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10 Foods & Drinks Your Kids Should Avoid

Oct 01, 2013 12:41AM ● By Erin Frisch

It’s widely known how important it is to start instilling good eating habits in kids at a young age. Once unhealthy foods are introduced, it can lead to an uphill battle to remove them from kids’ diets. Eventually, they may find their way into your child’s diet—that much is true. But the less exposure children have to sugar, salt, and other poor choices, the less they will want them, which can ensure that your child continues on into adulthood with a healthy diet. Read on for the food and drink choices that your child should avoid or at least limit.

1. Chicken Nuggets/Tenders. These are super popular with kids and appear on just about every kids’ menu there is. While it may seem that chicken is a good choice, nuggets and tenders are often made of ground pieces of chicken meat and skin flavored with salt and high-fructose corn syrup. They’re then battered and fried in hydrogenated oil, which is chock-full of trans fats (the worst kind). If that’s not bad enough, dipping sauces for chicken nuggets often include additional high-fructose corn syrup or high-fat mayonnaise. So while they’re tasty, when it comes to nutritional value, these are best avoided.

2. Sugary Cereals, This one is a no-brainer. We know that lots of sugar leads to obesity, and childhood obesity is becoming more prevalent, as is childhood diabetes. Sugar is a main component of many cereals that kids find tasty (they also like any with artificial coloring, little marshmallows, and a lot of chocolate flavoring). Read the labels on cereal boxes and try to find one that is low in sugar but high in fiber and whole grains (look for “whole wheat” in the ingredients). Avoid cereals with artificial coloring, chemical preservatives, and hydrogenated oil. Add fresh fruit like bananas or berries, or dried fruit (raisins or dried cranberries) to sweeten cereals and add extra nutrients.

3. Lunchables. These packages are attractive to kids, and the descriptions might lead parents to believe that these prepackaged meals are a good source of protein. But on closer inspection, you’ll find that these lunches are packed with salt (many over 700 milligrams!) and processed meats like bologna. Processed meats are full of potentially carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites, sodium, saturated fat, and artificial colors and fillers. Some options have fat counts of up to 38 grams per serving! Instead, opt for lean turkey breast, chicken, tuna, or roast beef on whole wheat bread. Slice sandwiches into different shapes and serve with veggie sticks to amp up the fun and the nutrition factor.

4. Juice/Juice-flavored drinks. Juice sounds like a great choice for a kid’s beverage. And while 100% juice can be a good source of vitamin C, it lacks the fiber that whole fruit offers. It also provides unnecessary calories, mostly from sugar and carbohydrates, and some juices are artificially colored. Too much juice (sugar) can lead to obesity, tooth decay, and even diarrhea in toddlers. Here’s a better beverage: Buy 100% juice products like Juicy Juice and dilute with water in a 1 to 4 ratio. Your kids will still get a little flavor, but they won’t get all the sugar.

5. Canned Soups. While they are a quick way to whip up a meal for youngsters, canned soups are especially high in sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure, increasing your child’s risk for developing heart disease and stroke. According to the CDC, keeping blood pressure low in childhood decreases the risk for high blood pressure as an adult. If you feed your kids canned soup even once in awhile, look on the label for a variety with less than 600 milligrams of sodium per serving.

6. Caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant and has much the same effect on kids as on adults. Jitteriness, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, and headaches are just some of the side effects kids can suffer from caffeine consumption. It also acts as a diuretic, causing excessive urine production. Because of their smaller body weight, kids are more susceptible than adults to dehydration to begin with and don’t need the diuretic effect of caffeine. Additionally, many caffeinated drinks are full of sugar (sweetened coffees, teas, and sodas), which contributes to obesity, tooth decay, and other health risks.

7. Fruit Snacks/Fruit Leather. While it sounds like this would be a good choice (it’s fruit right?), most fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups are packed full of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. Check the labels when you’re in the grocery store, and you might be surprised by the lack of real fruit in these products. Instead opt for fresh fruit from the produce section or dried fruits such as apricots, raisins, dried cranberries, and dried apples.

8. Pepperoni and Sausage Pizza. Processed meats like pepperoni and sausage add fat and nitrates/nitrites that you do not want in your child’s diet. Premade pizzas often have way too much cheese, adding even more fat and calories that your child doesn’t need. In moderation, pizza can be a fairly decent choice if you choose healthier toppings and make your pizza at home where you can control how much cheese goes on it. This is a meal kids can help with! Choose whole-wheat dough and an abundance of veggies and/or chicken breast for toppings, as well as low-fat cheese and a sauce without high-fructose corn syrup. You can also make personal-sized pizzas on whole-wheat English muffins, whole-grain bagels, or pitas.

9. Cinnamon Buns, Doughnuts, and Toaster Pastries. Marketed as good breakfast choices, these should actually be considered occasional treats or desserts. Full of sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and empty calories, these are terrible choices for breakfast. The excess sugar from these pastries will contribute to obesity, tooth decay, and other negative effects.

10. Potato Chips and French Fries. While potatoes are actually full of nutrients that your child needs, their fried counterparts are full of salt and hydrogenated oils (bad fats) that are best avoided. In lieu of snacks like these, try celery sticks dipped in peanut butter or baby carrots. For a savory treat, try popping your own popcorn and adding toppings. This way you can control the amount of salt that it’s flavored with and even try out toppings like Parmesan cheese or dried herbs. You could also choose baked potatoes rather than fried, and top them with some chili (beans have fiber) and low-fat cheese.

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