Teach Kids to Read “High Fructose Corn Syrup” in Ingredient Lists


My daughter, Evelyn, is going to be with her dad all weekend for Easter.

I don’t care much for holidays but I do care for the absolute cuteness of kids running around in the grass searching for hidden eggs, so I’m sad. Oh well. Such is life.

So, while she’s out with her somewhat less health conscious side of the family, we are working to empower her with the tools she needs to make it through the weekend feeling great.

Since figuring out that she has fructose malabsorption she is really careful about what she eats and so the thought of being stuffed with fructose all weekend made her cry. She’s really excited to hunt for eggs in her grandma’s backyard, but she has mixed feelings about eating candy.

“Mommy,” she sniffled, “I don’t want to be bloated again. Can’t you tell them where to buy me better candy?”

“I will,” I said, “But I can do even better than that. I will teach you to read the ingredients, yourself.”


We got bottle of Mellow Yellow from the grocery store and brought it home.

Learning to read “high fructose corn syrup”

Once home, Evelyn ran over to her art table to get to work. Her goal: to recognize that four word sequence.

She’s only just six so she’s not old enough to read anything beyond “See Spot run. Spot likes cats. Jump Spot!” Early reading stuff. So High Fructose Corn Syrup is a tall order but, with practice, she got it. And, as you can see from the picture, she also decided that she had better learn to write corn syrup too since that’s in a lot of things all by itself.

Now she can grab a piece of candy at her grandma’s house and scan over the ingredients until she finds the familiar new “sight words,” HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP.

(If you still need convincing that HFCSs are harmful, check out this post about fructose.)

How to Spot Food Coloring

HFCSs aren’t the only thing wrong with your average American piece of candy. Food coloring (and artificial flavors) is another one. Spotting food coloring – which by the way is indigestible and made from petroleum, the exact ingredients of which are concealed from the public (reference: 2:09 in the video below) – is pretty simple because kids only need look for numbers at the end of the list of ingredients. They don’t need to know how to spell yellow, blue, or red. The numbers indicate their presence.


Helping our kids make better choices

Now, I’m not trying to say that eating a ton of somewhat cleaner candy is a good idea. But let’s face it, many of our kids will anyway. If we get creative, we can come up with alternatives to slowly killing off our children one holiday at a time.

My usual holiday trick for Easter is to replace the horrible candy for less horrible candy. This works really well for the small kids, but things get interesting once they start thinking for themselves.

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  1. Oh how you validate me! Pascal was probably 3 when he started to mimic label reading. Once, in the grocery store, we were, for some reason, in the center isles (the horror!) He was going down the isle pointing at practically everything saying…High Corn, High Corn, High Corn. (high corn was a phrase within his first 30 words)
    Once my mom tried to give him something and he looked at her shocked and said, “Memere, I can’t have that! That has high corn in it.”
    I teach the words but I also teach him packaging. If the packaging is fancier than the food…there’s probably high corn in it. If the food is a color not found in nature…probably has high corn in it. If you can keep eating it even though your belly says full…it’s probably got high corn in it.

    We talk often about the fact that junk food tastes good (I figure…it does to him, so why lie). But it doesn’t taste clean or nutritious and does not fuel the body. He really gets the concept and I find that admitting it can taste good but still be crap has helped.

    His Easter basket has some dark chocolate and lots of non-eating treats.

    I think Pascal and Evelyn would party well together! I remember emailing you a year ago, wondering how on Earth I would take him primal. I am AMAZED at how many of these nutritional concepts he not only understands but goes on to teach adults.

    We sorely underestimate our kids sometimes!

  2. you have one cool kid haha! Hope the weekend goes well for her and she comes out feeling okay. You could probably be safe and just remind her about anything in a package on easter if going to contain that ingredient!

    • Thanks Katie!

