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Food companies are actually required by law to give you the plain facts about what you're about to eat. Remember: A lot of food companies will make their food servings small so it looks like the food is healthier than it really is. To put it plainly, the Nutrition Facts Label has told us that this bag of cheese crunchies is nothing but "empty calories." This means that the food has a lot of calories (340 calories for just over 2 ounces of food!) and doesn't offer much good stuff for your body. Remember: In general, when you read Nutrition Facts Labels, you should be looking for foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low in sugar, sodium, cholesterol, and fats (especially saturated fat and trans fat). Before we move on, let's consider another label that's found on all foods: the Ingredient List.
Shorter is better: In many cases, the longer an ingredient is, the less natural and good for you the food is. My mom knew she was taking a risk when she bought Jim Gaffigan’s book, Food: A Love Story, for her dietitian daughter. Not often would I recommend a book by someone who writes, “I wouldn’t trust them skinnies with food advice.” Yet here I am. Most of the healthiest foods available (such as fresh produce, fresh fish, or even fresh meat) don’t carry a food label. In this TEDxTalk, Consumer Reports Environmental Health Scientist Urvashi Rangan explains which health claims on food labels are credible and which are not.This quick 15 minute video is something all consumers need to see, to avoid getting duped at the supermarket. Fooducate is an award winning app (created by Dietitians and Parents) for iPhone and Android that grades food choices. Thankfully, I read Poppendieck’s new book, Free For All: Fixing School Food in America, and quickly discovered that I was wrong. Admittedly, the book started off as a repetition of things that I already knew about the school lunch program.
Whether or not you think that universal free is the right direction to go (I’m still on the fence about the whole funding issue), I highly recommend Janet Poppendieck’s book.

To learn more about the challenges facing the lunch program, as well as the progress that has been made, see my previous post about school lunch. Located at the top of the label, this tells you the amount of food used to measure all the other numbers on the label.
Make sure you always look at how many servings are in a bag, box, or can of food BEFORE you look at the rest of the numbers.
The bottom of the Nutrition Facts label lists some important vitamins and minerals that your body needs, and the percentages offered by this particular food.
Beware of foods that start out with sugars (like sugar, corn syrup, and sucrose), fats and oils (vegetable oil, soybean oil), and salt.
I have an advanced degree in food studies, so I suppose this would be logical airplane reading for people in my field.
PhD Nutritionist Marion Nestle takes you aisle by aisle through the grocery store and explains what to look for in each food category.If you are struggling to learn more about which qualities are important in various foods (organic vs low fat, grass fed vs free range, etc) then I highly recommend investing in a copy of this book.
Unlike other calorie counting apps, this app considers other factors of food choices, beyond just the calorie count or basic nutrient profile. It is a great summary of all of the factors affecting the school lunch program today, and gives an excellent history of how it came to be for those that are interested but don’t have much experience with the program. Get in the habit of checking out a food's Nutrition Facts box before you start scarfing it up.
Depending on how much of the food you eat, you may have to double or triple the numbers on the label. If these ingredients appear early in the ingredient list, the food is probably not a good choice. If the ingredients are nothing but chemical names a hundred letters long, the food might be one to skip. Nonetheless, Americans have a comical relationship with food, and Jim Gaffigan captures it perfectly.

Because most consumers find themselves purchasing foods with nutrition labels or health claims on a regular basis, here are 4 tools to help you read, understand, and compare food labels. Based on your goals, it can be programmed to help you avoid processed foods, GMOs, or animal products, as well as programmed to help you select heart healthy foods, and to count carbohydrates.
Chapter 8 of Poppendeick’s book also gives several inspiring examples of schools that are using the lunch hour as a learning tool and a jumping off point for hands on education. Because sodium is added to many foods already, most of us get way more sodium than we need.
These crunchies have very little protein, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you get your protein from other food during the day.
At the supermarket,В  I like the 5 Step rating program that Whole Foods uses to rank their meats (the higher the number, the better).
However, I was surprised to learn that 21% of families with very low food insecurity (formerly known as food security with hunger) have incomes too high to qualify for free or reduced price lunches.
While her book, written at the peak of the economic downturn, mostly focused on federal funding programs, Poppendeick’s lecture included evidence that states can also play an important role.
Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement and Breadlines Knee Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression. In the case of these cheese crunchies, this one small bag contains 20% of the sodium you should get in a day, which means it's got a whole lot of salt for such a tiny amount of food.

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