How to Read Nutrition Labels: A Kid-Friendly Process

How to Read Nutrition Labels: A Kid-Friendly Process

Bethany Johnson headshotPosted by Bethany Johnson, guest blogger

Our journey to clean living has taken years, and we’re still not “there” yet. One of the unfortunate parts of my label-reading in the grocery store is that my kids have gotten bored, and even started mischief while waiting for me to finish shopping.

Last year, I had an idea: Put them to work reading these labels! Because I help them at home to learn letters and numbers, why not connect with them over the task of understanding nutrition facts? In addition to learning how to read vocabulary words, I’m now teaching them how to read nutrition labels. A bonus is that it keeps them out of trouble while I stock our pantry with fair-trade organics.

Here are the steps I took to turn my little consumers into helpers, and how you can do the same.

The Patient Game

First, I adjusted my expectations. The initial idea was to create health fanatics overnight, but that’s just unrealistic. They still light up when they see rainbow popsicles, they still reach for chocolate that is likely produced by underpaid workers, and I don’t put pressure on them to know what “soy” means—yet. All of this will change in due time, but for now, keep things fun by making a game out of the ingredients lists.

Spot the Fructose

Next, I divvy up the jobs. My daughter takes the task of looking for the word “fructose.” The reason? Although fructose is a natural part of many fruits and veggies, it’s the added fructose we want to avoid. In children, too much high fructose results in smaller LDL particle size. Across the board, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), consuming sugar-sweetened foods and drinks is associated with cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, insulin resistance, and as a result, type 2 diabetes.

learning to read nutrition labels including finding sucrose

For us, the decision is easy, but searching for the ingredient takes time. Thankfully, I have a little helper who knows how to read nutrition labels.

Strength in Numbers

My smaller child doesn’t read letters yet, but recognizes numbers. He loves to do whatever his sister is doing, so I showed him how to find numbers and he loves the sense of achievement. I want to find numbers because, most often, they’re associated with a food dye I’d rather avoid. Because the FDA has quoted studies saying that artificial colors and flavors “can trigger or exaggerate behavior disorders and learning disabilities,” we’ve steered clear of them. My little guy helps us do just that by finding numbers for me to double-check.

With a little coaching, my 3-year-old easily finds the artificial colors that can trigger learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

With a little coaching, my 3-year-old easily finds the artificial colors that can trigger learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.

If your little one loses interest, have him or her find the nutrition fact sheet on each item. I do this so I can identify the folate for my own consumption.

Play Fair

Lastly, we look for the Fair Trade logo. This is one item I do spend a few minutes explaining to my children. Kids should know our lives are not typical compared to the rest of the world, and that in many places, farmers don’t receive a liveable wage for producing what we get to enjoy. Although it may seem like they’re not listening, you’ll notice the results in great ways. Their dolls, for example, will have them “playing farmer” and “paying fair wages” for their pretend transactions. To me, this is rewarding.

Learning how to read nutrition labels includes looking for fair trade symbols.

My kids know the best foods don’t have labels at all. They come in their natural packaging with little or no processing. Our favorite game is to look for nutrition facts on raw produce and ask one another whether we see something we’re just imagining. Silliness keeps it fun.

Next up on my list of lessons: cruelty-free, certified humane, non-GMO project verified, and organic. One step and one label at a time.

you don't have to worry about how to read nutrition labels with items like fresh produce

What about your kids? Have they gotten involved in responsible food choices? How did you do it? Tell us in the comments or tweet your strategies to @TomsofMaine, using the hashtag, #GoodMatters.

Image sources: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.