The reality of today's busy world is that most families rely on packaged snacks in between meal times and on-the-go. Most children's food brands have a ton of added sugar and unhealthy ingredients in them. Even the organic brands we trust the most, rely on sugar and fillers to make their products look and taste better to kids. That puts our little ones at higher risks of obesity and heart disease, before they're even old enough to understand what that means.
We've put together this guide to help you make informed decisions when buying foods for your entire family.
Don't fall for the front. Read the back.
Companies spend thousands of dollars deciding what colors, pictures, and content to put on the front of their item. Buzzwords like "low-fat," "low-cholesterol," "only 90 calories" try to sell you but do not reflect the actual nutritional content of the item.
Watch out for the number of servings.
A common scheme is to have a little bag of chips have 4 servings so the advertisers can plaster on the front, "only 80 calories," then in fine print "per serving." Be sure to pull out your dusty multiplication table before you buy anything supposedly low-calorie.
Keep it simple.
The best products are the ones where there are at most 10 ingredients and you know what every one of them is. Carrageenan? Maltodextrin? Glycerin? If chemistry kits aren't part of your usual diet, then these unpronounceable ingredients shouldn't be going into your or your child's bodies.
Fat's fine. Watch out for Trans and Saturated.
Fat gets a bad wrap. Fat sounds fattening, but it contains energy the same way carbohydrates and proteins do. There are healthy fats in nuts, milk, avocados—all nutritious, heart-healthy foods. Healthy fats include unsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature), while you want to avoid saturated fats (solid at room temperature) and trans fat (an industrial creation which increases your chances of heart disease). Good heart health begins at a young age, so wean your child off of butter pasta and french fries and onto olive oil pasta and roasted potatoes.
The sugar rush is a myth. Sugar addiction isn't.
There's an epidemic of sugar addiction in America. Including too much added sugars in your child's diet increases their chances of poor heart health, obesity, and other health problems. Unfortunately most household children's brands at Whole Foods, Targets etc. don't prioritize children's health, so it is up to you to make informed decisions.
Our Pediatric Dietitian recommends no more than 2 grams of added sugar per serving for children 2-18. Natural sugar is unarguably better than added sugar, but steer away from giving your kids too much of that as well. After all, sugar is still sugar.
Heart disease? Salt's at fault.
High sodium content contributes to increased blood pressure and heart disease. Chicken fingers, chicken noodle soup, prepared vegetables, staples of a child's diet, have an unbelievably high sodium content. Salt's added to make foods more palatable, especially notoriously picky children. Make sure to give your child low sodium foods early on so they do not become dependent on salt for taste.