1. Veggie Puffs
Don’t let the “veggie” part of the name fool you. These dissolve-in-your mouth, crunchy puffs are mostly made up of refined grains — corn flour, soy flour and rice are the first three ingredients. And although they boast an impressive list of vegetables (in powder form), they provide far less vitamins and fiber than a serving of vegetables. As an alternative to traditional cheese puffs, these are a good choice — just know that they don’t count as a vegetable. To satisfy your child’s craving for something crunchy, try kale chips — they deliver taste and nutrition.
2. Kids Yogurt
Yogurt is a great choice for your kids … unless it’s a kid-specific yogurt. Whereas regular yogurt is mostly just milk and live active cultures — which give your kids calcium and immune-supporting probiotics — many brands take yogurt in a much less healthy direction by adding a ton of sugar (2 teaspoons in the teensy 2.25-ounce serving), artificial flavors and some even artificial food dyes like Red #40 and Blue #1. For the healthiest yogurt, buy low-fat plain yogurt and stir in your kids’ favorite jam or fruit preserves.
3. Fruit Snacks
It’s called a fruit snack, says it’s made with real fruit and delivers vitamins, so it must be healthy, right? Wrong. The main ingredients of this confection are sugars — concentrated fruit juice (which is really just sugar), sugar and corn syrup. Add to that a few fillers, as well as artificial flavoring and food coloring, and you’re looking at candy with a healthy-sounding name. Give your kids fruit instead, or make your own fruit leather with whole strawberries and a touch of sugar and honey.
Muffins! So wholesome, so delicious, so much better than doughnuts! If only that were true. Store-bought muffins are packed with sugar, oil and bleached white flour, essentially making them cake. If you want to feed your child muffins, make them (store them in the freezer for a ready, healthy snack). Use whole-wheat pastry flour to make them whole grain, and use them as an opportunity to get grated carrots, zucchini, bananas or applesauce into your children.
5. Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Natural peanut butter has a short ingredient list (just peanuts) and is loaded with good-for-you fats and protein. But when food manufacturers try to lower that natural fat content, peanut butter loses its health food status. The fat has to be replaced by something, and in one brand that something ends up being corn syrup, sugar, soy protein, hydrogenated oils and mono- and di-glycerides (synthetic fats). Stick to natural peanut butter for yourself and your kids, and try out other nut butters, such as almond or cashew.
6. Granola Bars
If you’re in a rush getting your child to school in the morning, you might be tempted to grab a cereal bar for her to eat as she runs out the door — after all, the package says it has whole grains and real fruit, which is what she’d get from a bowl of cereal with fruit. The problem is that the “fruit” in most cereal bars is primarily sugar with some added fruit juice (more sugar) — a typical bar has a tablespoon or more of sugar in it. In one brand, there are five kinds of sugar and one sugar substitute, along with partially hydrogenated oil (which contains trans fat), artificial color and flavor. Even organic brands have a fruit blend that’s mostly sugar, holding together fruit powder and dried fruit.
Juice may be a staple drink of childhood, but it’s not the healthiest option. Juice delivers a jolt of natural sugar, since it lacks the fiber in whole fruit, which helps the sugar get absorbed more slowly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting juice for children (to 6 to 8 ounces a day for children up to the age of 6 and to 8 to 12 ounces for children ages 7 and older). Be particularly wary of fruit juice cocktail, which usually gets its sugar from added sugars, rather than from fruit juice. Children who drink too many sugar-sweetened beverages are at a higher risk of diabetes and obesity later on.
8. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks certainly have a time and a place. If your child is exercising intensely in the heat for longer than 45 to 60 minutes, sports drinks are recommended for rehydration, says Douglas Casa, Ph.D., professor of kinesiology and hydration expert at the University of Connecticut. If it’s not hot out, then Dr. Casa only recommends sports drinks if your child is exercising for multiple hours. But if your child is playing a sport where there’s a lot of downtime and it’s not hot out, then water is the best thing for her to drink. Sports drinks are cited as one of the sugar-sweetened beverages that add needless extra sugars to children’s diets. And consuming too many added sugars puts children at risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes later on.
9. Graham Crackers
Although these crunchy treats are easy for younger kids to chew, they don’t provide much nutrition. They contain low amounts of a variety of nutrients and provide no fiber. Instead, serve kids whole-grain crackers topped with cheese for a boost of fiber and calcium.
10. Vegetable Chips
Although these chips are made from vegetables, they are often processed to a degree where many of their important nutrients are lost. Per ounce, they contain about 125 to 160 calories and about 10 to 12 grams of fat. As a healthier alternative, serve cut-up veggies alongside two tablespoons of your kid’s favorite dip.