Seems like everywhere we look today there are new things popping up that are unhealthy for us to eat. It is tough being a parent these days and finding healthy foods that are kids actually enjoy! Here is a list of 9 foods that should be avoided, BUT the nice thing about this list is that it offers alternatives. That is where I always struggle. I know what NOT to give them, I am just searching for what I SHOULD give them. Check it out, there are some great healthy alternatives.
1. Chicken nuggets/tenders
These popular kids’ menu items are little nuggets of compressed fat, sodium, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and some form of chicken. Depending on the restaurant, chicken might not even be the first ingredient. Oftentimes, the nuggets or tenders are made of ground pieces of chicken meat and skin, pressed into a shape, flavored with HFCS and salt, and batter-fried in hydrogenated oil (the bad, trans-fatty stuff). Then, as if that weren’t unhealthy enough, you dunk it in a HFCS- or mayonnaise-based sauce. With all the fat, salt, and sugar, it’s easy to understand why they’re tasty, but the nutritive value weighed against the huge amount of calories and fat consumed is incredibly lacking. Even healthier-sounding menu items can be deceiving, like McDonald’s Premium Breast Strips (5 pieces), which pack 640 calories and 38 grams of fat—and that’s before you factor in the dipping sauce. (By comparison, a Big Mac with sauce has 540 calories and 29 grams of fat.)
Instead: If you’re cooking at home, grill a chicken breast and cut it into dipping-size pieces either with a knife or, for extra fun, cookie cutters. Make a healthy dipping sauce from HFCS-free ketchup, marinara sauce, mustard, or yogurt. Let your kids help make the shapes or mix up the sauce. Try and go without breading, but if you must, try dipping the chicken breast in a beaten egg, and then rolling it in cornflake crumbs before you bake it. It’ll be crunchy and delicious, but not as fatty.
2. Sugary cereal
I can remember as a child, after going to friends’ houses for overnights and being treated to breakfast cereals with marshmallows that turned the milk fluorescent pink or blue, feeling horribly deprived when faced with the less colorful and sugary options served up in my home kitchen. But now I can appreciate my mom and her unpopular brans and granolas. True, they didn’t have any cartoon characters on the box or any toy surprises, but they also didn’t have the cups of sugar, grams of fat, and hundreds of empty calories that these Saturday-morning staples are loaded with.
Instead: Read the labels and try to find cereal that’s low in sugar and high in fiber and whole grains. Remember, “wheat” is not the same as “whole wheat.” Also, avoid cereals (including some granolas) that have hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, or chemical preservatives. Add raisins, sliced bananas, berries, or other seasonal fruit to the cereal for extra flavor and nutrition. Again, letting your child help design a healthy bowl of cereal from choices you provide will get you a little more buy-in at the breakfast table.
3. Lunch meat and hot dogs
Kids love hot dogs, bologna, and other processed meats, but these are all full of potentially carcinogenic nitrates and nitrites, sodium, saturated fat, and artificial colors and fillers. A study in Los Angeles found that kids who ate 12 hot dogs a month had 9 times the risk of developing leukemia. And more health risks are being discovered all the time. Leaf through any research about kids’ nutrition, and you’re bound to read about the bane of the cafeteria—Oscar Mayer’s Lunchables. These and similar prepackaged lunches are loaded with processed meats and crackers made with hydrogenated oils. These innocent-looking meals can boast fat counts of up to 38 grams. That’s as much fat as a Burger King Whopper and more than half the recommended daily allowance of fat for an adult.
Instead: Get unprocessed meats, like lean turkey breast, chicken, tuna, or roast beef. Use whole wheat bread for sandwiches; or if your kid’s dying for Lunchables, fill a small plastic container with whole-grain, low-fat crackers, lean, unprocessed meat, and low-fat cheese. This can be another great time to get out the cookie cutters to make healthy sandwiches more fun. For hot dogs, read labels carefully. Turkey dogs are usually a good bet, but some are pumped up with a fair amount of chemicals and extra fat to disguise their fowl origins. Look for low levels of fat, low sodium, and a list of ingredients you recognize. There are some tasty veggie dogs on the market, although a good deal of trial and error may be involved for the choosy child.
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