Tips for Teaching Kids How to Read Food Labels
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled over the last three decades. While only 7 percent of children ages 6-11 were once considered obese, that figure has now risen to 20 percent. Today, more than one third of all children and adolescents are considered to be overweight or obese. One way the CDC recommends preventing and addressing the problem is for healthy eating to become a part of every child’s life. And healthy eating begins with reading food labels.
“Once children know how to read, they are ready to start learning how to read food labels,” explains Jolly Backer, chief executive officer of Fresh Healthy Vending (www.freshvending.com). “The more they know about what they are eating, the more empowered they will be about making healthier food choices.”
There are many potential advantages to teaching children how to read food labels, including that it helps to encourage portion control and will help them find the information they need to make healthier food choices. Reading labels can provide reading practice, as well as a science lesson if you take the time to research what some of the unknown ingredients are. It is also provides a math lesson, especially when they are given the opportunity to measure out their food.
Here are some tips for teaching kids how to read food labels:
- Start at home by getting out a couple of their favorite things, such as cereal, along with a measuring cup. Start by teaching them how they can determine what a serving size is, and letting them measure out one serving.
- Once they understand serving sizes, move on to showing them things like calories, fat, sugar, fiber, and cholesterol on the label. Explain why it is important to know what quantity of these things constitutes a serving, and what amount is considered high. For example, if they look at a can of soda and see that it has 40 grams of sugar, they will learn that this is high; if they look at a serving of Cheerios, and see that it has one gram of sugar, they will see that this is low.
- Try having them read the ingredients list. The longer-labeled products are often less natural and have a lot of artificial ingredients, making them more unhealthy. Remind children that things like fresh fruits and vegetables don’t usually have labels but are usually the most natural and healthiest options around.
- Once they have the above steps down, do some label comparisons, so they can determine which choice is the healthiest option.
- Be patient with kids as they learn how to read and understand labels. It will take time and practice, but after a while they will understand it and the information they are gaining.
Once children have been exposed to label reading at home, and have had an opportunity to practice measuring and learning about the food, parents can encourage label reading at the grocery store, as well. The more practice that kids get at label reading, the better at it they will become. In time, they will be familiar with many foods, know which are healthy and unhealthy, and be able to identify healthier food options without always having to rely on reading the labels.
“Even when children walk up to a vending machine, where they can’t read labels, you want them to know which is the healthier option,” adds Backer. “With label-reading practice, they will become savvy shoppers who recognize healthy food options when they see them. Label reading is a tool that kids can use for the rest of their life.”