How To Read Food Labels for Kids

One way to teach them about nutrition and to understand what is in the food they eat is to review nutrition labels together – as you shop and at home. Here are some tips to make sure that healthy eating habits start early: 


Allergies. If your child has a food allergy, you may have already read a food label together.  This will help your child recognize ingredients he or she needs to avoid.


Compare and Contrast.  Select two containers of their favorite snack, and compare food labels for sugar and fiber.  Help them choose a product with lower sugar and higher fiber.


What is Trans fat? Look for saturated fats, trans fat and cholesterol on the label and explain the risk of heart disease.  Emphasize the importance of healthy fats in our diets. Make a game of it by finding a snack that contains none or very little of these fats.


High-fructose corn syrup.  This ingredient appears regularly in juices, drinks and even yogurt.  If it appears at the top of the ingredient list, find one that doesn’t.


Serving sizes. Help your child understand how much a serving size is. Get out the measuring cups and create an experiment. Show them how much of their snack they should consume at a time.


Pass the salt.  Most of the sodium people eat comes from processed foods, not from the salt shaker.


Don’t sugar-coat it. Sugars add calories with few, if any, nutrients. Look for foods and beverages low in added sugars. Some names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, and fructose.


Protein. Describe the importance of protein in helping kids grow and support their muscles, organs and blood.


Daily value of nutrients.  Explain how important it is to choose foods that contain more than 10 percent of the daily value of minerals and vitamins to help them grow big and strong.


The ingredient list.  Check out the list to make sure that sugar, salt, high-fructose corn syrup and fats are not listed first.  A short ingredient list is usually a healthier choice than a long list with chemicals they can’t pronounce.


Some final pointers:

  • Start by helping your kids make healthy food choices at a young age, a lesson that will influence their eating habits for life.
  • Don’t try to teach them everything at once, take one or two items at a time. This will hold their attention and not overwhelm them.
  • Shop, cook, eat and share nutrition information together. Repeat often until healthy eating and nutritious food choices become a habit.


Most importantly, have fun!



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About The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation

Created in 1980, The Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation supports Harvard Pilgrim's mission to improve the quality and value of health care for the people and communities we serve. In 2013, the Harvard Pilgrim Foundation awarded more than $2.8 million in grants to nearly 650 nonprofit organizations throughout New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine.

This past year, a total of $1.5 million in grants was distributed to the Foundation’s Growing Up Healthy initiatives in the region, primarily for programs that promote nutrition, healthy eating, and physical activity to help prevent childhood obesity.  Close to 8 % of children in the region, ages 6-12 years, as well as 152 pediatric practices and providers, are involved in activities funded by the Foundation’s Growing Up Healthy initiatives.  Since its inception in 1980, the Foundation has granted more than $130 million in funds throughout the three states.  For more information, please visit

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18 Mar 2014

By Karen Voci, Executive Director, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation