams of sugar.
• Whole-grain cereal that is lower in sugar and high in fiber content.
• Frozen pizza with lowest fat and sodium amounts.
The basics of label-reading can be easily taught at home, as there are many examples of foods your child likes to eat that have food labels and nutrition information readily available. Consider some of these tips when teaching them about healthy eating:
• When snacking, encourage your child to check the nutrition facts label and serving size to discover the total number of calories and nutrients.
• Challenge your child to measure out what they think a single serving of their favorite cereal or snack item is, and then, have them compare that to the actual serving size listed on the food label.
• Prepare individual servings in reusable containers, so they learn exactly how much they should eat.
• Remember to compliment your child when you notice him or her reading the food label.
Though it is difficult to monitor what foods children eat in the lunchroom, it is always good to remind and encourage them to make healthy choices.
• Challenge your child to pack a 600-calorie lunch using measured, single servings of snacks and low-fat sandwich spreads such as mustard or hummus instead of full-fat mayonnaise, margarine and butter.
• Write a friendly, positive note for your child about the healthy options in their lunch. Include why they are healthy choices for them as well.
• Encourage your child to read the labels of food items offered in the cafeteria including milk products and snacks. Remind them to choose lower fat items that are also higher in nutrients.
The ingredient list is another important part of the label. Ingredients are listed in order so you can get an idea of how much of each ingredient is in the food. Teach your child that when an ingredient is listed first, second or third, the food, more than likely, contains a lot of the specific ingredient.
Visit www.KidsEatRight.org for more fun and easy tips on keeping your children eating healthy.