Food Shopping & Label-Reading Strategies

Reading Nutrition Labels

Finding Facts in Labels

Summer vacation has come to an end and most parents have started back-to-school shopping, buying up notebooks, pencils, and school clothes. Yet planning healthy back-to-school lunches and nutritious after school snacks are just as important for school success.

Searching for health food for children as they start going back to school has been a task fraught with confusion – until now. Getting your kids to eat fruit is one way to ensure they will be getting some nutritious food with their meal. The challenge comes in choosing fruit that your child will like to eat. One strategy to try is taste testing with your kids. Try buying a variety of fruits and introducing them to your kids and see which ones they like. Have those fruits on hand so that they can reach for them when they are looking for a snack. This way when school starts, you’ll know what they will eat and you won’t see an uneaten apple travel back home in their backpack before you to realize they don’t like apples.

Something else to consider when choosing fruit for kids to take to school is to make the fruit easy for them to eat, so cut up large pieces of fruit into smaller pieces. Kids will be more likely to eat it when they don’t have to work for it. You can also prevent apple and pear slices from turning brown by squeezing a little lemon juice on them. You can even make fruit smoothies, and store them in a thermos for lunch, or make a fruit salad with all of your child’s favorite fruits that can be packed in a small container and sent with their lunch.

Whole fruit is best to receive the most nutrients and fiber, and it should be eaten daily, but when you don’t have it on hand, and your child is trying to convince you that a candy bar is what he needs (he can keep trying, but he won’t get it!), you can sometimes offer dried fruit or fruit leather, which is dried, pureed fruit. One brand to try is Stretch Island Fruit Co.’s fruit strips or its FruitaBu fruit rolls. Juice that’s 100% fruit juice (such as R.W. Knudsen and Back to Nature 100% juice boxes) is also fine to sometimes offer. A 1/2 cup of it, such as orange juice, counts as a 1/2 cup of fruit, but keep in mind that as with dried, pureed fruit, fruit juice lacks the amount of fiber that whole fruit provides. Kids 1 to 6 years old should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day, and children age 7 to 18 should limit juice to no more than 8 to 12 ounces daily.

When picking products, parents can confidently make informative choices with these label-reading tips:

  • First, keep in mind that the ingredients are listed in the order of quantity in the food. So the first ingredient in the list is the one that makes up the greatest portion of the food product, the last ingredient makes up the least portion, and all the remaining ingredients represent amounts in between.
  • Check serving sizes to make sure you know exactly how much of each nutritional breakdown your kids are consuming. It may appear that a product has a low sugar content, but if your child consumes more than one serving size they will actually be taking in much larger amounts of sugar than you first thought. The same things should be kept in mind when looking at fat content, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and any other nutritional category.
  • A little reading can go a long way to ensure the health of your children, and involve them in the process. In so doing, they will help you hunt for nutritious foods and identify the unhealthy food products. For example, when shopping, engage kids to find products, such as cereals, with the lowest amount of sugar and the highest amount of fiber. Or have them look for products with the highest amount of protein. For instance, Kashi TLC Chewy Granola Bars even contain 4 grams of fiber and 5 to 7 grams of protein. Or let them scavenger hunt for items with lowest amount of saturated fat and sodium, or find labels that say low-sodium, reduced sodium, or no sodium.
  • Seek out products that are trans-fat free. But keep in mind that a company can still say a product contains 0 grams of trans fat even if it contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving. But remember that if someone consumes more than a serving, then the amount of trans fat that’s being consumed is increasing, too. To avoid trans fat entirely, look in the ingredients list. If you see “partially hydrogenated” oils in the ingredients, then that product contains trans fat. If it says “hydrogenated” oil, it could still contain trans fat, because sometimes “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” are used interchangeably; however, if the label says “fully hydrogenated” oil, then it doesn’t contain trans fat.

What smart shopping tips would you like to share?

EVENT ALERT: If you’re in the Stamford, CT, area on Saturday, Sept. 17, head to Fairway’s Stamford store at 699 Canal Street for our Back-to-School Smart Start event where there will be arts and crafts for kids from 10 a.m. to noon, and a Q&A session with Carlon Colker, MD, from 11 to noon. Product samples will be distributed, too. Note: This is the Aug. 27 event that was rescheduled.

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2 Responses to Food Shopping & Label-Reading Strategies

  1. John says:

    What about recommendations for reading a nutrition label for the rest of us? I realize it’s a tall order but Fairway will do it right and I’d pay attention.

  2. CPorretta says:

    Thanks for your interest. The bulleted label-reading tips in the post can apply to purchases adults make for themselves, too. But please stay tuned for upcoming adult-oriented nutrition advice!

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