Have you ever noticed how kids always read cereal boxes? Unless there is a TV on, the cereal box is often the most interesting thing at the breakfast table. That’s why cereal boxes are covered with comics, jokes and ads for things related to the cereal–companies know that kids read the boxes.
The most important information on the cereal box, though, is written in black and white small print–nothing that will catch a child’s eye. The black and white nutrition facts tell us what is in the food and what it provides for our bodies (nutrients, calories, fat, sugar, etc.).
Because they are so good at reading the front of boxes, your children might try to get you to buy a particular cereal by telling you that it is “part of a healthy diet” or “low in sugar” or a “good source of fiber.” These terms are defined by the FDA and can be confusing. A low fat food has 3 grams of fat or less per serving and a food that is a “good source of fiber” contains 10 to 19% of the Daily Value for fiber (2.5-4.75 g) per serving. However, low fat foods are often much higher in sugar than similar foods that are not low fat, and foods that are lower in sugar or higher in fiber are also likely to be higher in fat.
Education can begin at home. Teaching a child to understand what is in food and what it does to and for their bodies gives them a tool for making healthy choices throughout their lives. Since the small print on labels is not nearly as fascinating as the puzzels on the back of the box, we need to get creative. Here are some tips to get you started.
Does your child like a challenge?
• Challenge him to correctly pronounce 3 of the listed ingredients or to correctly spell the ingredients when you read them out loud.
Is your child fascinated by math?
• See how quickly she can figure out how many servings of the food will result in 100% Daily Value of a particular nutrient or what percentage of a 2000 calorie diet a serving of the food equals. (2000 calories is the number used for % Daily Values).
Does your child like logic and making choices?
• Ask him questions comparing two or three products such as:
• Which food has more ingredients?
• Which food would be better if you need to build strong bones?
• Which food would be better if you want to eat only healthy fats?
To help children make healthy choices, we need to teach them to ask, “What’s in it for me?” and teach them how to find the answers. Useful information to help us understand healthy eating behaviors is available on some great websites such as www.nutrition.gov, www.cdc.gov/nutrition, and www.choosemyplate.gov
Image Credit: mauimama