toddler apple

Photo by MegaMamaTX

American kids snack. A lot. In fact, more than twenty-five percent of kids' calories comes from snacks, says new research published in Health Affairs. The spike in snacking added 168 calories per day to kids' diets between 1977 and 2006, which translates to 17.5 extra pounds a year. No wonder childhood obesity is on the rise.

But few parents knowingly feed their kid unhealthy foods, which means that some of the "healthy" things we're giving our kids aren't so good for them after all. Here are some surprisingly unhealthy foods—and their healthier alternatives, provided by registered dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, RD, LD/E, CDE.

1. Yogurt

Bad: "Kid's" yogurt (and yogurt "fun foods") are packed with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavorings, and colors.

Better: Wholesome real yogurt (add real fruit). You'll ditch all the additives.

 

2. Oatmeal

Bad: Instant oatmeal—read the ingredient label. One teaspoon of sugar equals four grams. Some of the maple or other flavors have more than 12 grams per serving.

Better: Microwave whole oats in a glass dish (following the directions using low-fat milk or water). Stir in a quarter-cup of raisins for a naturally sweet breakfast.

 

3. Fruit Juice

Bad: Many juices, even those that are advertised as "natural" or "100% of the daily value," contain artificial sweeteners. Some contain only fruit juice concentrates, and are little more than sweetened water, enhanced with extra vitamins.
Better: An orange, an apple or a cup of applesauce. If you do serve juice, choose 100% natural fruit juice (not concentrate)—and limit kids to one 8-ounce serving a day.

 

4. Breakfast Bars

Bad: The first ingredient is usually enriched or refined flour and sugar is always at the top of the list too. It's a fattening meal of empty calories so your kid will be hungry again in an hour.

Better: A cup of yogurt with a cup of crunchy low-sugar cereal stirred in.

 

5. Peanut Butter

Bad: Some brands contain sugar, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat. Avoid peanut butter and jelly swirls (they're loaded with high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and other not-so-great additives).

Better: Choose brands with one or at most two ingredients: peanuts and maybe salt.

 

6. Fat-Free Foods

Bad: Just because something is fat-free that doesn't make it calorie-free or sugar-free or healthy. For example, a low-fat caramel dipping sauce served with apples can contain 70 calories. Since sugar can turn into fat in the body, fat-free foods that are high in sugar aren't really fat free.

Better: Read the labels and look at the calories and sugar per serving. Although it might feel counterintuitive, the fat-free option might be more fattening.

 

For more on how to make unhealthy snacks healthy, visit Wallet Pop.

 

What do you usually give your kids for snacks? Did anything on this list surprise you?

 

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