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.
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:
- Stonyfield Yo Baby, Yo Kids and Fat-Free Organic (the French Vanilla is my 5-year-old’s fave)
- Low-Fat Brown Cow Yogurt
- Chobani Champions Greek Yogurt
#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 »