      Oh yeah, I’ve told her that Easter candies are the worst! She’s never had peeps or cadburry cream eggs before so this is all pretty new to her but she knows what to expect. And she already knows that the candy you get from ANYWHERE other than the health food store is the worst. She understands this, but she also is very sensitive to other people’s feelings. She never says to anyone that their choices are bad and she doesn’t want to seem ungrateful. (She’s really the opposite of me in that regard. I turn down stuff all the time and say “we don’t eat that kind of stuff” all the time. Maybe she’s observed their feelings at those times. Wow, just thought of that…) So, she wants to be able to accept the candy and then eat only certain pieces, rather than turn it all down. Hopefully, in the end, her kind nature doesn’t make her sick!

  3. My mother-in-law always wants to poison my son with candy but this year we aren’t allow any of it, not even a little. It disturbs me that this makes her sad. Why do people have to think that candy equals happiness? As if that was the only way he could have fun or something. I despise plastic eggs filled with candy. And MY mom is doing an egg hunt too, and I can’t stop it or ask her not to put candy in because it’s for like 20 other grandkids, too.

    Anyway, he’s learning what things are not good for him and is starting to accept or even embrace the concept that not all foods are good for the body. I always try to have healthy treats for him so he doesn’t feel deprived.

  4. I feel for you. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for you because that would be really really hard for me to leave my children with people that will give them candy without my consent but again, I think th e way you handle things is genius! I am totally going to do this with my kids.

    It will be indeed muche easier if you were all to be together and took the candy all away. Just like on Easter I didn’t even know candy was given to kids until about 4 years ago and I establish a rule that I didn’t care if my kids were half american, when easter came around is not an excuse to eat candy because granma wants to. No, I say. And no questions asked.

  5. Hey Lisa C….maybe you could go get some “less horrible” candy and offer to fill the eggs for your Mom. I offered to do this for my Mom’s egg hunt and she was actually glad to not have to do it. We also fill the eggs with change and there’s one with a silver dollar. So the hunt becomes about getting the special egg and not the candy. We put baby carrots in some of the eggs as well…that’s a big treat cause it means the Easter Bunny REALLY was there. So between the money and the baby carrots…the few pieces of less horrible candy aren’t the focus.

    I know what you mean about your mom. My mom acts like I ruining my kid’s childhood cause I won’t let him have a hot dog in a bun at a baseball game.

  6. Hi Peggy! I love your blog. I’m stocking up on pregnancy information and raising him/her primal. I don’t recall hearing anything about your book lately. Can you give a status update? Congrats on baby number 2 :)

    • Thank you! The book will probably be out in September. It’s just about done now (yay!) but there’s still a lot to be done to get it out. As soon as editing is finished and we’ve got a firm date, I will definitely announce it.

  7. We use plastic eggs for the egg hunt and fill with stickers little rings and pennies! Plus little love notes and coupons for dates or walks in the park…

  8. our 4 year old says to her (somewhat well-behaved grammy) when offered something with sugar “on no grammy, that’s got sugar, i’ll take just half”

    ….pretty amazing but we’ll see how long that lasts.

    the funny thing is that, after being relaxed primal for 3 years (most of her life), it’s clear that her 4 year old taste buds go just as much for fatty meat, butter and cheese as for sweets – and she doesn’t ever whine for sweets – well, yes perhaps a bit for the once a day “dessert” after lunch – but she is happy then with an orange, apple or banana as much as anything specifically sugary–

    perhaps there is hope–

    • My daughter is the same way, Ravi. Sure she likes sweets. What kid doesn’t? But she’s not wild for them and she loves fatty foods just as much or more. She doesn’t whine for sweets either and doesn’t usually think about them at all. I believe this even temper surrounding sweets is due to the absence of wheat and chemicals in her diet. Those things are very addicting and can make kids (and adults) act crazy.

  9. … and BTW – eating alot of ANY kind of candy, even with sucanat – IS bad – certainly you have all (hopefully) had a chance to listed to Dr Lustig’s talk “Sugar – The Bitter Truth.”

    if you have not and you give a damn about your kids health (AND your own) take the time to listen.

