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Using Food Labels

Using Food Labels

© Baylor College of Medicine/M.S. Young.

  • Grades:
  • Length: 30 Minutes


Environmental Science and Health

Students learn about food labels, healthful eating, and units of measurement commonly used on food labels. Student sheets are provided in English and in Spanish.

This activity is from The Science of Food Teacher's Guide. Although it is most appropriate for use with students in grades 3–5, the lessons are easily adaptable for other grade levels. The guide is also available in print format.

Teacher Background

Beginning in 1994, the U.S. government began requiring manufacturers to put information about nutritional value on food labels. This information helps people make better choices about which foods to buy and eat.

All food labels must present the same basic information in a standard format. This information includes, at minimum, the amount per serving of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, dietary fiber, and other nutrients known to be important for health. Labels also provide nutrient reference values, expressed as “% Daily Values,” to help consumers see how a food fits into an overall daily diet. It is important to pay attention to the serving sizes on any food label.

  • Packages must also list all ingredients in foods. This list is given in order, by weight, beginning with the ingredient that weighs the most. This information can be helpful when selecting foods.

  • Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. Starchy foods like breads, spaghetti, rice, potatoes, corn, and cereals are made up mostly of carbohydrates. Sweet foods like candy, jam, and syrups are also carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates, called fiber or roughage, are hard to digest. They help move waste through the digestive system.

  • Fats include butter, margarine, lard, shortening, and cooking oils. Meats, cheese, cream, chocolate, and many desserts, like cakes and cookies, usually have a lot of fat. Fats are very concentrated sources of energy. Some kinds of fat (particularly fats that are solid at room temperature) have been linked to diseases of the heart and circulatory system. Most Americans eat too many high-fat foods.

  • Proteins are important for growth and repair of the body. Protein-rich foods include eggs, milk products, meat, dried beans, chicken, turkey, and fish. The body also uses protein as fuel to provide energy for movement and growth.

  • Minerals are found in small amounts in foods. They are needed for many of the body’s functions. For example, calcium is used to build bones and teeth and is also important for muscles and the nervous system. Iron goes into making red blood cells.

  • Vitamins are other chemicals found naturally in food and are needed in very small amounts by the body. Fruits and vegetables are valuable sources of vitamins and minerals.

All foods also contain some water.

Objectives and Standards


  • Food labels provide important information about the nutritional value of foods.

Science, Health, and Math Skills

  • Measuring

  • Comparing measurements

  • Making observations

  • Drawing conclusions

Materials and Setup

Materials per Group of Students

  • cup of white sugar

  • measuring cup

  • measuring spoon

Materials per Student

  • copy of student sheets


  1. Set up sugar and other materials in a central location.

  2. Have students work in groups of 2–4.

Procedure and Extensions

  1. Remind students of the food guides they used at the beginning of this unit. Ask, How can we be sure that the foods we eat each day contain the nutrients we need?

  2. Mention that packaged foods now have uniform labels that provide information about the nutritional value of foods. Distribute copies of the student page.

  3. Have students read the label depicted on the student page out loud in their groups. Follow by helping them understand the concepts outlined in the box above.

  4. Ask students, What units of measure are mentioned on the label? (cups and grams). Mention that they will be investigating these measures using sugar.

  5. Have students, in their groups, follow the instructions on the Sugar Measures Up page. They will explore how much sugar is contained in a typical soft drink.

  6. Afterwards, ask, Were you surprised about the amount of sugar in one soft drink? How many soft drinks would you need to meet your daily total carbohydrate requirement? Do you think that that would be a good way to fuel your body?

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National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932