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Reading Food Labels with your Children

Posted on by on September 26th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

I had a great conversation with JWS (6 years old) the other day. You know one of those conversations where you walk away thinking to yourself, they do listen and hey, maybe I am not too bad at this parenting gig.

I braved the grocery store with both boys in tow. JWS requested that if he found something he wanted that I read the ingredients for him to make sure it is free of peanuts, eggs and gluten. JWS has a Class 5 egg and peanut and a Class 3 gluten anaphylactoid allergies. He is very accepting of these restrictions.

Lately we have been a little more free with the television channels the boys were exposed to. Typically they have access to Treehouse and TVO Kids, both commercial free networks. This last week they have stumbled upon the likes of YTV and the Teletoon, not commercial free. I had noticed that there were many junk food advertisements on these networks. The boys didn’t ask about the food until we went to the store. JWS insisted we go down the snack aisle; unchartered territory for us. How did he know all the forbidden ‘fruits’ were down there? LLS (4 years old) piped up a few times, pointing at various snacks, “I saw that on TV”. Picking up a box of who-knows-what JWS asked if we could buy it,  afterall it did have a *NO PEANUTS* symbol on the package. “See Mom, no peanuts.” My immediate thought was, let’s check out what else is doesn’t have in it. We stood together in front of the wall of colourful, character splattered boxes and together read the ingredient list: sugar, maltodextrin, corn syrup, maltose then some chemicals and food dyes. The first 4 ingredients are all sugar, crazy! “So it is all just sugar. That’s not good for us.” Without a fuss, he put the box back on the shelf.

The next day, JWS says, “Mom did you know that some adults lie?” I wasn’t entirely sure where he was going with this question, so I was unsure on how to respond. But I didn’t have to. “Because sometimes they tell us that sugary foods are good for us and they are NOT! Like that cinnamon crunch cereal. That is lying. I am never eating that stuff.”

This kid definitely knows how to make me proud!

Marketing is a powerful tool, just as food policy activist Marion Nestle points out in the New England Journal of Medicine:

“Food marketing, the IOM says, intentionally targets children who are too young to distinguish advertising from truth and induces them to eat high-calorie, low-nutrient (but highly profitable) “junk” foods; companies succeed so well in this effort that business-as-usual cannot be allowed to continue.”

However, education is also a very powerful tool. Healthy eating habits start at home. Set the standard at home and they will question outside sources of information, like we encountered with the television advertisements.

For our family, discussing why we choose certain foods over others works well. We talk about why we do not eat (on a regular basis) foods high in added sugars, processed foods, and foods high in hydrogenated fats. We talk about how these foods are made and what these ingredients do to our bodies or the general lack of nutrients in some cases. We emphasize the importance of nutrient dense foods for growth, development and general health. When we do consume less than desirable foods, we talk about how it makes us feel afterwards and point out why these food are to be consumed rarely.

Educational Resources for Children

Nutrition Detectives 

Super Sprowtz TV and Books

Smash Your Food (fun!)

Crunch a Color

Today I Ate a Rainbow

Resources for Parents

For a simplified how to interpret a food label, use this fantastic guide by Andrew Wilder at Eating Rules.

Do you talk about nutrition at home? Do you have a favourite tool (app, book, program, game) for teaching your children about healthy eating? Please share in the comments.

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  1. Jenneta
    Posted on: 9-27-2012


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