Free Resource Sheets to Teach Healthy Eating Habits


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Entries in Nutrition (18)


Why Nobody Needs Nutrition Labels

Even though parents talk a lot about the importance of good nutrition, recent research suggests that what matters most to shoppers is

  • Saving money
  • Saving time
  • Accommodating our kids’ taste preferences

Want to get through the grocery store quickly – and with the most nutritious food you can buy? Here’s a radical idea:  Forget about reading nutrition labels.  Why?

First of all, nutrition labels can be a waste of time

Nutrition labels unnecessarily complicate your shopping experience.   If you are going to use them properly, you have to sift through a ton of information, remember what to look for, and compare the nutrition labels across all similar products.  Only then can you pick the best food for your family.

Maybe that’s why most people don’t read them anyway.  And those of us who do read them, don’t consider the full range of information.  Instead we tend to track only certain nutrients, such as sugar or fat. But this strategy can be misleading: lots of low fat foods, for example, are extremely high in sugar and lots of reduced sugar items have limited amounts of fiber.

Second, nutrition labels can lead you astray.

Finding the best nutrition label on your kids’ favorite foods – macaroni and cheese for instance – gives you a false sense of security because even the best box is probably not that good for you.

Nutrition labels are only useful for choosing foods when it comes to buying processed foods and processed foods are almost always less-than-optimal.  After all, it’s not like you need a nutrition label to assess the quality of the broccoli you buy. 

Third, nutrition labels can wreck your kids’ eating habits.

Eating lots of processed foods – the only items in the grocery store that you can’t automatically know how healthy they are just by looking at them – pulls your kids’ taste buds away from the fresh fruits and vegetables you want them to eat and moves them towards the junky stuff you’re trying to get them to avoid.

So, give yourself a break, and shop in a way that makes the labels unnecessary. 

Adopt a strategy of buying mostly unprocessed foods and then it won’t really matter whether you buy slightly (or extremely) inferior processed foods.  They won’t be a significant part of your kids’ diet.  And the added bonus?  Your kids will learn to eat their veggies.  It’s kind of like having your cake and eating it too.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


Sources: Maubach, N., J. Hoek, and T. McCreanor. 2009. "An Exploration of Parents' Food Purchasing Behaviors." Appetite 53:297-302; Feunekes, G. I. J., I. A. Gortemaker, A. A. Willems, R. Lion, and M. van den Kommer. 2008. "Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling: Testing, Effectiveness of Different Nutrition Labelling Formats Front-of-Pack in Four European Countries." Appetite 50: 57-70.


Nutrition By Numbers

How well do you know your nutrition?

If you want to have some fun play the Nutrition by Numbers game that NuVal recently posted on their website.  (Click on Play Game at the bottom of the NuVal home page.)

Don’t be surprised, however, when it turns out that putting 3 products in order from most to least nutritious turns out to be trickier than you thought. I was wrong almost as often as I was right – at first.  (Would YOU know that chocolate soy milk beats out creamed spinach by 30 points?)

Then I remembered, there are only 3 things you need to know about a food to know about its nutritional value: 

  • how processed it is
  • how much fat it contains
  • whether or not it’s loaded up with added sugars

I went back to play another round of Nutrition by Numbers using these criteria and my score improved a lot.

(See It Doesn’t Matter WHAT Your Kids Eat, and It’s Too Simple for more on this topic.)

Here’s a quick cheat-sheet for playing Nutrition By Numbers.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables always score higher than any processed food.
  • Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables almost always score higher than processed foods.
  • Fruits and veggies trump chicken, meat and fish.
  • Fish trumps chicken and meat.
  • Meat and fish usually trump processed foods.
  • Guessing between 3 processed foods is basically a crapshoot.

Are there exceptions to these rules?  Of course.

  • Old-Fashioned Kettle-Cooked Cape Cod Potato Chips 40% Reduced score 32 (out of 100 for top nutrition) and Birds Eye Carrots and Cranberries only scores 22.
  • Snyders of Hanover Original Tortilla Chips score amazingly well: 31.
  • Del Monte Quality Sweet Bavarian Style Sauerkraut is a nutritional wasteland: 2.

In general, though, fruits and vegetables are your winners.  Even iceberg lettuce (82) beats a pork tenderloin (35). 

Nutrition by Numbers is only necessary when you are considering processed foods. If you stick primarily to fruits, vegetables and low-fat proteins, you can easily go-it-alone.

If you are wondering whether Cap’n Crunch Sweetened Corn & Oat Cereal is a better bet than Wonder Cinnamon Raisin Bread – it is – or whether you should give your kids Annie’s Whole Wheat Bunnies or Nabisco Mini Teddy Grahams (it’s basically a push), then you need Nutrition by Numbers.  There’s no other way to make sense of things.

But if you make processed foods a minimal part of your kids' eating habits, you can disregard the nutrition numbers.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~


When is a cookie NOT a cookie?

NEVER.  A cookie is always a cookie.  No matter what you do to it

Oh sure, I know you know this.  But parents often say, “well, it’s home made and I used apple juice instead of oil, a banana instead of sugar” as if this somehow changes the status of the cookie.

From a nutrition-perspective that makes sense. Cookies make from healthier ingredients, are indeed healthier.  But from a habits perspective? Don’t trick yourself.  Regularly giving kids cookies, even the healthiest kind, teaches them to eat cookies… regularly.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that.  The question is: what do you want your children to learn about how often to eat cookies? 

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