6 “Healthy” Kids Snacks That Aren’t

by in Back to School, Healthy Tips, September 1, 2010

fruit snacks

Feeding your kids can get confusing. Between pushy food marketing and bewildering labels, it’s no wonder that most folks are misled as to which kids snacks are really healthy. Here’s the real deal on what you’ve been buying.

#1: Yogurt
Cows don’t make purple, hot pink or even blue-colored yogurt — that’s what I tell my kids every time we hit the dairy aisle. Those neon yogurts are loaded with sugar (including the infamous high fructose corn syrup) and lots of additives and preservatives that don’t do any favors to little bodies. Give kids a punch of calcium and protein from healthier dairy products. If your kids are pining for yogurt, here are some healthier options:

#2: Granola Bars
Although a basic granola bar includes a combo of nuts, oats, seeds and sometimes dried fruit (all healthy stuff), many packaged varieties add in pieces of chocolate or candy or loads of sugar and fat. Check out our favorite snack bar brands or make your own granola mix.

#3: Meat & Cracker Combos
While they’re convenient kid-favorites, most packaged lunch combos come with a side dish of excess salt and fat. With a laundry list of ingredients and preservatives, you’re better off packing your own. On your next trip to the market, pick up a package of whole-wheat or rye crackers, Swiss or cheddar cheese and  low-sodium turkey or ham (or leftover turkey or chicken) and pack in compartment-type Tupperware.  You’ll save money and control the ingredients.

#4: Veggie Chips
Once fried and processed, even veggies aren’t that healthy. Heat and various processing techniques destroy many of the vitamins, which are not typically replaced once they’re made into chips. Pack a serving (about 15 chips) for a once-in-a-while snack, but don’t substitute them for actual vegetables.

#5: Fruit Snacks
Fruit snacks might have the word “fruit” in the title, but don’t be fooled. Most of these chewy snacks contain corn syrup and “natural” and artificial flavors. If you carefully examine the list of ingredients, you’ll also find vitamin C added back as it’s destroyed during the processing of the snack. Nothing can replace a juicy, fresh fruit, but if you want to serve it up as an occasional treat make sure to brush those little teeth right away.

#6: Juice Drinks
Lemonade, iced tea and other such juice drinks are loaded with calories, sugar and not much else. Look for 100 percent fruit juice and limit kids to a maximum of 4 fluid ounces per day. Don’t be fooled with the claim that it’s excellent source of vitamin C — you can get just as much (if not more) from good old fresh fruits like kiwi, citrus fruit and strawberries and even a few veggies like bell peppers, tomatoes and potatoes.

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (33)

  1. Blah says:

    This so true!!! Kids always want to get those colored yogurts, but their bad for you!!!! With the meat and crackers, I just use sliced turkey breast and whole-grain crackers. These are all true! Those drinks are loaded with bad stuff. And kids don't even like those "veggie" chips, and they always go for the granola bars with chocolate in them and that have a lot of sugar.
    EVERYONE should read this articale.

  2. Evan Thomas says:

    I think this is very true, which is why I make my own granola bars/snacks most of the time and look for plain yogurt to sweeten myself. There's just too many "health halos" out there

  3. Angie says:

    I totally agree!!!! My 9 year old is always begging me for some of this junk b/c he occasionally gets it at school and at other kids houses. I wish all of the "kids food" didn't exist or had more stirict standards…….I refuse to buy my kids junk like pop tarts, fruit by the foot, Trix yogurt, etc. Oh and I wanted to add the
    "Simply Gogurt" is a better option for yogurt…no HFCS or colors.

  4. Kelly says:

    while I 99.9% agree with you, I did want to point out that green, white and even black teas can have many heathful properties in moderation. When brewed at home and minimally, or not at all, sweetened they can be great “treat” drink for the kiddo who gets sick of water.

  5. kiki says:

    It is not the corn syrup that is so bad it's the HIGH FRUTOSE CORN SYRUP THAT IS EXTREMLY BAD.
    I had a doctor tell me that if the ingrediants are longer than the width of your little finger just put it back on the shelf.

  6. Mike says:

    Are people really this naive where you have to write about it?

    • ShakyBetty says:

      Sadly, yes. That, or they're not paying attention. Not that I think that any of these things are entirely bad, per se, (except, perhaps, "fruit snacks"). What is sad is when I see kids at the cafeteria with nothing BUT these foods in their lunch boxes! That, and I know perfectly intellegent mothers who feed their children "Veggie Sticks", thinking they're a suitable veggie and think that "Made With Whole Grain" is the same as 100% Whole Grain. Sad. So sad.

    • Dave says:

      The supermarket shelves are full of this stuff, Mike, because people buy it. Presumably nobody wants their child to be obese, diabetic, and riddled with cavities (or possibly cancer). So if you rule out ill intent it must be purchased by parents who are insufficiently aware of the potential health risks. I think there are a lot of people who believe they're making a reasonably healthy choice by selecting anything with the words "healthy," "natural," "fortified," or "fruit" on the label. Articles like this might help clue somebody in.

  7. Jesslyn says:

    I got to say, though, that some yogurts are coloured with fruits. You may or may not realize this, but many fruits, such as berries, are very concentrated in their colour…Ever had a blueberry stain before?

  8. JHH says:

    If you want to believe that, go right ahead, but I fear you've been brainwashed by your employer.

    • LMH says:

      I would believe the "brain-washing" theory if you had something to back it up your comment. As a biochemist, high fructose corn syrup is bad for you only because of the way your body regulates sugar intake. Fructose is a natural sugar. However, when you consume fructose, it is able to bypass some of the regulatory mechanisms; therefore if you consume LARGE quantities, your sugar level remains high. Cancer is only proven in astronomical quantities. Laboratory testing is often false due to the exorbitant amounts. Even water is proven toxic in high amounts. Do your research before you acuse someone of being "brain-washed".

  9. Lisa says:

    I don't know whether HFCS is any worse for you than the regular but the point is that it is in everything! No one needs that much sugars in any form. They are using it as a substitute for "real" food (fruit, veg) in things – it is cheaper to add HFCS (government subsidys) than to add more tomato to the spagetti sauce as an example.
    Why don't we use the excess corn for Ethanol instead of sweetners?

  10. Carol says:

    Yes, they all contain fats, salt, sugars, etc. But what about the ridiculous costs for these totally uncessary products?

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