Skip These Unhealthy Snacks for Kids
After school snack time occupies a warm, fuzzy place in our childhood memories, alongside Masala Maggi and Uncle Chips. But our understanding of nutrition has come a long way since we were kids, and what we ate isn’t necessarily what we want to give our own children. For parents today, planning healthy snacks for kids is almost as important as planning three square meals. Satisfying hungry, growing children with healthy food isn’t easy, but by avoiding these unhealthy snacks for kids, you can find the nutritional middle ground.
Top foods to avoid for kids
They’re everywhere. They line the shelves of your local supermarket or hole-in-the-wall provisional store in a burst of colour and variety. And everyone, young and old, has trouble resisting their sugary appeal. That’s why they’re one of the top foods to avoid for kids.
“Most brands are laced with very high amounts of sugar, hydrogenated vegetable fat, and saturated fat,” says Puja Dedhia, a Mumbai-based certified pediatric nutritionist.
Shun all brands that list transfat, particularly hydrogenated vegetable oil, on their ingredient list, Dedhia advises. Transfats and saturated fats raise cholesterol to unhealthy levels, even in kids. And too much sugar causes more than a burst of demonic, nap-resisting energy—it’s also a leading culprit in diabetes and childhood obesity.
Many cream biscuits that use wheat flour claim to be healthier options, but don’t be fooled. Dedhia says any flour used in these cookies is too highly processed to have nutritional value.
Instead, try making homemade cookies with rolled oats or whole wheat, says Suhasini Viswanathan, a certified pediatric nutritionist at Qua, Mumbai. To satisfy that sweet tooth, make a fresh syrup from dates as a filling. For a crunchier option, try a home-made granola mix with dried fruit.
They’re a nostalgic treat from our own childhood and every harried mother’s dream come true. However, have you ever noticed the film of oil that appears in the water the minute you immerse these noodles? It’s a waxy coating of palm oil, which helps the noodles cook faster—and packs in a lot of saturated fat, experts say. Instant noodles also contain MSG, or monosodium glutamate, which has been linked to obesity.
Instead of the precooked noodles with their own seasoning, make idiyappam (thin rice noodles) or plain pasta, says Viswanathan.
“Experiment with different brands to see which one has the least palm oil,” she advises. “Use kitchen herbs [garlic and basil, etc] and garden fresh tomatoes to enhance the flavour, instead of packaged flavouring.”
It’s tempting to snack on and easy to whip up, but microwave popcorn is high on the list of foods to avoid for kids. The lighter-than-air snack is heavy with sodium. The World Health Organization recommends a maximum of 2000 mg (5 gm) of sodium for adults in a day, but many microwavable brands pack as much sodium in a single serving. Children, who require much less sodium, can end up consuming more than the adult portion in one sitting.
Instead, kettle pop your own corn. It can be a healthy snack for kids if you skip the butter and add salt sparingly.
While packaged juice is better than its fizzy cousins, it’s still not healthy food for kids. Laced with sugar and other preservatives – some of which aren’t mentioned clearly – packaged juices should be used only as an emergency snacks for kids while travelling, says Viswanathan.
Instead, encourage your child to eat a whole fruit or a fruit salad with natural spices. If your kid is craving a drink, consider traditional options such as fresh fruit juice, nimbu pani (lemonade), or chaas (buttermilk).
It’s colourful, tasty, and the easiest thing to pour into a bowl and eat when your child (or you) is in a rush, but cereal – especially the sweet, colourful kind – is unsurprisingly full of sugar, artificial colouring and preservatives.
Instead, choose unprocessed cereals – such as ragi or wheat flakes – as much as possible. Also try reducing the quantity of cereal, replacing it with healthier foods; for instance, if you usually scoop two handfuls of cereal into your kid’s bowl, only scoop one and supplement with nuts and fruit.
“Training your child’s palate to accept natural fresh foods is extremely important,” says Viswanathan. “Don’t expose them to any kind of packaged food and fizzy drinks until the age of five. After this, even if they encounter it on their own, [which] is inevitable, the healthy habits will stick.”