What should we be teaching our children about labelling?
I would never suggest encouraging children to check calories or nutrition on on food labels, but there are some things parents should be looking out for when choosing for their children, and some instances when children should be more aware of their food choices and know how to check a label.
Some of this advice may sound basic, but I think it is important to mention these points time and time again. I am in no way trying to be condescending to parents- you are all doing AMAZING! I just want to make sure everyone has all the information, so we can help each other out.
Check to ensure that the product is suitable for your child- this is particularly important for parents of infants, as their digestive systems aren't fully developed and shouldn't be given foods such as honey under 12 months. A statement along the lines of "not suitable for babies" or " not suitable for infants under 12 months" is generally given on food labels, so be sure to look out for this.
Always check the storage, cooking/heating instructions and the use-by or best before date- as mentioned above, infants and children have less developed digestive systems and immune systems. This means they can be more susceptible to food borne illness/infection, so it is really important to ensure food is heated enough, cooked appropriately and in date.
For younger children in particular, choose options lower in salt and added sugars. Humans have a natural preference for sweet tastes, and we easily develop a taste for salt. But there is no need for children to have any significant amounts of these in their diet. If you are choosing a breakfast cereal or snack, for example, compare the back of pack salt and added sugar per 100g and choose the option with lowest added amounts. I strongly advise not highlighting this check to your child- there is no need for them to be concerned about salt or sugar!
As I've mentioned, we should not be worrying our children with checking nutritional content or grams of sugar, but there are instances when teaching a child to check a label is helpful.
If your child has an allergy or intolerance, it is important to teach them about it and labelling plays a big role in this.
Unfortunately, there have been several tragic cases of child and adolescent allergic reactions in the last number of years. This is by no means the fault of any child, but if we can teach our children how to check more effectively, perhaps we can keep them out of harms way.
Here's what I recommend:
Make sure they understand that it is dangerous/bad for their health to have this food/ingredient- of course, tone this depending on the age of your child. Never make them fear all food.
Explain the kinds of things that are and aren't suitable- making a list using words or pictures can help with this. Stick it on the fridge, and even send it to school/friends' houses with them.
As they get older, show them where labels display allergen advice- be sure to show them allergen notices and the ingredients highlighted in the ingredients list (read this post on understanding food labels for more info on this). Use their favourite foods as examples, and some products they can't have when you're in the shop together.
If they eat out of home without you, make sure they are confident of what is suitable, and teach them that if they are in doubt they can ask staff for help/more information. It can be worthwhile practicing this interaction through role-play, so they are more confident, or ask for allergen information with them in a cafe/restaurant. Once they know how to ask, and know that it isn't embarrassing to ask, they will be more likely to double check in the future.
So there you have it.
I told you some of it would be common sense- but I hope you learned something new too! Allergens affect more and more people every year, children in particular, so it is vital that we all consider this and think about how we handle it to best protect each other.
Lots of love,
Little O x