Healthy eating habits should be inculcated from an early age, so that your child can grow up to become a strong and happy adult. This is the reason why understanding nutrition labels on store-bought food items, is so vital for your children, especially the pre-teens. The rate of childhood obesity has increased dramatically over the years in India. The reason is not only genes, but also other factors such as environmental and behavioural factors, which result in the accumulation of excess body fat.

The kind of food choices kids make nowadays can affect their complete health. Hence, they need to be aware and understand the importance of "what is there in their food." So, the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) takes nutritional labelling on food products extremely seriously and encourages parents to teach children about reading nutrition labels. It is just like a book, which has "Table of Content", so that you can see what is inside the book. Or, a toy that comes with a picture on the pack to depict each tiny piece.

Why are nutrition labels so important?

Food nutrition labels are similar to the examples mentioned above. They help you know what is present in the food, the major ingredients, as well as the macro and micronutrients.

And parents can guide kids efficiently when it comes to reading these labels right. This way, they can make wise food choices their entire life. Younger kids can focus on mindful eating when you teach them essential food groups. And older kids and pre-teens can be informed about nutrients individually along with nutrition label facts.

How to read nutrition labels?

The food nutrition labels give knowledge about individual nutrients present in a particular food. The food you or your child picks should contain the right amounts of vitamins and minerals for his or her proper growth and development. It is not difficult to search for the nutrition label, as the printing is on the outer part of the packaged food. Measurement of a few nutrients is in grams (g), some in milligrams (mg), and some nutrients are shown in percentage form.

The food package will give information about energy, protein, fats, carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. How to meet the daily requirements or goals will also be indicated by the RDA or Recommended Dietary Allowance present on the label of the food.

Though the food labels are usually calculated depending on what adults need to consume, kids can still get an idea about the names of different ingredients. They can get information related to what the item consists of, how many nutrients are there per serving, how many calories are present, and what is the amount of macro and micronutrients.

They can also compare two food labels, and find out which food has a higher fibre content, or higher fat content, and choose wisely.

Kids can also learn that the first ingredient on the list is present in the highest amounts, and the last ingredient mentioned is present in the smallest amounts.

Parents can also teach them to check the sugar content of a food item. Kids can learn from a young age that instead of sugar, various other names might be used, such as high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sucrose, or glucose.

According to FSSAI regulations, logos on a food packer should also indicate whether a food item is vegetarian or non-vegetarian, whether it contains allergens and whether a food product is ideal for human consumption or not. So, you can teach your kids to watch out for these.

Different ways to make food nutrition labels understandable

Check the size of serving: It is important for parents to inform their kids that a nutrition fact label contains information per serving size of the food. But, their diet might consist of more than one serving. So, they should stick to the serving size mentioned, to control calorie intake.

Keep a check on the calories: Childhood obesity is often caused due to an imbalance in calories, i.e. the input is not equal to the output. It is hence necessary to track the calories present in any food, to avoid caloric imbalance. And children should be taught this.

Watch out for some specific nutrients: Kids need to know that there is no need to consume all the nutrients in large quantities. Like, intake of saturated fats, trans-fats, added sugar, and sodium should be in fewer amounts.

How to make them learn at home

  • Teach them by presenting several of your child’s favourite foods, showing them the labels on each and how they can read and analyse the nutrition information.
  • During snacking, help pre-teens understand the nutrition label facts and serving sizes, so that they understand the ingredients and nutrients present in that particular food, as well as how much they should have.

How to make them learn at the supermarket

Since you probably shop for most groceries from the supermarket, take your child with you, to read and understand the labels.

  • They can read labels for different canned fruits and juices.
  • Vegetables that are frozen and without salt will have nutritional labels too.
  • Teach them to choose foods wisely. For example, show them how whole-grain cereals are less in sugar and high in fibre.

How to make them learn in the lunchroom

  • In the lunchroom of a school, it can be difficult to keep a check on what they are consuming. But it will be good enough to motivate them to make wise choices.
  • Parents and teachers can encourage kids to read the food labels on the products present in the cafeteria.