Reading Food Labels: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Wendy McDougal

Wendy has taught high school Biology and has a master's degree in education.

Food labels are tables of information found on packaged foods. They tell you important details about the food you are eating and provide nutritional facts. Read more to learn about how to read a food label.

Making Healthy Choices

If you were asked to choose a healthy box of cereal at the store, how would you do this? Some cereals might look and sound great, with catchy names and cartoon pictures. But how do you know if the clever packaging is presenting a healthy choice? Fortunately, every box, bag and package of food comes with an informative feature: a food label. A food label lists exactly what is in your food, from specific ingredients to important nutrients. Let's take a closer look.

It looks delicious, but is it healthy?

Serving Size and Calories

If you can, grab a box of food from your pantry and look on the side. You will find the food label, aptly titled ''Nutrition Facts''. The first thing listed is the serving size of the product. For example, many types of cereal list one cup as a serving size. Why does serving size matter? Because every piece of information included in the Nutrition Facts applies to one serving of that food.

The blue bowl contains the correct serving size, but many people eat triple that amount
Serving size

So, you might be pleased to learn that a serving of your favorite cereal only contains 8 grams of sugar. But be careful: if you are eating a big mixing bowl's worth, you might be getting three times that amount! The food label also informs you of how many total servings are in the package.

Next, the label lets the consumer know how many calories are in each serving. Calories are units that measure the amount of energy in your food. They are like gasoline for your car: they fuel your body. Calories come from the three types of macronutrients found in food: fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. If you eat too many calories, especially from fat, it can be unhealthy.

Nutrients on Food Labels

The next categories are fat, cholesterol, and sodium. These usually represent the not-so-healthy parts of your food. Choose foods that have low numbers and percentages in these categories. Speaking of percentages, what do they mean? Each nutrient shows a ''percentage of daily value''. For example, say your cereal has 2% daily value of fat. This means that eating a serving of this product will give you 2% of the total fat you should have for the day.

Nutrition facts on a food label
Food label

Moving down, we find total carbohydrate. This tells us how many carbohydrates, or carbs, are in the product. You might think of carbs as types of grains. Chemically, carbs are different types of sugars, and they give us quick energy. Carbs that come from whole grains and have lots of fiber are the healthiest choices.

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