Yogurt, applesauce, whole grain cereal, fruit juice- these sound like staples of a healthy child's diet, right? However, these wholesome sounding foods may really be full of fat, sugar, sodium, and unnecessary additives or have little nutritional value at all. Read on to learn how to decipher food labels and make healthier choices for your kids.
1. The PB & J
This classic kid food is perfect for lunchboxes and last minute meals, but the traditional version on white bread leaves much to be desired nutritionally. Commercial peanut butters are full of artery-clogging hydrogenated oils and added sugars. And spreading on grape jelly adds an extra helping of simple sugars. It's easy to make your sandwich a nutritional winner, though, by using whole grain bread, natural peanut butter, and an all-fruit spread. The complex carbs and fiber in the bread combined with the protein and good fats in natural peanut butter deliver a filling and balanced meal.
2. Baked Potato Chips and Pretzels
There's nothing good or bad with baked chips and pretzels - and that's exactly the problem. Though these baked snacks are much lower in fat than traditional chips and puffs, they really offer very little nutrient-wise. Pack more nutrients into your child's snack or sandwich accompaniment by offering whole wheat pita chips or baked veggie chips, both of which are higher in fiber, B vitamins and some minerals. Another fiber-rich option snack option is popcorn, which most people don't realize is actually a whole grain.
3. Whole Milk
Everyone knows kids need milk for good bone health, but did you know that kids don't need the extra fat that's in whole milk? In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children over the age of two years drink low-fat (1%) milk. Toddlers need the extra fat in whole milk from 12 months to two years for development; but, after that, the additional fat isn't necessary and can add extra calories to kids' diets. If your child is hooked on whole milk, then transition him slowly to the low-fat option by mixing whole or 2% milk with 1% or skim. And, don't worry about missing out on any calcium and Vitamin D. All milks have the same vitamin and mineral content, regardless of the fat content.
4. Apple Sauce
What could be more wholesome than applesauce, right? Think again. Most applesauce today is sweetened with added sugars and may even be tinted with artificial colorings. While there are nutritious ones out there, you have to know what to shop for. Look for the words "natural" or "unsweetened" on the label, which usually means the applesauce has no added sugars, just fruit. Double check the ingredient list to make sure apples and water are the primary ingredients. Organic varieties of unsweetened applesauce, which are made from apples grown on pesticide- and chemical-free farms, are available at some stores.
5. Packaged Lunches
Packaged lunches offer all types of deli meat, cheese and cracker combinations. Some varieties even have a drink and dessert included. Kids like having the option to build their own lunches; parents like the simplicity these lunches provide on busy mornings. However, these packaged meals are full of processed food items usually high in fat and sodium. We suggest making your own lunch combinations. Pack whole grain crackers or mini pitas with lean, low-sodium turkey or ham and cheese cubes. Round off the meal with a fruit and vegetable serving such as sweet cherry tomatoes, baby carrots or grapes. To save time in the morning, pre-portion items into individual containers the night before or when you get home from the grocery.
Continue Reading: 4 More Kids' Foods that Aren't as Healthy as They Appear