  10. peggy – sorry i mucked up your comments – didn’t know that link would show as a embed – perhaps you can fix when you approve??


    great blog BTW ;-)

    • I’m not sure what link you are referring to but if it is Dr. Lustig’s talk, there is a link for that in my post about fructose, linked to in this article.

  11. I definately will be adding these to my daughters future sight words! Thanks for the idea/inspiration! I think it’s equally important to teach our kids to recognize “sugar free” sugars by teaching them to look for the words ending in -tol and -tose. :( My daughters grandparents knew we were going sugar free this month and decided to get her “sugar free peeps” which are LOADED with chemicals!!! I’d have rather her had had the sugared ones if she HAD to have any at all. :( Glad they’re trying but ow. I’m definately going to have to teach her these things.

    And now, off to get my sight word strips to add some new words!!

    • Absolutely, Dawn! There are so many things to teach these kids. Evelyn is learning to identify other chemicals, to recognize the length of the ingredients list, among a million other little lessons. I’m glad to hear you and others are up to the challenge to teach these important things.

  12. We’re actually skipping church this year because for the kids it’s nothing but the egg hunt followed by kids gorging themselves on peeps and pretty-colored HFCS while my kids eat either nothing or the apples and kiwi and trail mix Mom sent along with them – totally unfair! Going instead to the neighborhood Easter egg hunt where they hide REAL hard-cooked eggs – and then coming home and making deviled eggs for lunch. :-)

    I’ve taught both my kids why we don’t eat certain things and my 6YO has proven that she’s more than up to the task of recognizing “high fructose corn syrup” in ingredient lists as well, and the 10YO always asks “Is this bacon nitrate-free?” (It usually is, although for the rare restaurant brunch I can’t always make the same promise. 🙂

    And good for you for teaching her ways to advocated for herself when she’s not with you. It seems there are always “friends” and family willing to sabotage what we’ve worked so hard to accomplish with our kids, and when it’s the children themselves standing up for their health, it always has a different effect that us adults doing the shielding. :-)

  13. Can we please get an update to this story? How did she fare over the holidays?

    • Of course! Evelyn didn’t come home bloated and she said she didn’t eat much sweets at all. Her grandma told me that she hid little toys and coins. Evelyn said there were some packages of candy on which she identified HFCS and then she just put it down. She doesn’t appear to be tempted by the stuff at all – not that she doesn’t like sweet things but that she is content to wait for healthy sweets rather than just eat anything that appears in front of her face. Anyway, she came home in a good mood, with a flat belly, and no colds or anything weird. Overall, I’d say it was a success.

  14. I love letting people know about the importance of healthy eating. Unfortunately not many people care that their children are being poisoned by the food they are eating. I had a particular situation in which my friends 3 year old daughters stomach was bloated. My first thought was, that child is malnutrition. After asking her what her eating habbits were she said: she did not know how to cook, it was not her thing. She thanked god for frozen food, boxed dinners and cup n’ noodle soups. After my heart stopped, literaly. I let her know the swelling in her daughters stomach was not normal. I let her know about The Primal Parent blog site in hopes she and her daughter can start a healthy life. But in her mind she believes she does not want to deprive her child from a fun childhood. She believes a child should enjoy food and no one should put a child in a diet. So I took that as a SHUT UP and LEAVE ME ALONE. It is crazy how parents do not see the importance of eating healthy.

    • Shut up and leave me alone is, unfortunately, the typical response. Do you know how often I offer for people to come read my blog? Never. I haven’t done it once. Years and years ago I would tell people about the Primal diet and even tried to push it on people I was close to. Nobody cares. Not at that moment anyway. Maybe they will care some day and they will remember that someone said diet might help.

      It is so sad that people actually think food doesn’t make any difference.

      And about having a fun childhood. That one really gets me going. My daughter Evelyn has had one of the best childhoods ever. She’s happy all the time. She’s strong. She makes friends easily. She’s creative. She has all kinds of talents. She absolutely loves her favorite foods like apples and kombucha. I don’t get it. How is gummy bears and pizza the stuff good childhoods are made of?…

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