Kid Friendly Foods Are Not Created Equally
Humans by nature love sugar, fat and salt. Kids are no different! If we look at whole foods in their natural state, it is hard to find foods high in sugar, fat or salt. You can find natural sugars in fruit and milk, and fat in nuts and seeds, but sodium is very low in natural foods that have not been processed in any way. That is why foods high in sugar, fat and salt appeal to us so much. These foods tantalize our taste buds and make us want to eat them more and more.
Food marketers are smart. They know that if they load “kid friendly” foods with sugar, fat or salt, kids will request (or demand!) them over and over. Marketers also know that parents are all about convenience, and foods that are ready-to-eat or individually packaged, sell well. Unfortunately, to make a foods’ shelf life extendable, salt or sugar is typically added as a preservative. This is why convenience and processed foods often times are not the healthiest choices.
Here are a few strategies to help shoppers select healthier foods for children:
1. Visualize the amount of sugar in a product.
It is hard to envision grams of sugar in a product. However, if you divide the amount of sugar in grams by 4, that will give you the amount in teaspoons. For example, if you read the nutrition label for a can of soda and the grams of sugar are 36, you can divide by 4 to get the number of teaspoons, which would be 9. You can then envision your child consuming 9 teaspoons of sugar if he/she were to drink the whole soda!
2. Check the ingredient list.
If the ingredient list on the nutrition facts label is very extensive or has ingredients listed that you have never heard of, reconsider purchasing the product. If one of the first few ingredients is sugar, or ends in “ose”, the product is high in some form of sugar.
3. Take a look at the sodium content.
Packaged and convenience foods are just that, convenient, but are typically high in sodium. Neither adults nor kids should be consuming more than 2000 mg sodium a day. Some pre-packaged meals and snacks contain upwards of 1000 mg sodium in one serving.
4. Eat foods in their natural form as often as possible.
When selecting foods, do you know where they come from? We know that apples come from trees, and potatoes are grown in the ground, but what about that granola bar? If a food is coming from its original source, and has not been altered in any way, it is most likely worth eating!
5. Package your own snacks.
Foods that are individually packaged are convenient, but much more expensive. Look for higher fiber (>3 gm/serving) crackers or cereals and package them yourself in individual snack bags. Take a few minutes to cut up fruit and vegetables and package those as well. You will save money and your kids will be taking in nutrient-dense snacks!