Teaching Food Labels to Kids

Nutrition is vital for everyone, but especially for children. At RSGC, we offer healthy food choices and a balanced diet. 
According to the US Center for Disease Control (CDC), 25% of all kids between the ages of two and 18 are overweight. Overweight and obese children have a greater risk of developing problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, health disease, and immune system problems.

Good health starts with proper food choices. Not only can healthy food help children avoid health problems, but it can also stimulate optimal growth and development. You can teach your children to opt for healthy foods and make positive diet choices based on nutrition labels and nutrition facts. Food labels can cause confusion, however. Even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that nutrition labels are too confusing.

You need to teach your kids to read food labels so that they can get calorie information and other nutrition facts and then put them into the context of diet needs, serving size, and daily value.

Here are some ideas to help you teach your kids about nutrition labels and how to use them to make good food choices.

Best Way to Read a Nutrition Label

Nutrition labels contain nutrition facts. What you need is a method for translating these facts into good food choices. Only about half of consumers look at nutrition labels and even less than half look at important variables like serving size and daily value of ingredients.

Here is the best way to teach your children about nutrition labels.

Nutrition Information

The numbers and percentages on a food package can seem complicated at first glance. What you can teach your kids is how to look for serving size and show them how to find information such as the amount of:
  • Calories
  • Calories from fat
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sodium
  • Protein
  • Fiber
  • Saturated fat
You can also help your children understand how to make sure they get the recommended daily amount of important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, potassium, calcium, vitamin B and so on. These vitamins and minerals are “micronutrients” that kids need to grow and develop properly.

Serving Size

Serving size information can be tricky, even for adults. The first step is to get kids to understand what constitutes one serving. You can start with items like cereal, milk or juice. You can get out a measuring cup and have kids measure out one serving. If that seems too complicated, you can start with cookies or crackers, and have kids look for the number in a single serving and then count out that number of crackers.  

These exercises will help kids understand that they need to consider serving size, and it will get them in the habit of making sure they are eating the right amount of each food.

Daily Value

Daily value percentages and amounts are based on an adult’s needs. Children’s needs will vary, but it is simple to figure out the range of kid’s dietary needs based on their age. For example, girls between ages four and eight will need between 1,200-1,800 calories per day (depending on their size and their daily activities). Boys in the same age group need between 1,200 and 2,000 calories. Calories are a good place to start because every nutrition label has this information and you can easily look up calorie information for foods without labels.

You can also look for amounts of vitamins and minerals on food labels. When possible, look for amounts, which will usually be in milligrams, and then compare these amounts to the recommended daily amount for your childrens' age group.

Micronutrients & Macronutrients

Macronutrients are nutrients that you need in larger amounts, while micronutrients, such as vitamins, are things that you require in smaller doses. Macronutrients include fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. These variables are usually measured in grams on a nutrition label. Micronutrients are vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and other nutrients that are usually measured in milligrams (mg) or even micrograms (mcg).

Since nutrition labels usually list items from biggest to smallest, macronutrients are on the top. When teaching children, therefore, macronutrients are a good place to start.

If you want to inspire your children to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, you can teach them about micronutrients. These foods may not come with food labels, but you can find the information via the US Food and Drug Administration or a similar authoritative source.


Ingredients are on the bottom of most food labels. You can use this list to see what additives are in your food, and also to find foods that you want to limit. If you want to limit sugar intake, you should not only look for the ingredient “sugar,” but also for corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice or barley malt syrup. The nutrition information above the ingredients can help you confirm what you are looking for in the ingredients. If you see five or more grams of sugar, you can look for sugar or sugar substitute ingredients.

Making Healthy Food Choices

You can show them how to choose nutrient-dense foods based on the information on the food label. You can tell them to grade foods based on the information on the package. For example, the “best foods” may have between zero and three grams of total fats, less than five grams of sugar and zero to 120 mg of sodium. Teach your children that they should choose these “best foods” most of the time. Foods that have up to 20 g of total fat, 15 g of sugar and up to 600 mg of sodium are acceptable for consumption as well when “best foods” aren’t available. You can teach your kids that they can still eat foods that rise above these recommended nutrition limits, but only as a “splurge” or special treat.   

An easy way to start this nutrition education is to get your kids to compare two or more labels to find which option is better. You can get them to compare and say things like “this food option is better because it has less sodium and less total fat.”

Three nutrition facts

  1. According to the Mayo Clinic, kids need between 2-4 cups of vegetables and fruits per day
  2. According to the CDC, most kids get too much sugar and sodium in their diet
  3. Teens need 46-52 grams of protein per day