Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Teaching Kids About Nutrition Labels

One of the first lessons I teach the kids in my "food appreciation" classes is about calories. What are calories, anyway? And how much of them should we eat?

To illustrate how calories work in the body, I put a torch to several different foods--broccoli, potato, marshmallow.

The marshmallow, being made entirely of sugar, immediately goes up in flames. The kids love it, and they quickly grasp the concept that while sugar provides a quick burst of energy, the calories have no nutritional value. They may actually make you more hungry.

But learning to eat well is so much more than one simple demonstration. And as we've all come to learn, it's not just about calories. Food is complicated. There are fats to consider. But which fats? Some are better than others. Carbohydrates are another broad and easily misunderstood category, dividing sharply between simple sugars and complex starches. Do kids need to know about cholesterol? Protein? Minerals and vitamins? And now more attention is being focused on the insidious role of salt in processed foods.

It's enough to make your yead spin. Yet that's not all. One of the things we've hardly begun to talk enough about is serving sizes. In preparing for this lesson, I was gripped by the realization that just one ounce--hardly a handful--of Tostitos corn chips contains 140 calories, 60 of which are from fat. And almost half of that fat is saturated fat.

Did you know that an Oscar Meyer "Stackers Lunchables" contains 9 grams of saturated fat, or almost half the recommended daily dose for someone ingesting 2,000 calories a day? Or how about the 930 milligrams of sodium in that product--400 calories worth of crackers, cheese, processed ham and cookies-- which translates as 39 percent of the recommended daily intake?

I'm told that many of the kids come to school with "Lunchables" for lunch. They are so quick, so easily, so conveniently and invitingly packaged. Yet I wonder if the kids--or their parents--have any idea what's in them. And this is a school where the tuition might rival your mortgage payment.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us.


Jenny said...

I think an easier dividing line--for kids at least and those just beginning to study healthy eating--is to divide real food from modern processed foods.

Ed Bruske said...

Jenny, our goal is to steer kids toward "real food." But it should be an informed decision. I want them to know exactly why one choice is better than the other.

farmingfriends said...

What an interesting post and I think using the marshmallow to illustrate that sugary foods just give you a quick burst of energy is excellent.
sara from faringfriends

Ed Bruske said...

Sara, I am always looking for creative ways to reach the kids. I believe strongly in visual aids, and the marshmallow trick is something that grabs their attention.

Sara Kasparian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
skaspari said...

I found your article to be quite interesting, I think it is very important to teach kids the importance of good nutrition because a majority of them have no idea what foods are good to eat. I believe not only is it important to educate children on proper nutrition but also talking about how proper nutrition can affect your life.