For as long as I can remember, I’ve always talked to my kids about what’s in their food – what’s in it, what’s it made with, why it’s good or bad, etc. Sometimes I feel like a broken record…
“No, that’s got too much sugar.”
“No, we’re not eating that since it’s got chemicals.” [Our term for any artificial dyes and preservatives.]
“No, daddy can’t eat that because it’s got gluten.”
And of course, we say yes to many things too…
“Yes, you can have a homemade popsicle for a snack.”
“Yes, pick out any organic apple you want.”
Earlier this week, I took my kids to the store to pick up a few household things. This wasn’t a health food store. In fact, I was picking up my new crock pot. As we walked around, the boys found marshmallows. A lot of them. Pink, chocolate, minis, you name it. I thought for sure I was heading into an argument. But then something AMAZING happened.
Without any prompting from me, my 8-year-old son picked up a bag of marshmallows and turned it over. He started reading the ingredients on the bag and found out that it contained artificial food dyes.
He then showed his 6-year-old brother and said, “See, we can’t have it. There’s food dyes in it.” Then my younger son picked up another bag and turned it over. He’s just starting to read and couldn’t tell if his bag had artificial dyes too. When my oldest son confirmed that it did, he just put the bag back.
They both turned to me and asked why companies put artificial dyes in foods. We then had a conversation about it – one we’ve had many times – about why companies do it and what we can do instead. I’m sure it won’t be the last time we talk about it, and I love it. I feel like each time they pick up something new.
So what can you do? I highly encourage you to teach your kids how to read food labels. Here’s why…
5 Reasons to Teach Kids How to Read Food Labels
1. Kids learn about key nutrients and types of foods they should eat.
They’ll understand that food isn’t just something that gets eaten – it provides their bodies with energy and nutrients. So take the time to explain why fats can be good and sugar should be limited, or why foods with artificial preservatives aren’t the best things for their bodies. Talk about the different food groups and what each does for the body. Kids love to learn about how their bodies work.
Check out my cookbook, Gluten Free, Real Food Recipes Kids Love for 70+ kid-friendly recipes and nutrition tips to help kids make better food choices.
2. Kids empowered with more information about food will learn to make the right food choices.
They may opt for something not-so-healthy (as we all do) every now and then, but ultimately, they’ll know what’s best for them. Here are more tips on how to spot chemical additives in gluten free foods for kids.
3. Kids will teach other kids (and willing adults) about how to make food choices.
Something I’ve learned with the Montessori school my kids attend – kids learn by teaching others. Once they’re armed with information, they deepen their understanding by teaching others. Be careful with this one because kids may overshare or judge other kids who don’t make healthy food choices. I often tell my kids that it’s not their place to judge about others’ food choices, but certainly if any of their friends ask then they can educate in a non-judgmental way.
4. Kids who read nutrition labels will increase their literacy skills.
Kids will learn key terms to look for – such as sugar, gluten, eggs, nuts – and even kids who are just starting to read can memorize some of these words by sight and recognize them on labels. My 6-year-old son isn’t reading difficult words yet, but he recognizes the word “gluten” on food packages.
5. Kids become critical thinkers.
They’ll ask questions about the food supply, the farmers, the animals, how other people eat, etc. It’s a great opportunity to teach kids about where food comes from. And there are numerous activities to encourage this critical thinking – such as visiting a farm, buying produce from a farmer’s market, growing vegetables in a garden, and much more. Do you talk to your kids about food or nutrition labels? Tell me your story.
Image credit: alexskopje / 123RF Stock Photo
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