“Are these unhealthy foods?”
So often, parents ask themselves this question as they’re walking through the grocery aisle. While we know that fried foods and junk food are unhealthy, there are a lot of seemingly healthy foods packed with bad-for-you ingredients.
And when it comes to kids, they might not understand why things are or aren’t healthy. They are just focused on the taste, and well, some children are only just outgrowing putting non-food objects in their mouths! But, there are some foods kids simply shouldn’t put in their mouths, either.
Here are some common ones along with some suggestions for healthier alternatives.
Unhealthy foods to avoid
You know French fries are bad for your kids, but there’s also one key ingredient you should avoid.
“Children and adults should never eat foods that have trans-fat, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated,” says Nanette Cameron, registered dietitian and author of The Perfect Day cookbook. “It is in many kid-friendly foods.”
- Sugary cereals. Used as a preservative.
- Microwave popcorn. The butter topping can contain hydrogenated oils.
- Refrigerated biscuits. Especially when topped with butter or margarine.
- Margarine sticks. In order for it to maintain its stick-like shape, hydrogenated oils are added to the margarine.
- Crackers. Used to create the light and airy texture.
- Candy. Not that candy is healthy anyways, but all the sugar and oil is a bad combination.
- Canned frosting. Contains oils that provide a long shelf life.
- Fried foods. The oils that many restaurants use are hydrogenated because it can be used for a longer period of time.
- Premade pie crusts. They may be easier, but they contain high amounts of partially hydrogenated oils.
- Pancakes and waffles. Boxed mixes can contain shortening or oils that are not good for you.
So what are trans fats? And why are they so bad?
Trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, according to the American Heart Association. However, many are made artificially by hydrogenating or partially hydrogenating oils, which is a process that adds hydrogen to liquid oils in order to make them more solid.
When someone ingests trans fat, it not only raises the bad cholesterol, or LDL, in his or her body, but it lowers the good cholesterol, or HDL.
“These kinds of fats cause inflammation, heart disease and other nutrition-related diseases,” says Cameron.
What to eat instead
So, instead of the above-mentioned foods, there are plenty of healthier food options to choose from. A good start is to read the ingredients lists at the grocery store and look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients lists. And check the nutrition label for things without trans fats.
“Children need a balance of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Each have a essential role in growth and development,” says Cameron. “Offering a variety of foods that add color and texture to a plate is the best way to make them more interested in eating.”
Some foods that kids can enjoy in place of ones with trans fats are:
- Natural peanut butter. Some brands make natural options made without trans fats. Look for it on the label.
- Cereal. Some kid’s cereals do not contain trans fats, such as Trix and Lucky Charms.
- Freshly made biscuits. Healthier and more fun to make with your kids.
- Triscuit crackers. Free of trans fats and made with whole grains.
- Fruit. Instead of processed and refined sugar, kids can get their sweet fix from some strawberries or an apple.
- Baked foods. Instead of frying, bread and bake dinner. It’s healthier and less messy.
- Homemade pie crusts. It’s a labor of love, and kids will like to help roll and cut the dough.
- Heart Smart mix. Bisquick has cut trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils out of its gluten free and Heart Smart mixes, but they still remain in the original mix.
Kids like the unhealthy foods?
If your child is a picky eater, or just reluctant to try new things, there are still ways to get them away from the trans fatty foods.
“Having picky eaters participate in cooking and shopping is one way to get them to try new foods,” says Cameron. “But also parents need to remember that items can be prepared many different ways and as we grow out taste buds change too.”
Cameron also suggests that parents don’t keep certain foods from kids just because the parent doesn’t like them. All people are different, and kids may like foods that their parents don’t.
Overall, limiting the amount of unhealthy foods and trans fatty foods is key. Not only because of trans fats, but sugar and additives can have adverse effects on children.
“Everything in moderation is such an over used expression, because portions and serving sizes are so big,” says Cameron. “Limiting sodas, sugary candy, syrups, etc. is always a good idea.”
This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly.