I’ve mentioned in the past how my mom’s attention to nutritional content in food was something that always stuck with me into my adult years. She was determined to raise healthy children and as a result, we are all quite healthy adults having learned so much from her habits. To this day, I remember her telling us we could pick any cereal we wanted, as long as sugar wasn’t one of the first ingredients listed. I was actually a little shocked (and a lot disappointed) to realize how many of the cereal brands I saw advertised on TV contained mostly sugar.
Now, as a parent myself, I check food labels as carefully as my mom once did. And finally, my boys are old enough to start learning about proper nutrition as well! That’s why I’m such a big supporter of the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign. This joint initiative from Health Canada, the Retail Council of Canada, Food and Consumer Products of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers is designed to help both children and their parents understand how to decipher food labels to better understand the nutritional value of products they buy.
To help me teach my boys about proper nutrition, I received a clever kit that let my boys act as nutrition detectives by learning about the Nutrition Facts table on packaged food. Complete with a Sherlock Holmes hat and a magnifying glass, they sat down to compare two identical boxes of crackers, two cans of peaches, two boxes of cereal and two boxes of veggie burgers. I liked that the plain green and white packaging let them focus only on the nutritional information rather than any brand advertising. Being able to look past the fun and colourful packaging of a product is an important first step in analyzing a food’s nutritional value, especially for an impressionable child.
Zackary examined the two cans of peaches in detail and listening to him reason aloud about which would be the better choice was fascinating for me. At a glance, I could tell that one can of peaches, containing 35 calories and 8 grams of sugar per serving, was likely packed in water, while the other, at 80 calories and 17 grams of sugar per serving, was probably packed in light syrup. But my son also noticed that the serving size of one of the cans was bigger, prompting some quick math to calculate the relative amount of sugar in each portion. And the high-sugar peaches also featured more vitamin A, which led to a discussion about whether the sugary fruit was a better choice because of its added vitamins.
The crackers were a similar comparative experiment. One had a serving size of just four crackers while the other had a serving size of 9 crackers. Yet the actual grams of each serving were almost identical. Once again, a discussion was started about properly figuring out serving size. The big difference between these two cracker varieties was the sodium. One variety with slightly more protein and sugar per serving had just 90 mg of sodium, or 4% of the recommended daily intake, while the sugar-free crackers had a whopping 280mg of sodium, 12% of the RDI!
If you’d like to test out your own nutritional knowledge, the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign has a great contest running right now that you won’t want to miss! Just visit www.focusonthefacts.ca and answer the daily quiz for a chance to win a $300 grocery gift card! Can’t wait to go shopping and put your nutritional knowledge to work? I also have a $100 grocery gift card to give away to one of my lucky readers! To enter to win, just leave a blog comment about whether you currently check the Nutrition Facts table when choosing food items.
Both the boys had fun examining the differences between the packages to try to find the healthiest option for our family. And I loved that they were learning the same lessons that I once learned as a child…that making smart food choices means looking beyond bright packaging and well-known brands to find out what’s really inside the food you’re eating! Check out www.FocusontheFacts.ca for more information on how to teach your kids about reading food labels, and let them try comparing a few brands in your house too. You may just be surprised at how different the nutritional value of similar foods can be!