By Kristin Sidorov
It’s almost back-to-school time, and while most parents already have a to-do list a mile long, be sure to add one more item to the top of the list: Grading your child’s diet. During the busy school year, just getting your kids to eat something, anything, without complaint can be hard enough, especially if you have picky eaters and an overbooked schedule. But the number of overweight and obese kids in the U.S. is on the rise, and diet is one of the best ways to keep your kids’ health in check.
A balanced and healthy diet for kids takes more than cutting out fatty fast food and sugar-laden treats. It takes a little planning and food savvy. But it’s well worth the effort, and soon it’ll be second nature for you and your kids.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the worst kids’ foods out there (and the list is looong), as well as healthy alternatives and tips on how to keep the peace (and your sanity) while still feeding your family right.
1. Sugary cereals.
Cereals may advertise a boatload of vitamins and minerals, but that can’t compensate for the amount of sugar and processed ingredients they contain. According to experts, some kids’ cereals contain the same amount of sugar and nutritional value as cookies.
Instead…look for cereals that have a bit more fiber (at least 3 grams) and less than 10 grams of sugar. Broaden your search of the cereal shelf to adult cereals, too: You might be surprised by what your kids will love. Or try swapping for whole grain oats, and serve those same vitamins and minerals via all-natural choices, like delicious fruit.
2. Granola bars.
It can be hard to separate the association of “granola” with “healthy snack,” but most kids’ varieties are far from nutritional. Similar to kids’ cereals, granola bars are often loaded down with sugar and have unhealthy extras like dyes, chocolate, and candy.
Instead…stick to the same philosophy as your cereal search: More fiber, less sugar. Try to find bars that have more natural ingredients and no high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. Better yet? Try making your own. They’re a simple way to give your kids a treat that you know is good for them.
3. Processed meats.
Hot dogs and some deli meats are chock full of fat, sodium, and nitrates. Just one hot dog can contain as much as half the daily fat and sodium recommendations for kids. Processed meats have also been linked to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Instead…check labels. Instead of beef hot dogs, try swapping for preservative-free turkey dogs, and opt for no-preservative, organic varieties of deli meats. Some deli meats are a staple of kids’ school lunches, so don’t buy declarations on labels or advertisements—some pre-packaged lunch kits have a dangerous amount of saturated fat (about half the daily allowance) and a full day’s worth of sodium.
4. French fries, chips, pizza, and chicken nuggets.
These may seem like no-brainers, but hear us out. We know that these are some of the most beloved children’s foods of all time, and we’re not saying to ban them forever. But it’s important to understand moderation and portion sizes. Kids are more likely to eat twice the amount of these foods than most others, and studies show that lifelong food habits are set during our formative years.
Instead…set limits and add variety. If you serve pizza, try making one at home with natural, low-fat cheese and chunky tomatoes. Bake your own sweet potato fries, which are full of fiber and potassium. Opt for baked chips, give delicious and crunchy kale chips a try, and serve all-natural chicken nuggets with healthy sides and veggies.
5. Juices and soda.
While we know that soda is one of the biggest contributors to childhood obesity, you may be surprised to learn that some juices can be just as bad. Many varieties are just 10 percent juice, with the remaining 90 percent loaded down with additives and sugar. Kids can suck down tons of sweet beverages if you let them, adding up to hundreds of empty calories, dangerous sugar overload, and a lack of healthy hydration.
Instead, stick to 100 percent fruit juices and drastically limit your kids’ intake. Try watering down each serving and stick to no more than 6 ounces per day for kids under age 6, and 12 ounces per day for those under 18. Offer healthier drinks during most of the day and with meals, such as milk and water.
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