Reading Food Labels: Are Your Kids Getting the Proper Nutrition?

Most parents have a pretty good idea of what is good for their kids and what isn’t. On the “good” list are natural foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and lean meats. Items like chips, candy, and soda, on the other hand, get relegated to the “bad” list. But there are a whole host of food items that land in the nebulous in-between area. Are granola bars good for your kids? What about processed luncheon meats? Is whole grain white bread equivalent to wheat? Natural juices still have a lot of sugar; is that okay? There are plenty of pertinent questions to ask when it comes to the food you provide for your children and sometimes it can be difficult to tell what is good and what isn’t. So here are a few guidelines to follow when reading the labels.

First and foremost, you should address the issue of additives. Since it has been determined that canned or frozen items can retain all the nutrients of fresh, the major detractor to buying these less expensive items is all the extras that are crammed in there. Sodium is an extremely common preservative, but when you start adding up how much your child eats in a day, you may be shocked to find that they’re getting two or three times as much as the recommended amount (or even more). Then there are chemical preservatives and artificial colors and flavors to contend with, not to mention the ingredients on the list that you can’t even decipher (much less figure out what they’re contributing to nutritional value). Your best bet is to go organic to avoid these items whenever possible. You might also look for “natural” products, but there is no guarantee of this claim, while items that bear the USDA Certified Organic label come with authentication.

Next you’ll want to look at the content of fat, sugar, carbohydrates, protein, and fiber listed. Starting with fats, you’ll want to go for fairly low numbers. Although some fat in the diet is necessary and good, certain fats are better than others. Trans fats are out, saturated fats are not very good, and unsaturated fats are considered the best (although they should be consumed in moderation). Sugars should also be avoided when possible (or found in natural sources like fruits), while carbohydrates and protein are our main source of fuel, meaning they can generally be consumed in larger quantities. As for fiber, most people simply don’t get enough. So high-fiber foods like whole grains should be considered part of a healthy diet (they also help to prevent the absorption of some fats, making them twice as good for your kids).

Finally, see if your food items have high levels of vitamins and minerals that kids need to grow and function properly. You may want to consider giving a daily supplemental vitamin, since most kids don’t eat enough food (of any type) to cover the bases. But you can certainly try to give them as many natural sources of vitamins as possible.

About the Author

Sarah Danielson writes for SeaReach Labels where you can find custom security labels and stickers.