We usually have the best intentions when it comes to feeding our kids. But even the most stalwart of parents who don’t allow their offspring as much as a sniff of a chicken nugget can be misguided when it comes to following a nutritional diet.
Even when we feel like we’re on the right track – prepping plenty of snacks, whipping up homemade dinners, packing lunch boxes with items out of the organic aisle – we could still be unwittingly filling our kids’ tummies with unfit foods.
Always read the label and don’t be deceived by foods that appear healthy but are really packed full of sugars, sodium, artificial sweeteners and flavours, and high-fructose corn syrup. You don’t need to be a domestic goddess; you just need to get a little creative. Here’s eight deceiving health foods and ‘real healthy’ alternatives…
SWAP bottled/pre-packaged purées
FOR homemade foods
A recent study revealed that babies would need to eat twice as much shop-bought food to get the same energy and protein as meals cooked at home. The findings, from the department of human nutrition at the University of Glasgow, said many weaning foods would not serve the intended purpose of giving a baby extra nutrients or a range of tastes and textures. In fact, around 50g of soft, spoonable homemade food would supply the same amount of energy and protein as 100g of the equivalent ready-made food.
What’s more, commercial foods – which included Cow and Gate, Heinz, Boots, Hipp Organic, Ella’s Kitchen and Organix – contained more calories, had very high sugar content and were lower in iron.
Tip: A mum whose baby only eats Heinz apple purée sneakily syphons her own concoctions into bottles from this brand.
SWAP fruit juice and fruit snacks
FOR whole pieces of fruit
Even the fruit juices listed as ‘natural’ usually contain artificial sweeteners. What’s worse is the juice made from concentrate. Ration your child to one 200ml cup of ‘100 per cent natural fruit juice’ per day. Otherwise, dole out fresh fruit with water or milk.
Remember that there isn’t any fruit in chewy fruit snacks, only high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, artificial flavours, colours and other stuff that are as revolting as they sound.
Tip: Clementines are easier to peel than oranges and have sections perfectly sized for smaller kids.
SWAP frozen fish sticks
FOR homemade versions
More than 1.5 million Birds Eye fish fingers are sold each day. While frozen bricks of fish are a good way to introduce seafood into your kid’s diet, swimming as they are in fat and artificial ingredients, they’re not entirely wholesome. Making your own is easier than you think and only takes a few minutes. Freshly made ones contain no additives and have a much higher ratio of fish to breadcrumbs.
Tip: Coat strips of fresh fish with panko, Japanese bread crumbs and bake them in the oven. Fish tacos are also a big hit once kids can choose their own toppings and roll them up themselves.
SWAP kid’s meals on menus
FOR half-portions of adult options
Children’s meals are often high sodium and high fat. It seems backwards that some restaurants these days still only offer deep fried options on children’s menus. Some restaurants don’t allow the flexibility of half portions, so if you have two kids order one entrée for them to share, or put half in a takeout box.
Tip: Many children love trying their parent’s dishes, so make a tapas plate for your tot with samples from the adults’ meals.
SWAP fruit yoghurt
FOR plain yoghurt
Don’t be fooled by the kid-friendly packaging: many yoghurts aimed at children are actually high in sugar, artificial flavouring and high-fructose corn syrup. Rachel’s is a winner with both kids and nutritionists, but is frightfully expensive.
Tip: Buy plain or Greek yoghurt and add fresh berries, bananas, or honey. Even adding a teaspoon of your child’s favourite high-fruit jam is healthier than buying the already sweetened versions.
SWAP rice cakes
FOR wholewheat pita chips
Touted as the dieter’s dream snack in the 1980s, no normal adult eats rice cakes these days, so why should you subject your children to them?
They may have a healthy connotation but these dry, tasteless lumps of cardboard are really just made up of empty calories that will not fuel a kid›s energy, let alone fill them up. Buy whole-wheat pita chips or make your own by cutting pita bread into quarters and baking until slightly browned and crispy.
Tip: Dip pitta bread in hummus as a protein-rich snack. Or make a canellini bean spread by blending beans with a splash of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt until it’s a creamy texture.
Fat-free foods are not necessarily healthy, and they are often higher in sugar calories than other foods.
Since sugar turns into fat in the body, fat-free foods can actually end up being more fattening. Just because a product is labelled ‘low-fat’ doesn›t mean it’s healthier or even lower in calories,” says New York nutritionist and founder of Clean Plates Jared Koch. “In fact, most low-fat or fat-free foods will have sugar and chemicals to make up for the loss in taste, which renders them poor nutritional choices.” Salad dressing, peanut butter, cookies and ice cream are just some of the low-fat foodstuffs to be avoided at all costs.
Tip: Rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados can be eaten with practically anything. Cut carrots and cucumbers into soldiers and get your child to dip them into mashed avocado for a healthy afternoon snack.
SWAP granola bars
FOR unsalted peanuts, cashews, almonds and dried fruits
Some granola bars out there have added sugar, chocolate chips, or mini-marshmallows, which means they are actually closer to chocolate bars in nutritional value. Stock up on unsalted peanuts, cashews, almonds, dried fruit, and make your own trail mix. Feeding nuts at an earlier age (from six months upwards) may even help stop them from developing an allergy, says Robert Wood, MD, director of paediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre.
Tip: Blend together 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup frozen fruit, and a few teaspoons of ground nuts for a fun drink, appropriate for kids aged one and up.