The supermarket is teeming with child-geared snack options — to the point where it’s hard to judge which are best for keeping your kids satisfied and healthy. While there are a number of healthy products for sale nowadays, many of the most popular choices are deceptively unhealthy. Packed with empty calories and lacking in nutritional content, these mostly processed foods and drinks are best to avoid whenever possible — especially during the crucial years of child development.
Here are five particularly grievous nutritional offenders among today’s popular children’s snacks.
1. Sugary Cereals
Cereal can be a quick, convenient before-school breakfast. But most of the sweet, colorful cereals are highly processed and robbed of their original nutritional value — if they even had any. According to NBC News, one cup-sized serving of a cereal such as Cap’n Crunch is nutritionally worthless, containing corn flour, sugar, brown sugar, and coconut oil. On top of that, Cap’n Crunch is coated with food colorings yellow 6 and 5, both of which have been linked to irritability in children. Try sticking with whole grains, unsweetened, and puffed cereal varieties to avoid these nasty nutritional pitfalls!
2. Fruit Snacks
They’ve got fruit in the name, but don’t let that fool you. There are loads of sickeningly sweet fruit snack options out there, many of which are devoid of nutritional value. Be judicious in reading the ingredient labels on fruit snacks, as some are worse offenders than others. While certain varieties consist of authentic, unsweetened fruit, many others rely heavily on artificial sweeteners. These offer little in the way of sustenance but pack in loads of sugar in each serving. Try picking an option made with real, unsweetened fruits or better yet, bite into some fresh fruit instead, advises Prevention.
3. Chicken Nuggets
Chicken nuggets are a tasty and simple snack — a kitchen classic. Throw them in the oven and they’ll be ready to serve in minutes! While this snack is a good source of protein (14 grams per serving, according to WebMD), they also pack in a lot of unwanted fat and sodium. Four pieces of Tyson Fun Nuggets, for example, pack in 230 calories, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, and 410 milligrams of sodium. On the other hand, a ½ of a roasted chicken breast has only 142 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 27 grams of protein, according to Nutrition Data.
4. Boxed Macaroni
It’s ready in minutes, and so very tasty. Unfortunately, the cheesy powder typically found in these boxed macaroni varieties is a nasty nutritional foe. According to Livestrong, a ¾-cup serving of Kraft Easy Mac has 230 calories, 4 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, and 550 milligrams of sodium (that’s ⅓ of the recommended daily sodium intake). Instead of springing for an Easy Mac or other boxed macaroni, satisfy your craving with some freshly cooked whole grain pasta, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese.
5. Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is a tasty option, and a more flavorful alternative to water. It’s simple to throw a juice box in your child’s lunch and send them on their way to school — but many of these juices contain little-to-no actual fruit content, making them mostly well-marketed blasts of sugar. NBC News writes that the popular fruit “juice” brand Sunny D actually consists of just 5% real juice. According to the Sunny D website, each 6½ ounce serving contains 11 grams of sugar!