How to Read Nutrition Facts LabelsPrint Page
Nutrition Facts labels can be difficult to read and confusing for all ages. Many times, reading a nutrition label can create more questions than answers. Should I pay attention to the number of grams or the % daily value? What are all of these ingredients? If adults struggle to understand nutrition labels, there’s a good chance kids do too. It is important, however, for kids to understand what their food is comprised of to practice responsible decision making. You can start by simplifying the information on nutrition labels to teach children to identify key nutrients that are common in nutrient-rich foods.
Nutrition Facts labels have a lot of information on them and can be overwhelming. Make it simple by focusing on:
- Serving size: A serving is what is typically consumed, not a recommendation. How many servings are in the container? How does this compare to how much you’re eating?
- Total calories: Calories are energy! When we use energy throughout the day, it is important that we refuel with calories in food. Total calories will tell you how many calories there are in one serving.
- Choosing foods that have smaller percentage Daily Value for saturated fat, added sugars and sodium. A small percentage or low amount of a specific nutrient is considered 5% DV or less.
- Choosing foods that have higher percentage Daily Value for vitamins, minerals and fiber. A higher percentage of a specific nutrient is considered 20% DV or more.
Get your kids comfortable with reading the label. Practice on the cereal box at home and on products at the grocery store, for example. Ask questions like “How many calories are in a serving? “Does this food have fiber in it?” to familiarize them with the label and nutrition lingo.
- Teach kids how to read Nutrition Facts labels as part of health education, or a science, math or literacy lesson.
- Incorporate practical skills into the lesson by practicing how to decipher real Nutrition Facts labels and how to choose the healthier option by reading the label.
- Extend it to home—Nutrition Facts labels are all around us! Teach parents how to read labels so kids and their families can make healthy decisions together.
When choosing your serving consider what a balanced plate might look like. How many vegetables can you fit on half your plate? How does this compare to the serving? Were you still hungry after consuming the serving, were you satisfied, or too full? Encourage children to take their time and reflect on their state of hunger and satiety.
Check out the vitamins and minerals content. A food is considered a “good source” of that vitamin or mineral if it has 10% or more of it.
The first ingredient on the ingredient list has the largest amount. Pay attention to the kind of ingredients, too. If you don’t recognize an ingredient look it up! What benefits might this ingredient provide for product safety or health?
Recruit a registered dietitian to teach a lesson on how to read the label.
Avoid labeling nutrition labels as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy” in order to foster healthy relationships with all food. All foods provide energy. Focus on things like fast acting and slow acting carbs, and how this affects energy levels or immune boosting vitamins in certain fruits and vegetables. Children will be able to learn and practice responsible decision making when it comes to food choice by choosing what they need and when to fuel their bodies!