Cute little goldfish, gummies shaped like Elmo, and squeezy cheese. Popular snack items often appeal to a child’s visual and tactical sensibilities, but what about a parent’s nutritional concerns? Often times, those familiar food items contain sugar, salt, and some seriously sophisticated food chemistry, making them less like a snack food and more like a wolf in a fish’s clothing.
Below is a list of some of America’s most popular snack foods for kids that aren’t as healthy as they seem—with healthier alternatives your kids will actually eat!
Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.
These snack favorites have traveled a long way from their humble beginnings as the simple orange cracker that accompanied most of our childhoods. Now they come in Blazin’ Buffalo Wing and Pizza flavors; they even have multi-colored goldfish. But they don’t have much nutritional value, save for trace amounts of calcium, and they do have a fairly high amount of sodium. A good alternative: Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies. Whole-wheat flour, real cheese, and a similarly lovable shape—and organic to boot.
Scooby-Doo Gummy Snacks.
Yes, the first ingredient of these snacks is fruit juice, but it’s all downhill after that: corn syrup, sugar, modified corn starch. And then there’s the long list of artificial colorings. A better bet: Organic Fruit Leathers, which contain half a serving of fruit in each strip.
Cheez Whiz and Velveeta Slices.
I used to love Velveeta slices as a kid, but now I see them for what they really are: weird. The consistency, taste, and color are like nothing found in nature. Rather than trying to decipher what’s listed on the side of these bright orange Kraft products (alginate, sodium phosphate), look for real cheese. A little goes a long way to provide a natural form of calcium. If you’re in need of something for the lunchbox, try Laughing Cow Babybel.
Quaker Caramel Rice Cakes.
Even though rice cakes claim to be healthful because they are fat free, they also happen to be free of any substantive ingredients, but packed with sugar, maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavors. Instead, try making homemade popped popcorn drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.
Frito-Lay Flaming Hot Cheese Flavored Snacks.
I was shocked and mortified when, while teaching high school, I saw one of my students eating these for breakfast. The tiger on the front is supposed to appeal to young people, but the ingredient list would scare most adults: MSG, artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, just to name a few of the culprits. If you’re going to eat chips, you might as well go for the ones without anything fake: Kettle Organic Potato Chips, made from potatoes, oil, and salt. Pretty simple, and they have the potassium, fiber, and Vitamin C to call themselves, in comparison, health food.
Capri-Sun Fruit Punch.
Although these drinkable pouches now boast Vitamin C and do contain some fruit juice, it’s second in line to high fructose corn syrup. A better bet is Juicy Juice, made from 100 percent juice.
Oscar Mayer Lunchables.
One way to tell if something contains a lot of artificial stuff is to look at the length of the ingredient list. The ingredient list on the “Cracker Stackers—Turkey and Cheese” flavor lunchable is about a paragraph long. In it, you have the usual nasty suspects: high fructose corn syrup, a host of artificial colorings, and hydrogenated oils. But you also have EDTA, smoke flavor, and nitrates. With seven grams of saturated fat and thirty percent of a kid’s daily sodium intake, it’s better to pack a whole wheat pita full of veggies and cheese for lunch, or try some of these useful lunch ideas.
Preztels—when made right—are usually pretty benign. Flour, water, yeast, salt; not packed with nutrients, but at least nothing fake, right? Well, it depends. These Rold Gold Cheddar Cheese Mini Twists have MSG, hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, colors … I can attest that they taste good, but maybe shouldn’t be eaten on a regular basis. A better choice is Newman’s Organics pretzels, which contain fiber, protein, and complex carbohydrates.
Lastly, since most major food companies market their junk food to kids via the TV, a healthful alternative to the chemically manufactured sweeteners, oils, and colors is to ad-proof your kid.
Updated August 14, 2008