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5 Kids Meals That Aren’t as Healthy as You Think

Of course you want your children to eat healthy.

Updated: January 14, 2021
healthy meals for kids
By MBL Featured Blogger: Aimee Hughes
Originally Posted: October 8, 2020

Healthy Meals for Kids

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Their future health depends upon it. But, are you feeding them what their bodies and minds really need during these precious growth years?

You needn’t be fooled by classic kids’ meals that have been touted as healthy for growing children, but really, truly aren’t. There are so many myths when it comes to health, it’s difficult to wade through all the information. And when it comes to your children’s health, compromises should never be made. 

Lucky for you, you’re the one making the decisions. You’re the one molding their eating habits. Getting them started on a healthy diet when they’re young is going to bode very well for their futures. This is why we need to debunk some of the myths around kids’ meals. Are the ones being touted as healthy really all that nutrient-dense? Nutrient-dense foods are what our children really need. 

5 kids meals that aren’t as healthy as you think

Cereal bars and oatmeal bars

While I don’t have children myself, I’m guilty of feeding my nieces (and myself) sugar-laden cereal and oatmeal bars for breakfast or as a healthy snack. They’re supposed to be healthy. But, are they really? And the ones labeled organic make it even easier to be fooled. These so-called healthy foods are so incredibly convenient it’s tough to read between the ingredient lines. How easy it is to pop one into your kid’s hand, grab one for yourself, get in the car, and off you go! Sometimes, it seems there’s just no time to do otherwise. 

If oatmeal bars are your go-to simple breakfast or snack food, I say, make a big batch of your own on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. That way you choose exactly what’s going in them. And you can choose from so many healthy ingredients. Various nuts and seeds, dried fruits, coconut oil, and even superfood powders can be added. 

Low-fat peanut butter

Reduced-fat peanut butter has fooled the best of us. We think it’s good for us and our children. But take a look at the ingredients and you’ll see what lurks inside. You’ll probably see corn syrup, a very unhealthy form of refined sugar. You may also see hydrogenated oils— refined oils that aren’t good for anyone. You’ll also likely see sugar, soy protein, and maybe even synthetic fats that come in the names of mono-and/or di-glycerides. If an ingredient looks a little fishy to you, it probably is. The rule of thumb for any ingredient list is that less is more. And if you can’t pronounce it, chances are, it’s not good for you or your child. 

If your kid loves peanut butter, give him or her a version that’s all-natural. The only ingredients you should see are peanuts. That’s it. You can always add a little honey or pure maple syrup to sweeten it up if necessary. Other nut butters are more nutritious than peanut butter. You may want to give them a try. Many kids love cashew butter, almond butter, and even sunflower seed butter. Bananas are naturally sweet, as are apples. Give them these fruits with a dollop of nut butter and see how they like it. 

Fruit snacks and fruit juice

Oh, those fruit snacks! Every kid loves them. You can probably guess why. Those yummy gummy snacks are loaded with sugar. That’s the reason kids (and adults) love to pop them in their mouths on and off throughout the day. But, the packaging is misleading. Most of these fruit snacks say they’re made from real juice. But, look further and you’ll see they’re made from fruit concentrate, which is really just code for sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Oh, yeah—and corn syrup. Yuck! 

You can see how we’ve been easily fooled. We’re made to believe these fruit snacks are full of fruit. Well, they’re not. Unfortunately, you need to throw these gummies out of your pantry and give your child real fruit instead. There’s a reason our children are obese these days. It’s because they’re eating more sugar than their bodies can handle. And if your child refuses to eat whole fruit, cut fruit up into small pieces. Put them in a cup of plain yogurt and drizzle it all with honey. If that doesn’t work, you might want to consider making fruit leather from scratch. You can find recipes online for healthy DIY fruit leather snacks. 

Ok, so the juice isn’t exactly a meal. But, it’s something we give our children as if their lives depended upon it. But, the truth is—they don’t. Kids drink juice like they’re starving for thirst because of all the sugar in it. Any discerning parent knows sugar is detrimental to their child’s health. My darling little niece just turned 3. She’s a juice guzzler, as most 3 year-olds are. But, her recent trip to the dentist yielded less than desirable results. She has eight cavities. Eight! That’s eight too many for 3-year old. Clearly, she’s eating and drinking too much sugar. And juice is certainly one of the culprits. 

And if cavities weren’t bad enough, did you know that kids who drink too many sugary drinks become more prone to childhood diabetes and obesity? Ugh. It all just sounds like a real recipe for trouble down the line. If you must give your child juice, don’t go over the general health guidelines. And if possible, get rid of the juice altogether. 

The recommended daily amount of juice as touted by the American Pediatric Association is just 4-6 ounces per day for a child between the age of 1 and 6. For children between the ages of 7 and 18, they say a bit more is fine—8-12 ounces, to be exact. That’s really not a lot of juice. The rest of a child’s liquid intake should be water. When I was a kid, my mom diluted the juice I drank. It was mainly water with just a splash of apple juice. This is a smart way to wean your child off the sugar. I recommend you give it a go if need be. 

Kid-friendly yogurt

Whenever we feed our children yogurt, we assume we’re giving them healthy food. But, are we? Have you ever done your sugar sleuthing on those little cartons of yogurt? If not, you should. Most yogurt products geared for children are loaded with sugar. On average, a tiny 2.2 ounce serving of kids yogurt has 2 teaspoons of sugar. In my view, that’s far too much. And don’t even get me started on the artificial additives. Some of these kid-targeted yogurts contain red dyes and other artificial colors. These additives have been proven to be harmful to a child’s health. If you see Blue #1 or Red #40 in any yogurt, put it back on the shelf. Instead, do what my mother did when I was a child. She gave me plain yogurt and added honey to it to sweeten it up. 

Lunchmeat sandwiches

How often do we give our kids deli meats and cold cuts on a couple of slices of bread with a slice of cheese and maybe a bit of lettuce? My guess is, you do it quite often. We all do. Unfortunately, these slices of meat aren’t as healthy as you think. Sure, they make an ideal lunch, but they’re loaded with a few ingredients we really shouldn’t be feeding our children. These ingredients are sodium that’s added in order to preserve the cold cut, and nitrates which are not a good additive for your child. They’re not good for you, either. 

A good alternative would be real meat. I like to buy a whole, roasted chicken for dinner. Then, use the leftovers in sandwiches. If your kid doesn’t like this alternative at first, that’s typical. But, keep trying. It’s worth making the switch from processed meat to a whole one. Your child’s health is the most important thing. And for that matter, so is yours.

Get creative in the kitchen

Eating healthy can be a real challenge. Especially, these days. And when it comes to picky eaters, your children might be the pickiest! If this is the case for you, I feel for you. I really do. There probably doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to work, take care of the house, take care of your kids, and figure out how to make them eat well. But, it can be done. You just need to get creative. 

When you have a free morning or afternoon, cook up a big batch of healthy meals and freeze them. Just about anything can be made ahead of time and thrown in the freezer. And once you get a system down, success in the kitchen is sure to follow. The key is to start your kids eating healthy when they’re young. Until I was corrupted in kindergarten, I hadn’t tasted sweet anything save that honey drizzled in plain yogurt. Your children’s’ taste buds only know what you give them. Feed them what they need from the get go, and you’ll have a much easier time ahead! 

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