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Nutrition labels 101: Keeping kids healthy

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

Reading nutrition labels like a pro

Sure, you know how to read a nutrition label to find out how many calories and calories from fat are in your favorite products. A lot more info is on that label, though. Here's what it all means for you and for your kids.

Woman reading nutrition label

All nutrients have a percentage of daily value listed on the right of the label. These percentages are based on a 2000-calorie adult diet, though -- so your child may need more or less, depending on age and activity level. When reading ingredients, note the ingredients are listed in order, from greatest to least.

Carbohydrates

Regardless of age, your kids need about the same amount of carbohydrates you do (45 to 65 percent). Carbs are actually your body's main source of energy. Steer clear of too many processed foods and refined grains. Instead, look for items like breads that contain whole grains (not "bleached flour") as a key ingredient, as well as brown rice. Some veggies (broccoli, carrots, squash, etc.) and legumes are also good sources. Generally, fiber goes hand-in-hand with carbs. Make sure your kids get 100 percent of their daily recommended intake of fiber.

Protein

Once they're older than 4, your kids' needs for protein are about the same as yours (10 to 30 percent). While you shouldn't put your child on a low-fat diet unless recommended by your doctor, you should try to lean toward plant-based sources of protein (beans, legumes, etc.), lean meats and seafood.

Fat

By around age 4, your kids' needs for dietary fat fall in line with yours – 25 to 35 percent daily, depending on activity level. Steer clear of saturated and trans fats in favor of mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Most foods contain fat, so go easy. Use olive or nut oil when cooking. Real butter and margarine have a lot of saturated fat, so use them in moderation.

Vitamins & minerals

Vitamins (such as A, C and D) and minerals (such as iron and calcium) are listed on the food label as percentages. Your kids' daily intake of these should equal 100 percent of each. In general, fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins A, C and D. Iron can be found in meats, beans and some enriched grains. Calcium is usually high in milk, yogurt and other dairy products.

Getting more information

Your child's specific needs vary by age, gender and activity level. You can find more specific information about your child's needs on Mayo Clinic's website.

More back-to-school food ideas

Best after-school snacks for busy families
Ways to keep kids full longer
5 Tips to get kids cookin' in the kitchen

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