Nutrition Fact Finding: Making informed food choices with my family

If there's one thing that stresses me out as a parent, it's deciding what to feed my kids. From the very first day they started solids, I have spent a lot of time researching food and health outcomes. We know as a society that we have an issue with kids being overweight or obese, but it's so hard to navigate all of the conflicting information.

As much as I try to make homemade, it feels impossible to avoid packaged food when working full-time. Over the years I've learned to make healthier choices when it comes to packaged food, and try to spend most of my time shopping in the outer aisles of the grocery storefocusing on fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Our favourite packaged foods include crackers, cereals and mini yogurts for school. We also treat ourselves to cookies or chips sometimes! 

In order to help me make the best food choices for my family, I will often turn to the Nutrition Facts (NFt) table to make sense of what we're eating. But if you don't know what you're looking for in this table, it can sometimes add confusion!

As part of the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign "Focus on the Facts," we got the chance to become "fact finders"a fun way to help make informed food choices by looking at serving sizes and percentage daily value (%DV) of the nutrients we WANT to be eating. My girls put on their detective hats, got out the magnifying glass, and we worked to compare different food choices. Here are some of the things we learned:

1) Serving size

The serving size is not a recommendation of how much you should eat. It's just a guideline to help you calculate your %DV of all the nutrients you want (or don't want). We measured out the girls' favourite cereal, and found that they ARE only eating one serving size. But when it comes to crackers, we definitely eat more than the serving size.

2) % Daily Value

Taking a quick glance at the %DV can help you to make decisions about which packaged food to choose. As part of the campaign, we received some generic sample products that we were able to compare. First, we looked at two different types of canned peaches. One had 30% of the daily value of Vitamin C, while the other had only 2%. So, if I was eating a double serving of the first peaches, I'd be getting 60% of my daily value of Vitamin C!

Next we compared two different kinds of veggie burgers. One burger had 42% of our daily value of fat, including 12g of saturated fat and 2g of trans fat. The other burger had 14% of the daily value of fat, with less saturated fats (although still 1g of trans fat, which would concern me a bit!)

3) Nutrients

Once you start exploring %DV, you can make decisions about food based on which nutrients you would like to consume more of, and which you would like to avoid. 5%DV or less is considered "a little" and 15%DV or more is considered "a lot." There are 13 core nutrients: fat, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, fibre, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron.

Going back to the peaches, a double serving from one can was 12% of my daily value of carbohydrates, whereas the other was only 6%. When you break down carbs into fibre and sugar, we realized that the peaches with more carbs had WAY more sugar (17g compared to 8g in the other can).

In chatting with my girls, we decided that fat, fibre, protein and sugar were important to us. We don't worry much about cholesterol or sodium in this house, as we have no health issues related to these nutrientswe practice "everything in moderation." As for other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, we know we're getting those anyway by eating a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and proteins. But families that need to rely more on packaged foods could definitely make vitamins/minerals a priority.

When comparing two cereals in our cupboard, my 7 year-old realized that they both had the same amount of sugar (7g) but one cereal was much higher in fibre and protein. We decided that going forward, we wouldn't be buying cereals that had higher sugar content and were devoid of fibre and protein (stuff that will help keep little tummies full until snack time at school)!

What would I love to see more of in the future? I would love to know the %DV for sugar and protein. I'm not sure if there are any plans in the works to determine what this may be, but I believe that sugar is a HUGE problem in our society. Our bodies need some amount of fat, but we definitely don't need added sugars. It would be great to know how much sugar is "added" to a packaged product, and how much occurs naturally.

Enter to win - twice!

Now it's your turn to Focus on the Facts!! If you want to have fun with the kids and do a little nutrition fact finding, head over to the website to play a game and learn how to use the tables on your packaged foods.

We're giving away a $100 Loblaw gift card to ONE lucky blog reader. To enter to win, comment below and tell us: What do you find most helpful about the Nutrition Facts table?

Contest closes Friday, February 10th at 12 p.m. EST. For an extra entry, go do the fact finding quiz and comment below with one new thing that you learned! CONTEST CLOSED!! CONGRATS TO LISA BOLDUC! THANKS FOR YOUR ENTRIES!

While visiting the website, enter a separate contest for your chance to win a $300 grocery gift card from the Retail Council of Canada and Food & Consumer Products of Canada.

Disclaimer: Kids in the Capital was part of the Nutrition Facts Education Campaign, and we were compensated for our participation in the program. All opinions are our own.